Senate was accordingly adjourned during pleasure and put
into Committee of the Whole, the Honourable Senator Losier-Cool
in 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
addressed to Mr. Brian McGee, Senior Vice-president and
Chief Nuclear Officer, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited)
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?
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.
Sorry, I did not catch the last part of your statement.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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?
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
There is not a?
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.
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?
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