Partnering for the Future

Northern Saskatchewan; remote and rugged, this part of the prairies is known for its pristine lakes, tall arching trees and outdoor adventures.

It is also home to the largest high-grade uranium deposits in the world.

Approximately five hours north of Saskatoon is where you will find the community of Pinehouse Lake, Saskatchewan. The Kineepik Metis village of almost 1,500 is nestled on the Churchill River system.pinehouse

For practically three decades, this community has had a close relationship with Cameco Corporation; the largest private employer in Canada of First Nations and Metis people.

“More or less our community can have a future. Because of our young populations we need to be more sustaining and more certain, and this is one of the things that industry has brought to us, a lot of hope,” states Mike Natomagnan, the mayor of Pinehouse Lake and a former Cameco worker.

For him, hope has translated into real change, including more involvement with the environment, and better educational opportunities for young people. Community dollars have been invested into education through scholarships and partnerships with local schools.

“We want our kids to have a better opportunity to see the world,” Natomagan states, “Push education on top of everything else. It makes for better outcomes.”

Those outcomes can already be seen in the halls of the local high school which boasts a high graduation rate including 37 people pursuing post-secondary studies. For Natomagan it’s a big deal.

The knowledge of elders to provide the community with a better understanding of where they have been and where their world is going through the promotion of culture and language is another key component to educational investment.

Thanks to their partnership with Cameco, Pinehouse Lake has been able to address some health challenges.  Concerned over the rates of diabetes in young people, they invested in a breakfast program and the construction of a community arena to help promote a healthy lifestyle.

He believes in long-term collaborations based on open dialogue and participation. Working closely with industry means more involvement with the environment including visiting the mine site, holding public meetings and providing reports on activities in the area.

Economics is critical to the future of Pinehouse Lake for Natomagan. The mayor sees investments today as the cornerstone of tomorrow.

“Collaborate with industry that wants to be there for a long time. Work with us,” he says. “I hope (Cameco) will be here for a long time. They have stepped up to the table for us.”

In early June, Cameco and First Nations and Metis leaders from across northern Saskatchewan will converge in Ottawa to “celebrate 25 years of partnerships between company and communities.”


When Seconds Count


They happen when the blood that is circulating within the brain is cut off or reduced in an area resulting in a loss of oxygen to that part of the brain. If not treated right away the brain can die.

Thanks to nuclear medicine, doctors can better assess and treat stroke patients, saving lives.

With a stroke, every second counts.  Neurons or nerve cells are lost at a rate of 1.9 million per minute when the brain is deprived of oxygen. The loss of these and other key brain transmitters, or synapses leads to accelerated aging in the brain.


(Chart Courtesy of Dr. Timo Krings, Head of Neuroradiology, Joint Department of Medical Imaging, Toronto Western Hospital & University Health Network)

Dramatic treatment is required to save a patient’s life, everything has to move rapidly.

“2:00am: I was called for a stroke at the hospital. By 2:20 the team was at the hospital and by 2:40 we had removed the blood clot and the patient was off the operating table,” states Dr. Timo Krings, Head of Neuroradiology, University Health Network, Toronto Western Hospital.

From initial imaging to opening the blocked blood vessel and restoring blood flow happens in just a matter of minutes.

The proper diagnosis and successful treatment of strokes is thanks to a branch of Radiology known as Interventional Neuroradiology.

Interventional radiology involves a uses modern Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging or Computed Tomography to identify where the blockage is within the brain and its size.

As Dr. Krings points out, imaging plays a major role in proper diagnosis and treatment.

“The imaging part is just as important because if we choose the wrong patient we can make things worse,” he explains. “If we open a vessel that was occluded for too long, l the dead brain won’t recover but the patient can be in danger because blood will rush to the dead brain, which can lead to a hemorrhage. Therefore the correct identification of right patients is as important as the treatment itself.”

Once the scan identifies a suitable patient, the treatment can begin.

Interventional Neuroradiology involves a minimally invasive procedure whereby an artery is punctured and small tubes known as catheters are placed into the blood vessels. In these small tubes, doctors can push in stents or devices into the blood vessels in order to treat the blood vessel from the inside out.

Symptoms you may be having a stroke: FAST

Face: Drooping eyelid or numbness on one side of your face. Vertigo or a whirling loss of balance

Arm: Unable to move your hand or arm on one side of your body

Speech: You can’t speak properly or speech is garbled

Time: Time is of essence and you should telephone 9-1-1 , if you think you may be having a stroke call 9-1-1

Dr. Krings points to a chain of stroke awareness and treatment. Beginning with the patient to be able to identify the symptoms of a stroke to emergency medical service (EMS) workers who can rapidly identify and take patients to stroke centers where emergency room (ER) teams can fast track patients into imaging.

