Category Archives: Nuclear Safety

Environment Nuclear Safety Waste Management

The Deep Geologic Repository and Canadian Nuclear Safety

By Dr. John Barrett
President and CEO
Canadian Nuclear Association

Now that it has closed the record on its extensive public hearings, the Joint Review Panel appointed to examine OPG’s Deep Geologic Repository (DGR) can get on with the final phase of its work – developing recommendations.

The panel faces a difficult task. Should it recommend that the project proceed? Or should it prefer that low- and intermediate-level waste remain stored in concrete trenches and warehouses above ground?

It’s not an easy choice, because either approach yields the same result – safe, secure storage of radioactive materials.

In two appearances before the review panel, the Canadian Nuclear Association expressed confidence in OPG’s proposed repository. The company has developed a credible case for moving its waste underground – a plan developed with input from many specialists from a wide variety of disciplines.

OPG concluded—and I have seen no persuasive evidence otherwise—that the repository will likely not cause significant adverse environmental effects.

It’s significant that three federal departments, as well as the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), all reached the same conclusion upon reviewing OPG’s case.  In short, OPG has more than satisfied the need to assess properly the risks posed by the DGR.

There exist four waste-management options. Two require storage above ground, and two below ground. A review by a panel of independent experts has shown all four options, including the proposed DGR, can be carried out safely and securely. Any one of them would do. The real question is whether any option is inherently better than the others.

The answer finds its roots in our sense of moral responsibility. My generation, and yours, benefitted from the use of nuclear-generated electricity. We also bear responsibility for the waste. We should manage it. The DGR provides a way to do so safely and securely. In the end, the joint panel will assess whether the repository provides a responsible improvement on current practice.

Observers should not fail to note the broader issue – that the nuclear industry, alone in the energy sector, takes full responsibility for managing its waste. We do so safely and securely, using ample detection and alert systems to ensure public and environmental safety.

Could we do better? Certainly. We can always improve safety. At the same time, let us recognize that the Canadian nuclear industry enjoys an impressive safety record.

In fact, the nuclear regulator recently concluded that no fatalities related to radiation safety have ever occurred in the Canadian nuclear industry. How many industrial activities of any kind–let alone of nuclear’s scale and complexity–have this kind of record?

Nuclear Energy Nuclear Policy Nuclear Safety

CNA and Members Among World Leaders at 2014 Nuclear Industry Summit

By Erin Polka
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

Canadian Nuclear Association members will be among the world nuclear industry leaders participating at the third Nuclear Industry Summit in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, from March 23 to 25.

The summit is organized in conjunction with the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague. Leaders from 58 countries will attend the security summit, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama.

The industry summit is a high-level event for global nuclear CEOs focused on the security aspects needed to ensure that the nuclear industry is seen by society as valuable, now and in the future.

Canada will be well represented at the industry summit with Bruce Power CEO Duncan Hawthorne chairing one of the summit’s working groups on security governance and Cameco president Tim Gitzel is a featured speaker.

Ken Ellis, a long-time Bruce Power executive and current World Association of Nuclear Operators managing director, will also address the summit.

CNA president Dr. John Barrett will be in attendance as an observer, along with AECL CEO Dr. Robert Walker, Candu Energy senior VP of engineering Dezi Yang and and Canadian Nuclear Partners president Pierre Tremblay.

The industry summit will focus on promoting a strong security culture throughout the global industry, cooperation in dealing with cyber security threats and continuing to reduce the use of highly-enriched uranium in research reactors and radiological isotope production.

The conference will have three working groups – Strengthening Security Governance, Dealing with Cyber Threats, and Managing Materials of Concern. The chairs of these groups, including Hawthorne, will report later to the Nuclear Security Summit with recommendations on how the industry can help further enhance nuclear security.

Industry participation in global nuclear security is important. Industry operates facilities such as nuclear power plants and is responsible for safety and security of nuclear or radiological sources at such facilities.

Canada is not only a major player in all aspects of the use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, but it is also a world leader in nuclear safety.

This year, the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative ranked Canada second behind only Australia in securing its nuclear materials for peaceful purposes.

Nuclear Safety

Radioactive Packaging Put to the Test, Passes with Flying Colours

By Romeo St-Martin
Digital Media Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

The recent incident at the port of Halifax is a real-life example of the high level of safety involved in the packaging and transport of nuclear substances in Canada and around the world.

On Thursday, four steel cylinders encased in concrete containing uranium hexafluoride fell about six metres from inside a container at the Fairview Container Terminal at the port, landing in a contained area of a ship.

