Skip to Content
 

Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources

Issue 13 - Evidence - November 2, 2010


OTTAWA, Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources met this day at 5:06 p.m. to study the current state and future of Canada's energy sector (including alternative energy).

Senator Grant Mitchell (Deputy Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Deputy Chair: I call this meeting to order. Hello and welcome. Witnesses, I will be introducing you specifically in a moment or two. I would just like to welcome everyone in the room and the viewers at home to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources. My name is Grant Mitchell, and I am a senator from Alberta. I am the deputy chair of this committee, filling in for the chair who, unfortunately, was unable to be here today. He sends his regrets.

Before commencing tonight's proceedings, I would like to introduce my Senate colleagues and the staff members who are around the table with us here this evening. I will go to my right first. We have Marc LeBlanc and Sam Banks, analysts form the Library of Parliament, both doing excellent work in support of the study in which this committee is engaged. Next is Senator Tommy Banks, another senator from Alberta. We have the advantage of having three Alberta senators on this committee. Imagine that. We also have Senator Bert Brown.

On my immediate left is Lynn Gordon, who is the clerk of the committee; Senator Bob Peterson, from Saskatchewan; Senator Judith Seidman, from Quebec; Senator Dan Lang, from the Yukon; and Senator Paul Massicotte, also from Quebec.

Welcome to each of you. It is a pleasure working on this committee for a number of reasons: We have a great rapport; we work effectively together; and we are working on a tremendously important study.

Committees study legislation and conduct studies on important issues. Right now we do not have any legislation before us, and we are engrossed in a study of a Canadian energy strategy, along with the many related issues that people could imagine would arise in a study of this nature. I think we have been doing this study for over a year now. We recently published our interim report, which lays out how we have built the parameters of the study and where we will go with it. It is entitled ATTENTION CANADA! Preparing for our Energy Future.

I know that everyone here and watching tonight would want to have a copy of that remarkable piece of work, and I will tell them where it can be found. They can find it on another remarkable piece of work, a brand new website that is unprecedented in its construction and application for a committee such as ours. The website is called www.canadianenergyfuture.ca and www.avenirenergiecanadienne.ca.

People can go to that website and get a copy of that study, witness testimony, all the questions, the give and take and other related materials. It is very useful. We want to encourage people to go there not only to get information, which is tantamount to us telling people about things, but also to tell us what they think about this issue, report and study; we want to create commentary and discussion.

We have just been joined by Senator Richard Neufeld, from British Columbia; welcome.

I have the special pleasure of welcoming today's three witnesses. Thank you for being with us. They are Dr. Michael Binder, who was appointed in January 2008 as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, CNSC. He has had an extensive career in the federal public service and has held senior positions at Industry Canada, the Department of Communications, the Office of the Comptroller General of Canada, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the Ministry of State for Urban Affairs and the Defence Research Board.

With him today are Ramzi Jammal, Executive Vice-President and Chief Regulatory Operations Officer; and Patsy Thompson, Director General, Directorate of Environmental and Radiation Protection and Assessment.

Welcome and thank you for being with us. We look forward to what we will learn from you in our discussion and questioning. Dr. Binder, I understand that you have some opening remarks, and then we will have questions from colleagues around the table.

Michael Binder, President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission: With your permission, I would like to go through a slide presentation that was circulated around the table. I will go very quickly through it, and then open it up for questions and answers, if that is okay.

I also have to remind everyone that Alberta is overrepresented. I graduate from the University of Alberta — I just could not resist.

Slide two tells you who we are. We are the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, CNSC. We were established under a new act in May 2000, which just replaced the old Atomic Energy Control Board, AECB, from 1946. The point is that we have been around for a long time. In fact, next year we are celebrating our sixty-fifth anniversary, and we are not planning to retire. We will be around for a while.

With respect to slide 3, our mission is quite clear: to protect the health, safety and security of the environment and to implement Canada's international obligations.

On slide 4, just to remind everyone, we regulate everything in the nuclear space from cradle to grave, from mines and mills to uranium fuel fabrication, to power plants, medical applications, nuclear research and, very importantly, export and import control of nuclear substances.

On slide 5, our international obligations are such that from early days, Canada decided that we will not be a weapon state. In fact, we will only use nuclear for peaceful applications. We do so by ensuring that we meet the international obligations for non-proliferation and by being a member state of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, to ensure that everyone must account for any nuclear substance that goes through import and export in Canada.

Slide 6 is just to remind you that we are a quasi-judicial administrative tribunal. Commission members are independent. We hold public hearings and public meetings, and we also webcast and archive them. I invite anyone who is interested in previous deliberations to actually go to the archives and see the video. You can fast-forward through all the boring parts.

On slide 7, you can see who the commissioners are. Interestingly, the commissioners on this commission are permanent part-timers. They have day jobs; they do other things; and thereby their independence is assured. They come in to hear things on a file-by-file basis, render their decision and then move on to their day jobs. It is a structure that is slightly different from other regulatory bodies to which you have been exposed.

Slide 8 is an attempt to try to put all our nuclear power plants into one slide. Just to remind you, we have 22 such plants. Three of them are in the refurbishment stage right now, two are in safe shutdown and 17 are operating, providing around 15 per cent of Canada's electricity demand. In Ontario, it is 52 per cent; in Quebec, it is 3 per cent; and in New Brunswick, it is about 30 per cent.

We also ensure that we, as a regulator, can deal with any new technology and any new proposal that comes from the various stakeholders. On slide 9, we share with you that we have done a design review of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited's — AECL — new proposed ACR-1000. We have been reviewing the Westinghouse's AP1000, Areva's EPR and AECL's Enhanced CANDU 6, EC6. In other words, we are technology neutral. When someone comes to us with a proposal, we will look at it from a safety perspective.

We also list the kind of work that is happening at Bruce, Point Lepreau, Gentilly-2, Pickering and Darlington. Even in Saskatchewan and Alberta, they were musing about the role of nuclear power in those provinces, and I think there is still a question mark as to what role they will play in the future.

