Ep 219: Ramzi Jammal - Executive Vice-President & Chief Regulatory Operations Officer, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission
Introduction to Nuclear
(0:30-9:38) Ramzi discusses his start in the nuclear industry and early career.
Q. How did you get involved in the nuclear industry?
A. (0:30) Ramzi Jammal is the Executive Vice President and Chief Regulatory Operations
Officer at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Ramzi was raised in a scientific family with
parents in the sciences and an uncle who was an engineering professor that worked on
containment for CANDU reactors long before the first one was ever built. At university he was
further exposed to some of the pioneers of the nuclear industry through his professors.
Q. Do you know anything about SLOWPOKE and why isn’t it the future of nuclear?
A. (1:46) Ramzi says it’s the safest nuclear research reactor in the world. The original concept
behind SLOWPOKE was to use it to generate energy for local neighborhoods of up to 1,000
homes. Ramzi says the nuclear field trended toward larger scale reactors. A lot of today’s
research is based on old research projects like SLOWPOKE.
Q. When you first got involved in nuclear, what was the public's perception of the industry?
A. (2:48) Ramzi got his start in nuclear during the climb to the height of the industry. He stayed
in the field through the plateau and decline. He experienced everything from the encouragement
of the field, to environmental impact assessments and effects on climate change, and safety of
the reactors. Ramzi explains that nuclear was part of the discussions about climate change
back in the 1970s. Nuclear was part of the mix along with solar power, wind power, and the
contribution of nuclear carbon free emission. Fifty years ago, the consensus was, if the
environment wasn’t taken care of there would be consequences.
Q. Why were people discussing nuclear as a steward of the environment in the 1970s, but today
isn’t not commonplace in conversations about climate change?
A. (4:33) As a regulator, Ramzi explains that globally, many governments have made policy
decisions to move away from nuclear. In Canada, every providence has its own energy profile
and program. Therefore, nuclear reactors are provincially owned. For example, in Ontario, up to
70% of production comes from nuclear power. He also points out that not many politicians have
publicly endorsed nuclear power within the last 20 years even though the technology is deemed
safe behind closed doors. Ramzi says there have been accidents in the industry, but we have
learned from them.
Nuclear Medical Technology
(9:39-21:42) Ramzi explains his past experiences with nuclear medical technology.
Q. What did you study and where did those studies take you?
A. (9:39) Ramzi studied the basic sciences and clinical work in nuclear medicine. He says
nuclear technology in the medical field is vital. For example, when he was fresh out of
university, the survival rate of children with Leukemia was three to five years. Now with
advancements made possible with nuclear technology, the current survival rate is phenomenal,
up to almost 90%. Nuclear medicine and radiation therapy are two examples of nuclear power in
the medical field.
Why is the risk debate such a large issue?
A. (13:58) Ramzi explains that science is inherently associated with risk, if it wasn’t then it
wouldn���t be science. Nuclear is no different. There is always an underlying risk of uncertainty
with respect to very low radiation exposure and at high levels it’s linear. At lower levels there is
always that spontaneous frequency versus what’s being triggered by an external event. An
external event could be radiation, could be non-radiation, and so forth.
Negative Perceptions About Nuclear
(21:43-32:35) Ramzi describes his domestic and international experiences with perceptions
about the nuclear industry.
Q. Does Canada have any programs to inspire young children to learn more about science and
A. (21:43) In school, Ramzi’s children were supposed to have a four-week section on nuclear,
but the professor decided to only do one week. He says educators have challenges presenting
nuclear education as separate from what happened during World War II at Nagasaki and
Hiroshima; that’s the wrong perception for today’s youth to have of nuclear. Ramzi’s own
children were labeled as ‘biased’ and pro-nuclear and regulation due to his work because they
chose to defend the science behind the nuclear industry. The sad reality is that science and
facts are often manipulated for peoples’ alternative viewpoints.
Q. You’ve done a lot of international work, including Fukushima.
A. (23:45) Ramzi took part as the President of the Convention on Nuclear Safety, to ensure
everyone was properly engaging in updated safety measures on an international level for a peer
review process by the Convention. The Convention is the only treaty recognized by the United
Nations that addresses nuclear safety. It was created post-Chernobyl to improve and enhance
nuclear safety globally. However, it’s an incentive-based treaty; there are no consequences
other than embarrassment if a country fails.
Q. Why can’t nuclear regulators promote safe nuclear?
A. (31:25) Ramzi explains that there is an entire industry built around promoting nuclear, as a
regulator his job is about safety; he doesn’t need to promote nuclear. As a regulator, he
promotes and educates the public that what is operating is safe and why it is safe. It doesn't
matter what the nuclear application is -- medical, industrial, or a power plant -- all the operations
always have to be safe.
Future of Nuclear
(32:36-42:35) Ramzi discusses recent changes to the nuclear field and his hopes for the future.
Q. How have things changed over the last few years?
A. (32:36) The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is a performance-based regulator,
meaning they can discuss designs with nuclear professionals that might lead to licensing. But
the Commission does not and never will force any developments.
Q. What has been brought to you that you’ve been really impressed by?
A. (40:45) The capabilities of the designer to demonstrate what they say is true is what has
impressed Ramzi the most. All technology has its challenges, but its designers are able to prove
the technology is passive and safe, it is a plus on the regulatory side. It is also important to
remember the environmental benefits. Ramzi has children and he doesn’t want their generation
to be burdened by the environmental impact or the inaction that’s currently taking place. He
believes in a mixed supply of energy -- wind, solar, nuclear -- to look after the environment.