Attendees at the 2021 Women in Nuclear Global Conference, held virtually October 17–21, had the opportunity to learn from nuclear professionals from around the world, including from the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), the group responsible for designing and implementing Canada’s plan for the long-term management of spent nuclear fuel.
Championing diversity: “I am humbled to be one of the three women leading nuclear organizations in Canada and grateful for the opportunities I have had in my career,” said Laurie Swami, NWMO president and chief executive officer, during a plenary session. “It’s important that we continue to champion diversity in the industry and work toward seeing more women in positions of leadership. It’s also important we encourage women to pursue STEM careers and to support them to become strong, compassionate leaders.”
Swami discussed the mounting global imperative to develop safe and effective solutions for spent fuel and NWMO’s approach to engage the public which, for NWMO, includes incorporating Indigenous knowledge and reconciliation into continuous learning initiatives.
Indigenous women: Swami was joined by Elder Diane Longboat, founder of Soul of the Mother, to discuss the role of Indigenous women within Indigenous Nations, how those roles have shifted over time, and the importance of Indigenous women reclaiming their traditional roles.
Beginning in 2002, NWMO has sought out opportunities to learn from local Indigenous knowledge keepers and apply that learning to planning and decision-making processes. In 2016, NWMO finalized an Indigenous Knowledge Policy, committing to interweaving Indigenous knowledge into all aspects of its work and helping to guide the application of Indigenous knowledge, while also ensuring that this knowledge system is respected and protected in its application.
New program: Building on this discussion, Jessica Perritt, section manager of NWMO’s Indigenous Knowledge and Reconciliation, and Chris Vardy, NWMO’s director of Management System and Performance Improvement, shared details of the company’s new Continuous Learning and Improvement Program, which is setting a new standard for research, community partnership, and Indigenous collaboration and co-creation.
The program interweaves Indigenous knowledge with the Canadian Standards Association’s management system requirements for nuclear facilities and provides NWMO employees with a tool to capture opportunities, recognition, incidents, observations, and nonconformances (also known as ORIONs) for the purpose of learning and improving. Relevant learnings from the program are shared and addressed with the entire organization and, because of this program, NWMO can now identify trends and focus and prioritize its efforts more effectively.
“I have learned that 25 percent of the records (ORIONs) so far are related to reconciliation and 10 percent of those have been inputted from employees outside the Indigenous Relations department,” Perritt said. “These numbers tell me that there is a behavior shift happening within the organization, and reconciliation and indigenous knowledge are starting to become part of an NWMO culture and values.”
Vardy added, “We encourage all employees to contribute to our continuous improvement initiatives. This means avoiding complacency, challenging assumptions, and questioning the status quo to optimize the safety, efficiency, and effectiveness of our operations. Jessica’s work is instrumental to ensuring that respect for Indigenous perspectives is core to our work. It is important for industry partners, both national and international, to see how this core value is shaped and actioned at our organization.”