Slide 10 is to remind you that, internationally, many countries already have a mixed supply of electricity. It is interesting to see that in France, 80 per cent of electrical demand is satisfied by nuclear. In the United States, it is about 20 per cent. As I mentioned, in Canada, it is 15 per cent. France has approximately 60 nuclear power plants supplying about 80 per cent of the electricity; the U.S. has 104; and Canada, as I said, has 22.

Slide 11 is an attempt to capture what is happening internationally. As you can see, there are 441 nuclear power plants operating, 60 under construction, 148 under serious planning and 342 proposed, so less serious planning — they are still in the planning stages and have not yet advanced.

Slide 12 is the kind of work we are doing with uranium mining. Right now, there are four active mines, all in Saskatchewan, and I have listed them. The mine in Cigar Lake is under construction. Depending on the price of uranium as a commodity, there are about five or six projects that are in various stages of being proposed for development.

Slide 13 is to present to you that we are also working on some of the legacy. The historical legacy of the uranium business is not something of which we are proud, and we are trying to remediate some of the old-style management of uranium mines. We can talk about that more if you are interested.

Slide 14 describes what happened with the National Research Universal reactor, the NRU, the isotope-producing facility. The good news is that it went into production in August 2010. It has been running without incident since. In fact, they will be coming to us for licence renewal in 2011. We will see what kind of proposal they come to us with at that time.

The government, in Budget 2010, decided to start investing in other ways of producing isotopes; they put $35 million into trying to see if they can actually use cyclotron, light sources and other facilities to produce medical isotopes.

Slide 15 is a quick overview of our licensing process. I will not bore you with the details unless you would like to get into it.

I would like to make two points; throughout all of our licensing processes, two things are ongoing. First, there is ongoing public involvement. Second, we have environmental monitoring, so there are annual reports, public appearances wherein the public appears in front of us, and there are licensees who appear to present their compliance with licensing conditions.

Slide 16 is what we normally look for in any application that appears in front of us. We are obviously looking at the comprehensiveness of the application; the environmental assessment process on the environmental impact; the major safety issues; whether there was public consultation, particularly the duty to consult with Aboriginal peoples; what would be done with waste tailings management; and how to deal with provincial and local communities. The bottom line is, together with the licence, we also believe that you must have some social licence, as we label it. In other words, acceptance from the local community would be very desirable.

The last slide outlines some misconceptions. When I came to this commission, I was very surprised about the misconceptions and the information that was available about nuclear, particularly nuclear safety. In Canada, nuclear reactors and uranium mining are safe. There is no regulator for gold and nickel but there is for uranium mines. We are breathing down their necks on a daily basis, so you would think uranium mining would be deemed to be very safe, and it is. The nuclear industry is not a security risk.

I do not know if any of you have visited Darlington or Pickering, where you will see heavy-duty security-trained people who guard those facilities 24-7. The environment is protected continuously. There are very strict licence conditions, and you need to proactively disclose your emissions and your impact on an ongoing basis. Waste is also managed. The bottom line is that CNSC would not license or allow an operation to continue without believing that its operations are safe.

The last slide speaks to the obvious: We will not compromise safety; that is part of our DNA. Thank you for your attention.

The Deputy Chair: Your presentation was very interesting. We will move to questions.

Senator Lang: Thank you for spending time with us this evening. The nuclear question is an outstanding one for Canadians. You wrapped it up fairly well in your closing remarks in trying to come to a conclusion about nuclear and its safety. One area that we have examined to some degree is nuclear waste and its management. A witness who appeared at our last meeting spoke about looking at geological repositories, similar to those in Sweden and Finland, I believe.

There is one question that was not put to him but that should have been. Right now we are dealing with our waste at the various sites. What happens if we do nothing and simply continue with the same process that we have?

Mr. Binder: Currently, the waste is stored safely on-site. Government policy has been that eventually a different location will need to found for the fuel. The deep geological repository, DGR, that you mentioned is for low-level and intermediate-level waste. That can range from cloth or some sort of waste material that is not a high-level radiation material like fuel. There is a proposal to build such a repository in the Bruce Power site. Mr. Nash was talking about a very long-term process to find a community that will accept building a DGR for fuel, which is the most radioactive material. Their time horizon, if memory serves, is 2035. By definition everyone is very comfortable while everything is managed safely.

If they never build such a repository, they will be left to continue to manage it on-site. We are quite comfortable that it can be done safely for many years. If you ask the question as to how many years, I cannot tell you. We react to safety proposals that come before us. The current proponents, Ontario Power Generation, Bruce Power and Gentilly-2, have been successfully storing their waste on site.

Senator Lang: Are there 17 nuclear plants operating and 5 not operating in Canada today?

Mr. Binder: Yes. There are 3 plants in refurbishment and 2 in permanent shutdown.

Senator Lang: "Permanent shutdown" means we have only 20 nuclear plants.

Could you give us an indication of the energy put out by the 3 plants being refurbished? Another source of energy must be provided while they are not working.

Mr. Binder: The chart on slide 8 shows Point Lepreau, which has been operating at an output of 635 megawatts. At Bruce, the two being refurbished are both at 750 megawatts. The expectation is that after they are refurbished, they will operate at a slightly higher level. The power output will be determined when they come to us for the licence to start operating again.

Senator Lang: Who is paying for the refurbishment?

Mr. Binder: They are paying, absolutely.

The Deputy Chair: I will take this moment to welcome a couple of newly arrived senators at the committee: Senator Fred Dickson, from Nova Scotia; and Senator Elaine McCoy, from Alberta.

Senator Banks: You said that CNSC is independent and that you will not compromise safety. The commission did not compromise safety, but Parliament was obliged to do so. I think you know what I am talking about. Parliament had to be convened to change the law of the land to accommodate the operation of the plant that makes medical isotopes, despite an order to shut it down. The woman who was at the front of that order to shut it down was removed from that office.

I seek instruction, and do not want to be obstreperous, but how independent is that? How uncompromising is that?