URENCO has said the cylinders came from its enrichment facility in the United Kingdom. The shipment was bound for the U.S.

Fire and port officials evacuated the terminal and it remained closed until radiation experts confirmed there was no leak of radiation the following day.

Halifax Fire and Emergency Executive Fire Officer Phil McNulty was quoted in a Canadian Press story as saying the containers are extremely durable.

“The safety redundancies built in for the transportation of nuclear materials are unbelievable,” he said.

“If this wasn’t done properly, we wouldn’t be singing the song we’re singing now.”

Every day, Canadians working in nuclear ship thousands of packages of radioactive material, many of them across the world. In five decades, there has been no transportation incident with significant radiological damage to people or the environment.

According to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, packages requiring certification have to undergo stringent testing. Testing must simulate both normal and accident conditions of transport. The tests can include free-drop testing, puncture testing, thermal testing, and aircraft accident simulations.

The following video illustrates drop testing in Germany.

Testing methods in Canada are very similar, if not identical, to methods used by other international regulatory bodies.

Nuclear Energy Nuclear Safety

A Little Fear is Healthy, Right? Wrong.

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

A couple of my neighbours work in public health policy. She researches disease epidemics; he studies addictions.

All three of us have good relationships with serious, informed, responsible media reporters. And we all share a common problem with the media when they aren’t so professional.

When some reporters call our offices, it’s clear what they’re after: The scary sound-bite. They want a few words, however out of context, that they can use to alarm readers about a fast-growing threat from that new virus, that new designer drug, or that remotely-possible accident or emission.

 

There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them. – Andre Gide

To him who is in fear, everything rustles. – Sophocles

 

We share the experience of  spending a quarter or half hour giving thoughtful, calibrated answers that don’t get taken up because they don’t ring alarm bells. Instead, our least guarded phrase or our least discreet word is what’s most likely to make it into the media.

The next day we read, hear or see “news” that’s little more than pure fear-mongering. We experience media “coverage” of epidemics that barely (or never) materialize, drug plagues that are exaggerated, and radiation dangers that don’t exist.

This doesn’t just affect us personally, through the frustration of seeing our knowledge dumbed down and distorted. It affects us as members of a society in which the information that reaches all of us is tilted toward fear.

 

To him who is in fear, everything rustles. – Sophocles

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. – Franklin Roosevelt

There is no passion so contagious as that of fear. – Michel de Montaigne

 

As a result, citizens demand solutions to fake threats. Those demands are put before governments and companies — often by the same reporters who trumped up the fake threats in the first place.

Governments and companies, even when they know better, have to placate people, so they devote resources to these “solutions” to fake threats. And every year, society throws attention and resources – flu shots, tests, treatments, dietary changes, and pills that do negligible good – at things that only matter because we were briefly made to fear them.

The trouble with this is that fewer precious resources are left for real threats. I, my neighbours, our colleagues and our organizations are left with lower capacity to reduce risks that might actually matter in a measurable and demonstrable way. Society ends up with fewer real solutions to real problems, and we are much worse off as a result.

 

Fear is static that prevents me from hearing myself. – Samuel Butler

The first duty of man is to conquer fear. – Thomas Carlyle

 

Fear is a lousy basis for making decisions. Fear-based decisions nearly always involve more sacrifice than benefit. Fear-based decisions are decisions against something, rather than decisions toward something, so we don’t pursue our real values. And they lead to inconsistency, because we’re likely to jump in a completely different direction next time we’re afraid.

This is why great leaders tell us over and over that we must not be governed by fear (or anger). Yet large parts of our society’s information-gathering media seek out, and thrive on, fear (and anger).

Because fear is based in ignorance, its defeat begins with the responsibility to inform ourselves. And that continues well after we’ve heard from the reporters.

Want to start? Next time a news item containing the word “nuclear” tries to push your panic buttons:

  • Resist fear.
  • Inquire. Look for the factual (as opposed to emotional or opinion-only) content in the news coverage. Some of it should be from independent and informed sources.
  • Read further. Take three to ten minutes to research the topic more deeply from credible experts. We can help you get started at www.cna.ca.
  • If you don’t think an item is delivering fair and informative content, demand better. Use the news organization’s website to ask for balanced, informative coverage.
Nuclear Safety Uncategorized

How can Nuclear Power be Safe?

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

Imagine:  It’s 300,000 years ago.  You’re an ape-like human living in a small, semi-nomadic band.  Your group migrates among a few favourite campsites.  And for a few hundred generations, you’ve been learning to control fire.