“It’s a team effort between the patient, EMS, the ER doctor, neurologist, radiologist, dietician and rehab specialists. All of them have to play together to get the best outcome,” says Krings.

New Canadian guidelines call for the two pronged technique of imaging and interventional radiology as the best life-saving method to for the diagnosis and treatment of strokes.



Preparing For the Unexpected

Fort McMurray. A city once synonymous with oil is now known for the worst forest fire in Alberta’s history. The massive blaze exploded thanks to hot, dry weather. It has scorched over 200,000 hectares of ground and counting. It will take months before the flames are finally extinguished, and many more before lives can be rebuilt.

Natural threats, like the forest fire in Fort McMurray, are reminders of the challenges that every industry faces and subsequently must address: preparing for severe events that can happen, often with little or no warning.

The nuclear industry is not without its own risks from Mother Nature.  In March 2011 one of the most powerful earthquakes on the planet opened up the sea floor and unleashed a wall of water on the Japanese coast.  The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was hit by an earthquake and a tsunami that were both much larger than its builders had contemplated.  The resulting accident led to a world-wide scrutiny of power reactors for their ability to resist extreme natural events.  The nuclear industry has since instituted what we call “beyond design” safety measures to prepare for events beyond the range used as a basis in the original design process.


Being prepared for severe weather events requires an enormous undertaking by industry.  Different industries are accountable to different regulatory bodies, organizations that operate at an arm’s length from government and aim to ensure that best practices are followed.

Nuclear reactors at Canadian sites, and the facilities around them, have numerous, layered design features and operating procedures that rendered very, very low risk the possibility of an accident because of extreme weather – such as winter ice storms or high winds.  These features and procedures have worked well for the more than fifty years that the industry has generated electricity for Canadians.  In all this time, we have not had a radiation release that harmed people or the environment.

Should nature get the best of all these technological, engineering, construction and operational defences, we know how to respond quickly in response.  The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC)  requires all nuclear power plant operators to have a fire response team and the regulator mandates that “the licensee also supports provincial and local authorities in their response efforts.”

For example, Cameco Corporation’s emergency response program at its uranium processing facility in Port Hope, Ontario is comprehensive and includes approximately 60 highly trained employees, most of whom have specialized training in industrial firefighting and hazardous materials. As has been seen in Alberta, a coordinated response to a natural disaster is important. Cameco covers the cost of hazardous material training for all members of the Port Hope fire and emergency services department, which would support the efforts of Cameco’s emergency response team in the event of a natural disaster.

Post Fukushima, reactor operator Bruce Power, which boasts a team of 400 highly trained emergency personnel, worked with other industry experts to develop state of the art fire trucks which included doubling the water capability, night-scan lights and LED technology. In addition to the new fire trucks, the company also purchased portable back-up generators and invested in specific post-Fukushima training. Throughout the nuclear industry and supply chain, organizations realize the importance of investing to prepare for the unexpected.  That is the best and prudent way to minimizing the impacts that severe weather can have on people, the environment and industry.


Ontario Writes the Playbook for its Nuclear Refurbishment

Editorial - principlesOntario is preparing to refurbish 10 of its 18 nuclear reactors, beginning at the end of this year. This investment will extend the lives of the reactors, keeping their operation safe and effective for decades to come. It will also create thousands of jobs and inject much-needed  dollars into Ontario’s economy. The project comes in at half the cost of building new reactors – and is considerably cheaper over the long term than investing in solar, wind, or gas for a similar amount of power.

As Ontario Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli said in an interview with Global News, “The best cost deal in replacing the existing nuclear is to refurbish what we have.”

That said, refurbishment still comes at a cost: about $25 billion for the 15-year project. So, Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan for 2013, which announced the government’s decision for refurbishment, set out seven principles for the refurbishment – and everyone involved in it.

“Minimize commercial risk on the part of ratepayers and government”

The people and government of Ontario are making a large investment in nuclear power. They should receive the expected return on that investment without a great risk of having to invest further. The other six principles follow from this one.

“Mitigate reliability risks by developing contingency plans that include alternative supply options if contract and other objects are at risk of non-fulfillment”

Ontario has a diverse power mix. Electricity comes mainly from nuclear power, but hydro, renewables, and gas also play important roles. The province can also buy power from other provinces or states. So, while the Long-Term Energy Plan recognizes the refurbishment of nuclear power plants as the best long-term option, the province will also look at investing in these alternatives. Ontario’s recent agreement to share electricity with Quebec at certain times of the year may create more flexibility for the province.