Mr. Binder: I was not there, so I can comment now after being in this position for a while. I will start by saying that Parliament is supreme. Parliament can pass legislation that will overrule our legislation. That is their prerogative.

Senator Banks: I made clear that the commission did not compromise; we compromised. Some of us did not like it very much.

Mr. Binder: My point is that it took an act of Parliament to overrule the commission; that is a true indication of the CNSC's independence compared to many other regulatory bodies. The only way you can overrule a written decision by CNSC is to go to court. The courts have been very supportive of quasi-judicial bodies doing their jobs as opposed to other regulatory bodies that can be reviewed by cabinet.

For example, in my previous life I was a regulator inside Industry Canada, so you can blame me for some of the spectrum allocation of your cell phones. Any decision made by the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission, CRTC, for example, is reviewable by cabinet. The decisions of the CNSC are not reviewable by cabinet.

I come back to the point that each of our commissioners has a day job and is not beholden to this position. They are paid a per diem for their two or three days' work on a particular file. Trust me: You cannot influence them. They make their own decisions and reach their own conclusions. As a long-time public servant, I can say that I have never felt more independent in my life. We report through a minister to Parliament, but it is administrative in nature and is for appropriations, annual reports, et cetera.

I have been in this job for two and a half years, and I have never received any instruction from anyone in government about any of our files.

Senator Banks: Did your predecessor receive instructions?

Mr. Binder: There is one other thing. There was a difference of opinion about the role and mandate of the commission in health. We do not have a health mandate, but when we deliberate on a particular file, we need to look at all inputs, such as environmental input and community input, including social and economic aspects like health.

When you are weighing safety against isotope production, one can argue that there was room for negotiation. The government has sent a directive to the commission that says that, for clarity, isotope production shall be considered in the deliberations. You cannot legislate by directive. You cannot amend an act by directive. A directive clarifies what is already in the act.

All of this is long-winded to say that one can argue that there was room there to debate the safety versus isotope, which should have been paramount and, again, I was not there. The previous president made a decision that she thought was important. People disagreed with it in order to do something else.

Senator Peterson: Thank you for your presentation. Because of the nature of the industry, many times the statement has been made there is a lot of overlap and duplication between the federal portion and the provincial portion. In your mind is that real, or have you been able to iron some of that out?

Mr. Binder: We have been developing a really good relationship with the provinces. For example, in Saskatchewan we have an MOU with the province about how to get approval for mines, and it has been working very well. We do not duplicate. We do one environmental assessment. We have a similar agreement in Quebec. Everywhere there is a provincial issue, we have an agreement.

The challenge has been here in town, amongst all the other departments — Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Transport Canada. You probably have heard about Natural Resources Canada trying to deal with this through the major project office to ensure that there is coordination amongst the various departments. We are making a lot of progress on this.

Senator Peterson: Initially I believe mines and mills were held to the same regulatory standards as nuclear reactors. Is this still the case, and if so, would that be necessary?

Mr. Binder: Each application gets different treatment, depending on the risk associated with that particular application. Mines and mills are being looked at for different operations. Most of the concerns in mines and mills are safety of the workers and safety of the environment. With a nuclear power plant, the focus is on the operation itself. They look at the different intensity and different licensing conditions that determine what we will be expecting them to comply with. They are different.

Senator Peterson: On the waste storage of the spent fuel you said that there is capacity for many years on-site, so no generating site would be in danger of not being able to store their waste then for the foreseeable future of the generation?

Mr. Binder: No, not for the foreseeable future. The sites are pretty substantial, and there is room for them to store more waste.

Senator Peterson: Therefore, there is no limit.

Mr. Binder: There is room for many decades.

Senator Neufeld: Senator Lang asked a question and you responded that the Tiverton deep geological repository is not for the radioactive waste but for other waste. Do I understand that correctly?

Mr. Binder: It is for low-level and intermediate-level waste. There are three scales: high, medium and low. High-level waste is the one that Mr. Nash was talking about, doing this in about 20 or 30 years, this deep geological repository for fuel.

Senator Neufeld: When you look at countries such as France with 80 per cent or 90 per cent of their electricity coming from nuclear, which it has generated for a long time, they must have an awful lot of waste, or did they do something else? I am trying to understand this.

Mr. Binder: I am glad you asked that because even the quantity of waste is not much — again, I must be careful here. Someone said that the waste in Canada over 50 years is approximately the size of five hockey arenas. You can imagine that relatively it is not much waste. The French and every our country, and the Americans with 104 plants, are storing it on-site by and large. They have some other facilities to store low and intermediate waste, but most of the fuel waste is stored on-site.

Senator Neufeld: Actually, it is six NHL hockey rinks filled from the ice surface to the top of the boards. That is in Mr. Nash's notes.

Mr. Nash that said the industry today in Canada is responsible for all the costs of storage of waste, whether deep repository or whatever they do with it. That cost was estimated at $16 billion. Do you agree with that number? Thinking ahead 25 years now, so that we would have had nuclear for 50 years in total, how much waste we will have, will $16 billion cover that? Are you comfortable with that as a regulator?

Mr. Binder: I will ask my colleague to help me here, but I am more than comfortable. We set it up. When they come for a licence, they have to show us enough money for decommissioning and for waste management; absolutely. This is reviewed periodically to make sure we keep up with inflation and the ability to pay. It is money that is available and can be tapped even if they go bankrupt.

Senator Neufeld: I appreciate that response. He also said that that is in the rate base already and that money is someplace, but he did not know where. When you say that it can be tapped, you are agreeing that that money is there.

Mr. Binder: Definitely; yes.

Senator Neufeld: The day, let us say, that we hit spending $16 billion, no one will say, by the way, the rates will have to go up to compensate this. What has happened over the last 20 or 30 years or maybe longer, and going into the future, is already built into the rate base; is that correct?

Mr. Binder: Absolutely; and maybe another couple of points. If you follow the debate in the United States about Yucca Mountain, the reason some of the utilities are upset is because they put in escrow somewhere in the region of $100 billion, and now they do not have a site. They thought it was coming, and now they want their money back. I am being a bit sarcastic. They will never get their money back because they have to store it somewhere. However, the point is that a lot of money has already been collected and put aside just to deal with those issues.

