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FNR CNSC Regulations

By Charles Rhodes, P.Eng., Ph.D.


In Canada matters related to nuclear reactors are regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). The CNSC is concerned with protection of both public safety and nuclear worker safety.


The CNSC is a federal regulatory body. However, to provide ongoing public safety it is essential for the CNSC to have powers that in effect partially intrude on matters of provincial jurisdiction.

The CNSC licenses each nuclear site, the scope of the radioactive material on that site and the scope of the activities on that site. The effect of the CNSC licences is to supercede provincial real property law on the licensed sites.The CNSC licenses are periodically reviewed. The CNSC does all necessary to ensure that all radioactive material is removed from a site before the CNSC loses jurisdiction over that site.

The CNSC also sets and enforces detailed regulations relating to radiation safety.

Most matters of real property are the subject of provincial regulation. However, with respect to continuing public safety provincial regulation has fails on matters relating to accumulations of toxic substances. Well known instances of this problem are:
a) Two million tons of toxic waste at Wells, British Columbia left by insolvent mining companies
b) Over 100,000 uncapped boreholes in Alberta left by insolvent oil/gas companies
c) Mercury polution of the English River in Ontario left by insolvent pulp and paper companies

In each case the sources of the problem were corportions that became insolvent or bankrupt. In a corporate insolvency the corporations lead lender (typically a chartered bank) has a security agreement that permits that lender to sell the corporate assets to recover the amount loaned. However, the lender has no obligations related to safety compliance. Usually the purchasers of such assets acquire these assets "as is" with no obligation to provincial regulatory or other third parties. However, if these assets include nuclear facilities public safety demands that there be continuing compliance with nuclear safety regulations. The CNSC demands that continuing compliance via its licensing process.

In recent years the CNSC has become involved in site related environmental matters that have nothing to do with nuclear power plant or radiation safety. In order to mitigate climate change in a timely manner it is essential that irrelevant environmental impact matters be deleted from the CNSC licensing process.

Ideally matters relating to public liability insurance should be handled by private insurers rather than the CNSC. However, as long as nuclear reactor owners rely on the government to act as a public libility insurer the CNSC has a role to play in developing regulations that minimize the potential cost of an accident to the tax payers.

There is also a problem with safety overkill. During the 1950s and 1960s radiation safety regulations were developed based on the Linear No Threshold model, which was later shown to be invalid for humans. Humans can readily withstand radiation exposures of up to about 1 mSv / day with no detectable medical effects, whereas CNSC enforced safety regulations restrict exposures to about 10 uSv / day. That is a ridiculous safety margin because aircrew of jet airplanes routinely experience larger radiation exposures.

This web page last updated August 11, 2023

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