“Entrench appropriate and realistic off-ramps and scoping”

One way of holding the operators and contractors to account involves “off-ramps” – contract terms that allow the province to limit or stop the project if it goes over budget.

Hold private sector operator accountable to the nuclear refurbishment schedule and price”

As the private-sector operator involved in the refurbishment project of the Bruce power plant, Bruce Power must ensure that the refurbishments stay on schedule and within budget; the company will not be in a position to simply pass additional expenses on to ratepayers.

“Require OPG to hold its contractors accountable to the nuclear refurbishment schedule and price”

Likewise, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is contracting much of the refurbishment at the Darlington station to more specialized companies. A slowdown or cost overrun for any one of them could affect the overall timeline and budget. So, these companies are being held accountable as well.

“Make site, project management, regulatory requirements, and supply chain considerations and cost and risk containment, the primary factors in developing the implementation plan”

Robust project management is at the core of the refurbishment project. For example, at Darlington, OPG did an environmental assessment, which showed that the refurbishment would not have any significant adverse environmental effects. A safety review also demonstrated that the Darlington plant meets modern codes and standards and follows sound industry practices. Safety improvements recommended by both these assessments are now part of the Darlington Integrated Implementation Plan. Finally, an overall risk assessment demonstrated that Darlington is a safe and reliable power plant, and will continue to be after planned safety improvements. Similar measures are underway at the Bruce facility.

“Take smaller initial steps to ensure there is an opportunity to incorporate lessons learned from refurbishment including collaboration by operators”

The refurbishment project will begin with two reactors – one each at the Bruce and Darlington facilities. Through the 15 years of the project, no more than three reactors are planned to be under refurbishment at any one time. This will provide opportunities to assess each refurbishment, learn from it, and apply those lessons to the next ones.

Even the first refurbishments will benefit from experience – such as refurbishments at Bruce Power, at Point Lepreau in New Brunswick, and at the Wolsong 1 reactor in South Korea. OPG has also created a full-scale replica of the Darlington reactor vault for testing tools, training, and ensuring that the teams can coordinate in real time.


Fighting Food Insecurity

Nuclear technology steps up to meet a huge challenge.

The world needs more food and lots of it. According to the World Bank, in order to meet growing global demands we must produce 50% more food by 2050.

At the same time, expanding populations and climate change threaten our ability to meet these goals. A recent report by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) stated that, “as temperatures rise, crops will increasingly experience temperatures above the optimum for their reproductive development, and animal production of meat or dairy products will be impacted by temperature extremes.”Branch of an apricot tree with ripe fruits

Enter the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In order to produce more food under challenging environmental conditions and with less available land, scientists from the IAEA are working with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN to find solutions to food insecurity.

One solution is the Nuclear Techniques in Agriculture program, a way to address food shortages through, “using radiation induced mutation, mutation detection and pre-breeding technologies.” Exposing plants to small doses of radiation can make them more resistant to disease and climate change.

One of the foods being targeted by this program is quinoa. This gluten free grain, common to the Andean people, is known as a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. Because of its genetic diversity, quinoa is able to be grown under different environmental conditions, making it an appealing crop to grow; almost 100 countries currently harvest it.

Food irradiation can also help to kill potentially deadly bacteria and the use of isotopes can help to measure resource levels such as the health of soil and water storage within the land, providing farmers with important information on the health of their resources so that they can more effectively use their land to yield greater harvests.

As part of addressing food security issues, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is using its sterile insect technique (SIT) to help Mauritius fight back against fruit flies. Fruit flies, native to Southeast Asia, attack a variety of much-needed produce including bananas, mangos, eggplant and squash. In a release by the IAEA in mid-June the Minister of Agro-Industry and Food Security for Mauritius addressed the magnitude of the problem.

“160 million Mauritian Rupees-over 4 million Euros-are lost annually as a result of the damage caused by fruit flies,” according to Mahen Kumar Seeruttun, Minister of Agro-Industry.

Being able to save crops and produce more bountiful harvests means the ability to address starvation and provide much needed nutrients. Today, it is estimated that 2 billion people live with food insecurity and that one in eight are starving, highlighting the importance of these nuclear initiatives. From hunger to hope, technology can help to fight back and feed those who are most in need.



Nuclear Fun Fact: Pest Control

Pest control