Senator Neufeld: Maybe in 25 years they will be looking for it to come back in Ontario.

Mr. Binder: Remember there is one other thing happening. There are also new technologies and new approaches to reprocessing fuel. Some people believe that the waste is not really waste but a gold mine. Most of the uranium is still in the waste. Only about 5 per cent has been used, so you have almost 90 per cent uranium that can be reprocessed. One of the problems with that is that it is expensive. However, if costs escalate, it might become economical in the future.

Senator Neufeld: You responded to Senator Lang on who is paying for the refurbishment. I believe Ontario is, but I am not picking on Point Lepreau. I do know some federal dollars went into Point Lepreau; the federal government is picking up some of the cost of the refurbishment because of many things that I do not want to get into. Regardless, it is not totally funded by the rate base.

Mr. Binder: We do not get involved in all of this. We ensure the refurbishment is done safely. However, I can share what I do know: AECL is doing the refurbishment under contract. Cost overrun is paid by AECL, and AECL is a Crown corporation.

Senator Neufeld: Therefore, the taxpayers across Canada are paying for it. That is what I wanted you to put on the record, and I am happy that you did.

Senator Lang: On the question of refurbishment, you have a number of plants being refurbished and out of operation at the present time. Will the plants currently operating have to be refurbished in the future, and what timeline are you looking at?

Mr. Binder: The decision about the Pickering site has been made by the Ontario government. It will be decommissioned in 2020.

Senator Lang: When you say "decommissioned," are you talking about a year or two?

Mr. Binder: It is not a refurbishment. They are shutting down the site.

Darlington is scheduled to be refurbished around 2014. Bruce may want to refurbish the remainder. Therefore, all of this is still to come. When you refurbish plants, you can get approximately 25 or 30 years more of life out of them.

Senator Neufeld: On the isotope production, I am happy to hear it has been smoothed out and is going well. I think most Canadians and those people who access those isotopes are very happy about that.

I want to talk about the safety factor, and I am not saying it is not safe. You say that it is very safe. Many people are looking at trying to get more generation across Canada. My home province, British Columbia, says no, because we have many other options to generate electricity. Therefore, there is something else we can do. In fact, I was the minister responsible for putting an energy plan into place.

I live close to Peace River, Alberta. I know Alberta relatively well, although there are some people here from Alberta who can probably speak more for the people of that province. I think there are some fears there about the effect a plant might have, and waste is one of the concerns.

What would you do if you were able to — maybe you are not able to — go out and start talking to the public about how safe nuclear generation actually is?

I hear it from you, and I do not disbelieve any of you, but I do not see a concerted effort to talk about it across the country. I do not know if that is your responsibility, but someone should actually take that and start doing some talking. We talk about deep geological repositories and trying to get a community on board. Good luck — they have been trying for years, all over the world, to try to get a community that will accept it. No community has so far.

What would we do to actually try to build that up? Some people living where that activity takes place are probably quite happy with it, and they feel fine about it. It is similar to oil and gas. I am comfortable with oil and gas where I come from because that is the major economy. In Quebec, where they are doing shale gas, many people are wondering what is happening. To the oil and gas industry I say, "You better get out there and start talking to people."

How about the nuclear industry?

Mr. Binder: I think you are right. Our mandate is to deal with safety. When someone starts to argue that we are licensing something unsafe, I take it personally. We have been trying now to reach out to various communities; our staff is now going around and trying to present facts and figures.

The problem is that it is complicated science. As you know, there is an aversion and distrust now of science. That is a real and large issue. B.C. prohibited the exploration of uranium. Do not ask me on what basis that was done. It does not make any sense in my opinion, given that the exploration of gold is allowed. I do not know if you know about the tailings of gold. At least isotopes decay over time; maybe thousands of years. However, arsenic is forever.

Therefore a regulator is needed for all of them. If you are feeling comfortable with any mining activity, why someone would single out uranium is beyond my comprehension.

Some historical legacy issues created a bad reputation. When most people hear "nuclear," they automatically equate it with a bomb. Here is a ridiculous example: When the NRU came back into production to produce isotopes, most people said, "Terrific, the machine is back on." However, some press reported, "But they are using bomb-grade uranium to produce these isotopes." There is a built-in fear of nuclear.

How do we deal with this? In France, President Sarkozy is out there promoting nuclear. He has experience; he believes in it, and he has a big company that promotes it. I am not aware of any other country that has accepted nuclear as a very good technology to deploy for electricity. It requires champions at the political level. It will not be us who can champion it. However, there is not much appetite to champion it.

You might have seen what happened in Alberta and Saskatchewan when the premiers even hinted about maybe using a small nuclear power plant to help with the oil sands. It resulted in a movement of citizens arguing against it.

Senator Neufeld: All of the things you say are true. However, it is the same for the oil industry with the oil sands. They are starting to talk about it in every newspaper you pick up and on television.

I am saying that we cannot duck under all the time. Someone has to stand up. I appreciate that the politicians will have to stand up, also, but I think the industry's safety regulators have to stand up, too, and start doing some things.

Mr. Binder: We are now very proactive on the safety side. We ask every licensee who comes before us about their outreach and if they went out to talk about it.

Senator Neufeld: When you talked about British Columbia and the mining, I guess I was the guy responsible at the time. Had you been in those communities and getting beaten up, you may have done some of the same things. You may have headed back to Ottawa. Let me tell you, there was some real unrest in those communities where that was taking place, right or wrong — I am not standing on either side of coin.

Mr. Binder: Senator, come to our hearings. I get beaten up continually.

Senator Neufeld: I know what it is like to get beaten up, too.

Senator Banks: Before we leave the subject, you were talking about reprocessing. Is it not the case that reprocessing is less likely to be efficient with the kind of fuel that we make in Canada from our reactors than the kind, for example, made in France?

