Debates of the Senate  
  2nd Session, 39th Parliament,Volume 144, Issue 12.
    Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Bill C-38: An Act to permit the resumption and continuation of the operation of the National Research Universal Reactor at Chalk River.

The Senate was accordingly adjourned during pleasure and put into Committee of the Whole, the Honourable Senator Losier-Cool in the chair.

The Chair: Honourable senators, the Senate is now in Committee of the Whole to consider Bill C-38, An Act to permit the resumption and continuation of the operation of the National Research Universal Reactor at Chalk River.

(Questions addressed to Mr. Brian McGee, Senior Vice-president and Chief Nuclear Officer, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited)

Senator Dyck: My question regards the relationship between safety and licensing. We heard earlier this evening from the ministers that the facility is safe, and that it is safer now than it was prior to being shut down.

I believe Mr. McGee outlined the various levels of fail-safe mechanisms: various numbers of pumps, a battery system if the AC power goes down, a system in case of a minor earthquake and another for a major earthquake, et cetera. How do those mechanisms relate to the licensing requirements? When you made the decision not to restart the reactor, does the licensing requirement indicate that, from the licensing perspective, the reactor was not safe? How does that relate to your definitions of safety?

Mr. McGee: The licence is not specific in that regard. It refers to the seven upgrades. It is not specific to that level. That is not uncommon of licensing basis documentation. It refers to a lot of other documentation. Licensing basis documentation can be huge, in fact, and so the licence itself talks about the seven upgrades. Actually, the appendix talks about the seven upgrades but it does not specifically talk about the composition of those seven upgrades.

Senator Dyck: Sorry, I did not catch the last part of your statement.

Mr. McGee: It does not specifically define the detailed scope of those seven upgrades. Each of those upgrades is a complex design system, and so it talks about them in general terms as a system.

Senator Dyck: In terms of licensing, are safety considerations taken into account in defining whether the facility should be licensed or not licensed, or what types of upgrades the facility needs?

Mr. McGee: That is correct. That is the way it works. The safety analysis is part of the design basis of the facility, and the licensing basis.

Senator Dyck: When you made the decision not to restart the reactor, what is the definition of safety from your perspective versus the licensing agreement? Are they concurrent or are they different?

Mr. McGee: I want to give you an answer without delving into a lot of unnecessary detail. In a perfect situation, there is a complete match between the physical facility and the design basis and licensing basis. Maybe I can use a metaphor. Someone buys a new car. Typically, the tires that come with it are part of that design basis for that facility. They have done all the engineering and design work associated with that car and how it will handle. A lot of us go to Canadian Tire when the tires wear out and put a different type of tire on the car.

In the nuclear world, at that point, we have gone outside our design basis. It does not necessarily mean that it are unsafe. Those tires may be as good or better as the original ones, but they are outside the design basis. What is different in the nuclear world is we go through a change control process.

If we think about that car being licensed by someone somewhere, if they have made those tire changes and not gone back to make them match again to the licensing basis, they are outside their licensing basis.

Senator Dyck: Yes, I think I understand that analogy, but my question then would go back to nonetheless you have made the decision not to restart the reactor. Is the basis for that decision, then, not one of safety but of another concern? Is that what you are saying?

Mr. McGee: That is correct, but it has safety implications. I had total confidence that the reactor operated safely until the time of shutdown. I was still confident that it could operate coming out of the outage, but when the CNSC staff identified a gap and believed we had a gap in our licensing basis, it is incumbent on me, again for the reasons I talked about earlier, I must disposition that and go through a process where I satisfy myself, and ultimately satisfy them and other stakeholders, that it is safe to operate. When that gap is identified to me, there is not a do-nothing option for me.

Senator Dyck: There is not a?

Mr. McGee: A do-nothing option. I must act on that. To be responsible, I must act on that information. Until I disposition it, I have to accept the professional judgment.

Senator Dyck: At that stage, when you made that decision then, are you saying that you felt there may have been safety concerns and at this point in time there are not safety concerns?

Mr. McGee: At the point in time that I made that decision, we had already gone through our technical operability evaluation that I referred to earlier. We were confident the reactor was safe. However, we still had the licensing issue to disposition. If I had proceeded to start up, as I mentioned earlier, I am confident that action would have attracted enforcement attention.