Earlier this month, a leading group of Canadian power companies and government entities (although not the nuclear regulator) issued a “Canadian SMR Roadmap,” an 89 page plan for Canada to become a leader in small modular and advanced reactor development (there is also a smaller executive summary). Although the roadmap takes a look at a number of technical, commercial, and legal issues with SMR deployment in Canada, this entry focuses on some of the regulatory reform proposals outlined in the roadmap—to better understand what Canadian stakeholders think are the biggest hurdles to licensing advanced reactors above the 49th Parallel. We discuss four regulatory reforms suggested in the roadmap, many of which compare with efforts going on here in the United States.
- Environmental Reviews: A key issue in the Canadian SMR Roadmap was reform of environmental impact reviews. The roadmap strongly advocates for Canada to pass a revised Impact Assessment Act, legislation before the Canadian Parliament to modernize the national environmental review process. In addition, the roadmap authors appear to advocate for additional tweaks to the environmental review process—including potentially exempting “applications to construct, operate, and decommission SMRs equal to or below an electric capacity of 300 MWe” from environmental reviews, on the grounds that such reactors have low environmental risk. While there are numerous efforts ongoing in the US to reform US federal environmental review policies, exempting SMRs from US National Environmental Policy Act reviews has not been widely advocated for (although it is something the authors have explored).
- Security: The Canadian SMR Roadmap pays special attention to security at SMRs, noting that “the current regulations would require SMRs to incorporate security infrastructure comparable to today’s operating full scale nuclear power plants.” The roadmap advocates for reform in this area to remove prescriptive requirements in favor of risk-based regulation. Interestingly, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) may be ahead of the curve on this issue, with the NRC staff earlier this year sending to the NRC Commission an options paper on tailoring physical security requirements for SMRs and advanced reactors. On November 19, the NRC Commission approved the NRC staff moving forward with a limited-scope rulemaking to generally reduce excess physical security requirements for small modular and advanced reactors, given their inherent safety features.
- Risk-Informed Rulemaking: Apart from its specific focus on the security regulations, the Canadian SMR Roadmap advocates for the Canadian nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), to take a more risk-informed view to regulation, particularly on issues “such as staff training and emergency response.” In regards to emergency response, the roadmap argues that the CNSC should adopt regulations “based on risk-informed criteria, not an arbitrary low [10MWt] limit on reactor thermal power.” This seems to align with the NRC’s efforts to adopt risk-informed regulation for emergency planning for next-generation reactors, with the US regulator already moving forward with a rulemaking in this area.
- Nuclear Energy Advisory Council: The roadmap advocates for the creation of a Nuclear Energy Advisory Council (NEAC) to give direction to Canadian SMR nuclear policy. The NEAC would be “composed of senior executives and ministers” and meet annually to focus on implementation of the SMR roadmap and related action plans. This strikes a chord with a policy proposal previously put forward by the blog authors in the paper Back from the Brink: A Threatened Nuclear Energy Industry Compromises National Security. This paper advocates for the US to adopt its own Nuclear Energy Advisory Council, also comprised of business leaders and government officers—although with more of a strategic advisory versus implementation role. Compared to the Canadian version, the US NEAC would “advise the President and National Security Council on the commercial nuclear industry, mirrored after the National Infrastructure Council.”
The Canadian SMR Roadmap is a promising document that helps highlight Canada’s growing potential role in SMR and advanced reactor development.
And on the nuclear strategy front in the US, the Senate on Thursday November 29 is holding a hearing that will cover in part the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (S 3422),, a significant piece of legislation that can help close many gaps in advanced reactor development (including testing and fuel cycle development). We wrote about this important piece of legislation in a past blog entry available here. The Nuclear Energy Leadership Act is designed to help the United States return to the lead in nuclear energy technology leadership. The bill sponsors explain that the US has yielded this position to Russia and China–weakening our energy security, economic competitiveness, and national security. The bill covers a range of activities, including funding research and development, and accelerating the deployment of advanced nuclear energy technologies.
Notably, both the Canadian and US activities show that advanced reactor developments warrant strategic government support at a national level.
For more about the issues discussed in this entry, please contact the authors.