Mr. Binder: I will ask my technical expert.

Senator Banks: Our reactors operate on a different basis, and the spent fuel that comes out of our reactors is different from the spent fuel that comes out of French reactors, which is more easily, as I understand it, processable than ours.

Mr. Binder: There are two issues, two parameters. It is the kind of fuel, you are quite right, but also the kind of machine you use.

Senator Banks: As well as the kind of water.

Mr. Binder: The CANDU reactor is good at reprocessing. They are doing so in China now. In fact, it is a good user of another material, thorium, rather than uranium. Many people are starting to look into that.

It is still in the very early stages. It is only now that some serious money is flowing into research. Places such as Europe and Japan, particularly, are looking at reprocessing.

I think we will see some new approaches. If the renaissance is real and everyone starts building nuclear power plants, the demand for uranium will go up, the price will go up and it will incent many people to come up with different processes.

Senator Brown: Thank you for coming. Could you tell me what yellow cake is?

Mr. Binder: Yellow cake is a form of uranium that gets mined out. What is the formula here? Go ahead.

Ramzi Jammal, Executive Vice-President and Chief Regulatory Operations Officer, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission: Yellow cake is the result of the uranium mining process. Yellow cake is still naturally occurring uranium, and it is being referred to as yellow cake because of its colour after being processed.

Senator Brown: Can it ever be used in making weapons?

Mr. Jammal: Yellow cake itself cannot be used for making weapons.

Senator Brown: That is what I wanted to hear.

Mr. Jammal: It is naturally occurring radioactive material, which we refer to as natural uranium.

Senator Brown: I was once at a banquet discussing nuclear energy, and a former MPs of Canada asked why we do not put the waste material back into the uranium mines that it came from. Is that something that anyone is really considering? It is true that there is also only a small amount of radiation from uranium itself. It seems only fair that if areas of the country get monies from uranium, they should probably have to handle the waste as well.

Mr. Binder: Much of the uranium waste itself, when you do the mining, the rocks and the tailings, in certain places is actually used to refill the mines. They have a particular mine, and if there is another mine not far away, they use what they dig up from one mine to put into the other. Saskatchewan is doing that.

It would probably not be good enough for fuel because you have to know about the water and the geology of the mine. You have to ensure that you do not get into the water table. Any facility could be used if it passed our test for safety, safety for waste management being the impact on the environment.

Senator Brown: It is being stored now, I understand, in ceramic rods and containment similar to giant swimming pools. Would that waste material be recoverable when you are talking about replenishing uranium? If we only get 5 per cent out, and we have 95 per cent left, could that stuff be taken out of its containment storage and used in breeder reactors? France is working on breeder reactors, are they not?

Mr. Binder: Yes, that is the idea. We use that particular fuel again.

Senator Brown: Is that possible? Can those containment structures be taken apart and the uranium reused?

Mr. Binder: Yes. The way it works is that the waste coming out of the machine is put in the pool, and it stays there for about 10 years to cool off. After that, it is taken out of the pool and stored in different types of containers. The act of taking it out is done remotely, and you can work with it.

The one thing we do not talk about in this particular industry is that they have learned to work remotely. They have developed some fantastic robotics.

AECL gets criticized for many things, but the one thing they have done right is to fix the NRU. You should see some of the robotics they have developed for doing this, to go in and actually repair and weld holes. It is a remarkable business. In fact, there are some spin-offs on that now.

All of this is to say, yes, if it would make sense economically, they would start doing it, and it may happen in the near future.

Senator Brown: That leaves us with the thought that at least the stored waste might be able to be reused with new technology when it happens.

Mr. Binder: Correct. It is a big international debate now, if and when.

Senator Brown: I would like to make one comment on the NRU facility that we shut down. I went through the 38 pages of testimony that was in the Senate on what happened with the NRU and why it was shut down. On about page 34, you will find that it was shut down because the fourth safety factor was not in place, and the people who were responsible for it were asked if they were an on-site regulator. They responded that, yes, they were on-site. They were then asked whether they were on-site at the moment it was discovered that it did not comply with the final fourth safety factor, when the automatic time frame came for doing a rework on it. They admitted they did not have anyone on-site at that time.

No one actually saw that a piece of safety equipment was missing, which happened to be a bunch of big batteries. They finally admitted that the batteries were not there and that they had accepted the word of people who were running the plant as to whether it complied or not, rather than going out to the site and observing it physically. That is what is in the testimony.

Mr. Binder: Let me tell you, in my reading of the history and talking to people who were there, officially, there was never a commission decision made on that. The commission has a process where they will issue a written decision. There was never a decision made on that.

There was bad blood between the two organizations, CNSC and AECL. It was not a moment of excellence, let me put it that way. When I came in, I found it astounding that there was debate between the two organizations as to what was in a licence condition. In other words, one side was arguing it was not part of the licence conditions and the other one argued it was.

I can tell you that since then, it will not happen again because there is an MOU, a protocol, and we know exactly what is involved. There is mediation and the ability to raise it up the line. Therefore, there is no real misunderstanding as to what the expectations are on both sides.

It is unfortunate the way it worked. There may have been room to negotiate an arrangement, but the vehicle and the mechanism to do so did not exist.

Senator Massicotte: Thank you for being with us. I will concentrate on safety issues because with the carbon and environmental issue being the significant issue and with nuclear providing no environmental impact, you can only think it will become more important and nuclear production will become more prevalent in the world. There are two reasons why that is not the case: One reason is cost, and the other is safety.

I would ask you to repeat some obvious things for the record: You said that this is very safe. Let us talk about the operation, storage, non-proliferation and the security risk of losing control of the materials. In all cases, is it super safe? Is there no risk to the population in all aspects?

Mr. Binder: The only way that I can answer is to speak to the track record. Canada's track record on any accident is better than the American's track record. We have not had an event like Three Mile Island. All our nuclear power plants have been operating safely, and waste materials are stored. I can continue to say that it is safe because all I can prove is what has happened in the past.

Senator Massicotte: Is it 100 per cent safe?