Last night, your fire got away and scorched several hectares around camp.  Your group lost half its stock of animal skins, and some members got burned.

Among the tribe, moods vary.  Some say the whole fire idea was wrong.  “Inherently unsafe technology,” they grunt.   “Made the whole place useless for years.”   “Better off the old-fashioned way, huddling in our animal skins in the dark,” some mutter.  “Raw meat tasted better anyhow.”   “Uneconomic – all that time spent looking for firewood and blowing on hot coals.”

You have different ideas.  You build stone fire-rings (for containment).  You keep water handy (for shutdown) and bank coals (for quick restart).  You teach people how to handle and put out fire (safety training).  You rotate fuel so it burns fully, and you build the fire against an upright rock so more of the heat and light reflect toward you (efficiency).  You experiment with cooking (applications).

Ten thousand generations later, fire safety still isn’t perfect.  But over 10,000 generations of our species have had warmth, light, and better and safer food.  Six or eight of those generations have had abundant mechanical power.  Three or four generations have had mass transport and electricity, with the huge leaps in life quality they bring.  All from using and controlling fire.

Unfortunately, it took us most of those 10,000 generations to get really good at reducing the risks.  A major urban fire happened on average every two years in the 1800s.  New York and Toronto each had two devastating fires in the first half of that century.  This just doesn’t happen today.

Things like fire departments, hydrants, alarms, extinguishers, and appliance and building codes have done wonders since 1800 to make fire safer to use, without reducing its benefits.  Starting a couple of hundred years ago, we began institutionalizing and systematizing safety, and these are some of the results.

Fire marshals, insurance institutes, building inspectors, product regulators, hospitals, manufacturers and many other professionals collaborate to spot risks, reduce them, and make us safer.  Each fire is an opportunity to learn better how to prevent fires, and is treated that way.  As a result, fire frequency, damage, deaths and injury rates are driven ever downward – first in the most advanced regions, and elsewhere soon after.

Fire Death Rates per Million Population by Selected Countries
Fire Death Rates per Million Population by Selected Countries

 

Source:  “Fire death rate trends:  An international perspective,” Topical Fire Report Series, US Fire Administration

Nuclear energy is the new fire.  It can improve our lives as dramatically as fire did.  With near-zero carbon emissions, and fewer impacts on air, land and forest.  And more quickly.  Just two generations after the first controlled reaction, we had applied nuclear technology worldwide in energy and medicine.

Meanwhile, measured against the old fire, nuclear’s safety is phenomenal.  The few dozen direct fatalities from nuclear look like a pin-prick, whether you look at direct or indirect harm, compared to the damage that is still done by fire even after all our success in controlling it.

We learn quickly now.  Good collaborative work by many professionals does that work systematically and relentlessly.  While safety is not and will not be perfect – in fire, air travel, consumer products, nuclear or anywhere else – we are learning faster and getting better.

Nuclear Safety

International Regulatory Cooperation: It Works!

By Heather Kleb
Vice President
Canadian Nuclear Association

What happens when you bring together nuclear regulators from 50 countries for a week-long conference in Ottawa? An approach to regulatory oversight that is impressively consistent and rigorous, including in how they responded to the events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

I was very impressed by how thorough the regulators were in their response to Fukushima. Clearly they have been sharing a lot of information, the same way that the nuclear industry has been sharing our lessons learned from Fukushima.

Since the tsunami struck Japan two years ago, the nuclear industry has been working to ensure that safety standards and policies reflect current findings. Canada’s nuclear companies thoroughly assessed our own systems and operations to confirm their safety. We looked at back-up power systems and assured ourselves that our energy facilities could withstand tsunamis and other natural disasters.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), in its Fukushima Task Force Report, shared our view that all Canadian nuclear power plants are safe, and designed to withstand Fukushima-like conditions. Interestingly, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concluded that CNSC’s Fukushima response was prompt, robust and comprehensive, and an example for other regulatory bodies.

I hadn’t realized until this conference just how closely our regulators work together. I was encouraged to see that regulators from countries with lengthy nuclear experience are more than willing to help countries with newer nuclear programs to develop their own effective regulatory frameworks.  I was also pleased to hear from other regulators that the CNSC is widely recognized as “one of the top regulators in the world”.

The nuclear energy industry is an international community. We all feel the impact of events at other facilities, and we all share the same desire to make our industry safer.

The more we can share and communicate, the better we will be.