From Uganda to Canada (0:10)
(0:10-5:13) Rumina Velshi introduces herself and her early years.
Q. Where are you originally from?
A. (00:40) Rumina Velshi is the President and Chief Executive Officer at the Canadian Nuclear
Safety Commission. She was born in Uganda to parents of Indian origin; her family moved to
Canada as refugees when she was 17.
Q. What was important to you as a 17-year-old moving to a new country?
A. (2:05) Rumina was brought up in the British school system, so her education was more easily
transferred to the Canadian education system. She arrived in Canada in February, and classes
start in September, so Rumina had to quickly decide what she was going to do both financially
and education wise. Her first step was to make sure she was taking high school classes that
would transfer to a university. When you’re a refugee, your education is really the only thing that
comes with you to a new place, not your material goods, according to Rumina. From a young
age Rumina learned the importance of achieving financial independence.
Q. What did you study at university?
A. (3:32) Rumina had always been good at math and physics but was unsure of what she
wanted to do for the rest of her life and her guidance counselors weren’t overly helpful in
steering her. But when Rumina read the course descriptions, the civil engineering course caught
her eye. The course had office work and field work, which interested Rumina.
Rumina Goes to University (5:14)
(5:14-7:45) Rumina discusses the importance of female role models in engineering.
Q. How did your role models inspire you?
(6:12) Rumina didn’t know of any engineering when she decided to go into engineering. She
chose to attend the University of Toronto and remembers her first engineering class having
three women in a class of over 100 students. It wasn’t until that first class that Rumina realized
engineering was not a popular field for other young women.
Q. Did you break the mold?
A. (7:15) Rumina was among the first women in the nuclear field on the operations side in
Ontario. She graduated in 1978 and joined Ontario Hydro, a public electric utility, during the
heyday of nuclear.
Private Industry to Regulatory Agency
(14:16-21:44) Rumina explains how she ended up on the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission
Q. What was your transition between the private industry and a regulatory agency?
A. (14:16) Rumina left the private industry in 2008, and a few years later was asked to serve on
the Commission Board as a tribunal member. After the left the private industry, she wasn’t able
to work for another company for a few years due to her contract but transitioning to the
regulatory side of things was allowed. She was the first Commission member who had
previously been in the industry.
Q. What is the Commission's responsibility to set regulations versus operations.
A. (17:19) Rumina describes the firewall between the Commission and the staff who work on
operations. The Commission does not have anything to do with staff outside of a public forum,
and all discussions happen in a public space. Staff acts as advisors to the Commission.
Q. How do you set policy?
A. (18:02) Staff members make presentations during public forums and Commissioners are able
to listen to different perspectives and ask questions of staff members. The goal is to maintain
the independence of the Commission.
Q. What are some situational highlights?
A. (19:40) Rumina joined the Commission shortly after Fukushima happened when emergency
management and readiness in regulatory framework were at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
During her first term as Commissioner, Rumina also experience a ‘whistleblower’ letter about
possible staff withholding information from the Commissioners. The letter and investigation were
discussed in a public forum.
Building Public Trust (21:45)
(21:45-??) Rumina describes how the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission builds trust with
Q. What are some strategies to gain public trust?
A. (21:45) Having public trust and strengthening that trust is among Rumina’s top three priorities
within the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. One method to build that trust is through
transparency and making information readily available to the public online. The Commission
also provides raw data and results to members of the nuclear field who want to be able to
independently evaluate that information.
Q. Lack of knowledge or even negative opinions about nuclear are an opportunity to show
people how amazing nuclear is.
A. (30:18) Rumina’s role as a regulator isn’t to promote nuclear, but instead to make sure there
is factual information readily and easily available.
Q. What is the ultimate outcome when considering nuclear safety?
A. (33:35) Protecting the environment, public, and workers is the goal along with meeting
international security obligations to protect assets, according to Rumina. The Commission
doesn’t want to be a bottleneck that prevents innovation, but Rumina says they will never
Q. How do you regulate all kinds of different types of projects and reactors?
A. (42:57) Canada recently passed legislation around environmental assessments called the
New Impact Assessment Act. To determine which project would go through a more extensive
review, there was a lot of discussion on the risk level threshold.
Nuclear, Women’s Empowerment, and Climate Change (44:00)
(44:00-49:42) Rumina discusses her hopes for the future of nuclear including involving more
women and using nuclear to fight climate change.
Q. What is the importance of STEM education for women?
A. (44:00) One of the reasons Rumina took her role on the Canadian Nuclear Safety
Commission was to be a part of a change in the industry. Her role gives her a platform to
achieve a lifelong objective to promote women in STEM fields, given her background as always
being among the first women in engineering or in the nuclear field. Over the years Rumina has
seen change, but a minimal amount at best. According to her, today’s nuclear industry is made
up of only 20-25% women, the majority of whom are in the more non-technical side of the
business. To appeal to the younger generation, Rumina says the nuclear industry needs to be
more diverse and welcoming to different perspectives. Having greater diversity and more
women on board is proven to be better for business. Rumina says it is important to not only
attract women to the field, but also empowering them to thrive and succeed. Retention is key.
Rumina also points out that empowering women does not mean dis-empowering men. Rather,
but supporting women the entire field will improve.
Q. What do you see as the future of nuclear?
A. (48:00) If nuclear is accepted as a viable option to fight climate change, Rumina sees growth
and opportunity. She believes the most exciting time for this industry is ahead of us. But as a
regulator she wants to make sure the field as agile enough to respond to crack downs or