Mr. Binder: There is no such thing as 100 per cent safe. We call it one in a million or one in one hundred thousand. It is similar to saying that flying is safe. It is safe. Even the airline industry will tell you it is the safest mode of travel and will give you all kinds of statistics.

Senator Massicotte: You are saying that it is not 100 per cent safe but that it is relatively safe.

Mr. Binder: I ask: relative to what? People have been talking to us recently because of the BP event in the Gulf of Mexico. They say to us, "You see? BP promised it would be 100 per cent safe, and look what happened." Well, we are not BP. This is the nuclear industry, and we cannot afford to have any major events, so we are a very prescribing organization. We demand adherence to a safety culture. We enforce a safety culture. We are very aggressive in ensuring that the operators are continuously preoccupied with safety. That is as much as I can tell you.

Senator Massicotte: It is a scientific question of probability. Have you set a number to it? Is it 1 in 100,000?

Mr. Binder: There is a probability assessment to all our systems.

Senator Massicotte: What is the probability of having an accident in which people's lives are threatened?

Mr. Binder: If you are talking about a meltdown in a reactor causing a shutdown, it is probably 1 in 1 million.

Senator Massicotte: That is pretty high when you think of the consequences. I hope the chances are not that great.

Mr. Binder: It is higher than that.

Mr. Jammal: Every safety case is based on a probabilistic safety assessment that takes into consideration normal operations. As part of our assessment of the safety case, we assess not just the operation itself but also the beyond design basis, and in extension to the beyond design basis, every accident scenario is assessed based on modelling and historical information of the actual.

The operation itself is safe. The system is built on redundancy. It is not a single safety system; it has multiple safety systems. The probability of a meltdown is not plausible. It could happen because potentially anything is possible. The safety case of every operating facility takes into consideration the extreme from normal operations to the beyond design basis, taking into consideration the facility design, the operation design and the population around it.

Senator Massicotte: What is the probability of having a meltdown?

Mr. Jammal: On the probability of having a meltdown, the design is 1x1013 design.

Senator Massicotte: Repeat that slowly, if you will. What is that?

Mr. Jammal: It is 1x1013 beyond design basis.

Senator Massicotte: That is one billionth — 1 in 1 billion.

Mr. Jammal: Exactly. You asked a technical question, so I am trying to provide the answer. I will explain the process. For that to happen, it would mean that every system in place would have to fail, including the human intervention.

Senator Massicotte: You said "normal operation," but people make mistakes. You cannot presume that people will not make mistakes. If everything works perfectly, it will never occur, but people are people and machines do not always work perfectly.

Mr. Jammal: That is correct.

Senator Massicotte: You have factored that into your calculation.

Mr. Jammal: Of course it is assumed, and the redundancy factor, in the case of failure of every system, is in place. From the design perspective, the human intervention is not given the same factor as other safety systems. That means we do not rely on one single system with respect to safety.

Senator Massicotte: There have been some disasters throughout the world. Three Mile Island was mentioned. You said that it has not occurred in Canada. You say, "Trust me." That is a tough one.

Mr. Binder: Wait; do not put words in my mouth. It is a different design. At Chernobyl, the Russian design was old technology. Some of my anti-nuke friends wonder how I can say that it will never happen when it happened at Chernobyl, but it is like comparing apples and oranges. It did not have containment; their actual safety systems were non-existent. The only common denominator is that it was a nuclear power plant. Therefore, you tell me how I explain that our system has been working for 35 years without incident and is, therefore, not comparable to the Russian or to the American systems. You wanted a scientific answer.

If I say to the general population that the chances are 1x1013, how many people will understand what I am saying? That is the dilemma of proving safety. You cannot prove safety.

Senator Massicotte: That is the issue. The challenge is to somehow get the language across to the people of Canada and the world because there are great advantages to nuclear energy. You have to get across the message that it is safe. It is similar to airplane travel; it is safe until your plane crashes and you are that 1 in 100. Then it is 100 per cent unsafe.

You have to somehow provide the language to get the message across; it is a tough. The world has had some bad experiences, and the consequences are so severe. It is beyond a plane crash when millions of people can be affected. There are many accidents. It is always safe until the accident happens.

Mr. Binder: In nuclear, there are only two events that people keep talking about.

Senator Massicotte: There are probably more, but we do not talk about them.

Mr. Binder: There are not more in terms of people who died or impact on the environment. They were little internal incidents.

Patsy Thompson, Director General, Directorate of Environmental and Radiation Protection and Assessment, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission: We have done a number of environmental assessments on nuclear power plants. There was an application to CNSC to refurbish the Pickering plants, which are close to Toronto. There is a large population centre around the plants. The environmental assessment takes into consideration the impacts from normal operations as well as impacts from accidents and malfunctions.

Our normal cut-off point to look at accidents and malfunctions that are credible is the probability of 1 in 1 million years. When we did the Pickering assessment, the accidents that could happen at a rate of 1 in 1 million years were such that no discharges of radioactivity would occur off-site. We requested that Ontario Power Generation, OPG, do an assessment of even less probable accidents. We went up to 1 in 10 million to be able to have an accident with a small discharge off-site so that we could see if the emergency response plans and evacuations would be feasible, if the mitigation measures were feasible, for an area close to a large population centre.

The findings of the assessment showed that very few people would need to be evacuated. The doses that members of the public around the site would receive from a very important accident would be minor, essentially. There would be no deaths. No one would have a level of radio activity that would require hospitalization. The levels of environmental impacts were very small from a very significant impact.

Senator Massicotte: It is a major message that you need to get across. This is a good forum, but you have to repeat it many times.

In the logical mind, there is only one reason we do not use nuclear more, if you can get around the safety image issue and that is cost. Apparently it is very costly to build nuclear plants. When you convert it to kilowatt per cost, you cannot be competitive. I heard a presentation from the lady who is president of a French nuclear company. She said that they can be competitive. Russia is constructing many nuclear plants and is very competitive, also many in China.

Are you knowledgeable in this sector? What does it equate to from a cost-competitiveness perspective? We heard from the president of Bruce Power who said that it can be very competitive. I believe that he suggested 10 cents to 12 cents per kilowatt. Is that the case; can we be competitive?

Mr. Binder: I have seen dozens of studies arguing both ways. If you listen to the anti-nuclear side, it is difficult to compare nuclear with wind and solar, but when you take into account the massive land needed for wind and solar, it is not as comparable. We do not get involved in the economics because government has to make a decision and it is a real tough decision to make.

The utilities themselves, at the end of the day, will have to make a decision on that. The Chinese, Russians and Americans already made the decision to build. The French are building. Finland is now in the process of building one and already approved, I think, two more. Again, Finland, which is very much into wind and solar, decided — they are not against wind and solar — they cannot afford to put all their eggs in the wind and solar basket because that may be good for the future, but right now, if you want ensure supply, you have to have a base, reliable supply. That is the dilemma that all countries will eventually have to face because wind and solar will not suffice for the next 20 or 30 years. In 40 or 50 years maybe, but what do you do in the meantime?

Senator Massicotte: On one of your charts, I was surprised to see Russia is getting only a slightly higher percentage of their total power needs from nuclear than we are, yet they are the major builder of nuclear reactors in the world today. Why do they not have a higher percentage?

Mr. Binder: They have had long experience.

Senator Massicotte: Yes, very much so.

Mr. Binder: In fact, they are now aggressively pursuing selling nuclear power plants.

Senator Massicotte: I agree with that. If that is the case, why are they not producing a higher percentage of electricity from nuclear inside their own country when they are major promoter of nuclear plants around the world?

Mr. Binder: I do not know the answer. The point is that the Chernobyl plant was a Russian design. They had to go back to figure out what to do.

Senator Massicotte: You seem to know a lot about the CANDU reactor and some of its advantages. Why is it not selling? There has been a dry period. People are not buying our reactors. Is there any particular comment there?

Mr. Binder: Again, it is interesting. We are not in the marketing business. When a regulator abroad asks us if we would license a CANDU, we obviously always say yes. It is a commercial competition. The way it was sold, it is government to government. You need to have a champion. You need to have someone who will go in there and cut deals — some of them are financial; some of them are economic; some of them are political. You need support and aid, et cetera. The French have been very aggressive. The Americans and Japanese have been very aggressive in their model.

This reminds me of my telecom days. There was a large amount of competition in telecommunication. Once we licensed the wireless, everyone wanted to be in there. However, you could get into the business much easier, even though you had to build the infrastructure that cost billions of dollars. This is not a mom-and-pop kind of game. You need big bucks. You need support, and sometimes you need government backup from the regulatory perspective.

Senator Seidman: You talk about misconceptions of nuclear reactors, the nuclear industry and safety and environmental risks. I would like to specifically discuss the Bruce Power situation and the licence to transport 16 steam generators by ship through the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway to Sweden. There has been a lot of publicity recently, during October. There have been press pieces. The First Nations, environmentalists and residents along the proposed route have all expressed concerns about shipping radioactive, school-bus-size generators from Owen Sound to Sweden for recycling.

Given that this affects my province as well, on the St. Lawrence Seaway, and of course the Great Lakes and various other locations, I would like to know what the current status is of this application. Could you tell me the number of hearings you have had, when you expect this to be resolved and what some of the problems are that have been presented to you?

Mr. Binder: First, I will start with a process statement. The commission itself is now under deliberations, so I do not feel comfortable getting into it. However, I am a commissioner, and the staff are not, so you can ask them some questions.

The process is that we had a public hearing on September 28, 29 and 30. We had 79 interventions. It took us 17 hours of public hearings to listen to all the arguments. Staff made presentations, Bruce Power made a presentation and all the interveners made presentations. One of the complaints was that there was not sufficient time and there was not sufficient information.

In our deliberation as a commission, we have agreed that there was a need for a little more information on the table. We asked staff to put in some more material, which was done, and we have allowed further intervention to all those who participated until November 22. At that time, the commission will continue its deliberation and decide if we have enough information to make a decision. If the answer is yes, then we will make a decision then.

That is all I can say right now. If you want the staff to argue what they have been saying in their recommendation to the commission, they can answer.

Senator Seidman: Could I ask you for further clarification? You said that all the witnesses who appeared before you have until November 22 to submit any further information; is that correct?

Mr. Binder: Yes.

Senator Seidman: You will not have any more public hearings, but people will be able to submit information, statements and documents.

Mr. Binder: We will make that determination after November 22.

Senator Seidman: Okay. Upon what basis will you make that determination?

Mr. Binder: We will determine if there is a reason to get further input from the public in a public hearing.

Senator Seidman: If witnesses present documentation to you between now and November 22 and you decide there will not be any more public hearings, will you use that documentation in your decision making?

Mr. Binder: Yes, absolutely. Right now any input will be a part of the analysis that asks whether we have enough information, we need to do something different or we are ready to make a decision.

Senator Seidman: You say that you will decide, based on what you receive, whether you should have any more public hearings; is that correct?

Mr. Binder: One of the considerations will be whether we want to have another public hearing. It is always one of the considerations.

Senator Seidman: Do you have a time frame for when you ought to come up with a decision?

Mr. Binder: Normally, we make a decision within 30 days.

Senator Seidman: Is that within 30 days of closure of your hearing?

Mr. Binder: Right.

Senator Seidman: The date is November 22, so would it be by the end of the year, unless you decide to have more hearings?

Mr. Binder: Yes.

Senator Seidman: Perhaps your staff would be able to discuss some of the issues that were raised at those hearings. I would appreciate that.

Mr. Jammal: I would like to start with a couple of things. This shipment itself is not unique to Canada; it is a practice under the international regulatory requirements and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Comission regulations.

As our president mentioned, safety is paramount, and this activity from a radiological perspective is extremely low- risk in nature. As a matter of fact, from a technical perspective, the generator itself — and the external shell of the generator — is an inherent safety component that provides quite a significant safety factor and safety to the public, the environment and the workers.

Many of the issues raised were based on myth. Granted, we have to be much clearer with respect to the science so that the commission is able to render its decision. However, many times with respect to our safety, we look at safety through credible, plausible, potential incidents. We reach a point where we have to assess against such plausible, credible incidents. Then at some point we have to stop because beyond this we start to enter into the science-fiction spectrum of analysis, which has no value.

That is what we present before the commission with respect to the safety aspect, and around the world so that the public knows and members of the committee know that such approval is done at the staff level. This is the first time ever in the industry that CNSC has conducted a public hearing.

Our staff were at the transport safety convention in London three weeks ago. Ironically, one of the presentations by the German authority was about the safety of shipments and safety assessment of shipments that go through multiple jurisdictions. The shipment of dangerous goods is not unique to nuclear. The St. Lawrence Seaway sees thousands of tonnes of potent substances being transported.

Senator Seidman: Would you be able to tell us exactly how dangerous this material is? Could you give us some information about what exactly the material is, what the worst possible scenario could be and what the impact of that could be? I think facts sometimes help people understand, especially when the worst-case scenario does not sound so bad, perhaps. I am not sure, but I would be interested in hearing it.

Mr. Jammal: That is a very good question. Thank you.

The nuclear material itself inside the generator is bound to the steel inside a tube. Unfortunately, I did not bring pictures with me. This steam generator itself is not radioactive. Due to the operation of a reactor, it becomes radioactive due to its presence and the tubing inside over 30 years of operations. Heat and transport factors bind the nuclear material into the metal inside the tube. To remove that substance, you need to have high temperatures, high pressure and specialized mechanisms to allow the potential release to take place.

I will give you an example. We are talking about a temperature of roughly 700 degrees Celsius to potentially remove some of the available release. As far as I know, the temperature in the Great Lakes is not 700 degrees Celsius. The pressure required to remove the available release substance equates to sandblasting.

Therefore, with respect to the safety, we took all of the accident scenarios — loading on the road and in the ship itself — to include compensating measures. Our models showed and reviewed international accident scenarios where they actually showed the potential release. In our conservative estimate, we said that we will consider available release into the environment. We did our calculation assessment, and it showed there is no impact to the environment or to the public.

Ms. Thompson: Many of the interveners raised the possibility that if there was an accident transporting the steam generators and one were to fall into one of the Great Lakes, it would poison the Great Lakes. One of the things that Mr. Jammal mentioned is that the material in the tubes is not soluble. If it was soluble, it would be gone. It would not have stayed in that tube for such a long period of time. The material is not soluble.

Also, the actual steam generators are sealed so that there is no access to the tubes. Therefore, the scenario of the poisoning of the Great Lakes is not possible. If the material was soluble and could disperse in water, the material would not be in the steam generators because the steam generators generate steam water.

Another scenario presented was that people could get a dose of radiation that would put their health at risk if they were to stand around the steam generators.

Senator Banks: Please say that again.

Ms. Thompson: It would put their health at risk if they were to stand around the generator because the radiation dose would be at a level where potential health effects such as cancer could occur. However, that is simply not the case. The doses are extremely low.

The shipments, if they are approved, will take place with security measures, and workers will have access to the steam generators to work on the ship. All the doses were measured, knowing what is in the generators, also the thickness of the steel and the sealant material around it.

The Chair: Everyone has gone over their time today. However, since we are studying nuclear, I have not wanted any shortcuts.

Senator Seidman: Perhaps we can have the one last example.

Mr. Jammal: With respect to the radioactive substance available in the generators, if you were to condense the radioactive material in one generator, it would fit in a container the size of a lipstick container.

The Chair: Another issue of safety, which is one of the core issues, is cost overrun, the apparent inability to control costs in building these nuclear plants. However, that is probably not your area of expertise based on what you said earlier.

The question of safety arose, and Senator Massicotte pursued that in that context of trying to find the perfect zero risk. Of course, it does not exist. However, it seems to me that one of the key elements of analyzing risk or making the case about risk and low risk is to compare it to the other sources of energy with which nuclear, for example, would compete. They are not no-risk, either. No one can guarantee a dam will not break and damage, ruin or kill communities. In fact, coal-fired electric plants are hurting people all the time; I am told that they create a pollution that probably kills people.

Senator Banks: The mines do, too.

The Chair: The mines are another example. I am not trying to do your job, and we have not drawn any conclusions, but maybe the safety case needs to be made in the context of what we compare nuclear to. I would love to see the 1x1013 comparative for coal-fired electric plants, hydroelectric dams or mines.

Mr. Binder: If you did a cold-blooded analysis of the number of people who have died due to coal mining, gas, et cetera, if you added up all the unfortunate deaths from all those other activities, nuclear would come out ahead.

We are always worried about the safety. After the BP event, I do not know if you followed some of the press and some of the government officials in the industry. They said that maybe the oil industry should start using the nuclear regulatory scheme because it is more than just a regulatory prescribed approach; it is a safety culture.

"Safety culture" sounds like a soft kind of social aspect with the image of people holding hands and everyone talking about it. However, it is very rigorous. We actually go in to ensure that people can blow whistles internally, referring to whistle-blowing. You must have the ability to point out when things are short, and you must do it systematically. Unions must be able to have access.

There is a whole set of safety culture over and above our regulatory limits, our operational requirements and our compliance. My staff reside in Pickering, Bruce and Darlington. My staff walk the floor every day. You do not see this in any other industry. My staff in Saskatchewan know uranium mining intimately.

All of this is to try to argue our safety case, that just because it is nuclear, we actually go over and above to try to inculcate the safety culture and safety approach more than any other sector, I would argue.

The Deputy Chair: Excellent. Thank you very much. Is everyone happy with their questions? It was a great evening for us. I hope you enjoyed it. I know we did; we got a lot out of it. Thanks to all three of you for your presentations.

Mr. Binder: Thank you for your attention.

The Deputy Chair: The meeting is adjourned.

(The committee adjourned.)