Tag Archives: Nuclear Safety

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Safety Versus Security: How the Nuclear Industry Balances Both

Nuclear safety and nuclear security are often paired together. Indeed, they almost seem synonymous. On the CNA website, “Safety & Security” is a single section. And in some ways, it makes perfect sense.

safety-firstNuclear safety and security have in common the aim of protecting people, property, and the environment. Safety and security measures have to be designed and implemented in an integrated manner to ensure synergy, and also in such a way that security measures do not compromise safety, and safety measures do not compromise security. However, there are some important differences that, at times, pit one against the other.

Safety is enhanced through transparency. Greater openness and awareness of procedures, measures and facilities designed to strengthen safety serve to reinforce public confidence in the industry and increase the public’s understanding and acceptance of nuclear technology..

Security, conversely, relies on confidentiality in order to be effective. The best security measures are the ones that limit access to sensitive facilities, procedures and sources so as to reduce possible interference or attack by criminal or terrorist entities. In short, security is dependent on the extent to which information is kept from wider exposure.

Though discussions typically group these two terms together, the reality is that there is a constant balance that must be struck between the openness of safety and the assurance of security. Some measures must remain confidential and protected in order to be effective in enhancing nuclear security. Yet, certain details must nevertheless be communicated so as to provide public assurance.

Each part of the industry has a different balance to strike between safety and security. It depends on the range of threats, risks and potential impacts of the nuclear technology in question. There is also the recognition that transgressions can occur internally, as well as externally.

Thankfully, the industry never rests on its laurels and is continuously working on finding new and better ways ensure safety AND strengthen overall security.

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New Fault Detection Technology to Improve Power Plant Safety

Fault DetectionResearchers at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) in Oshawa, Ontario, have been working with Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and Bruce Power to develop innovative solutions for nuclear power plant safety.

The process is called Fault Semantic Network. Dr. Hossam A. Gabbar, who is a professor with UOIT’s Faculty of Energy Systems and Nuclear Science (cross-appointed to the university’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science), says the process will allow nuclear plant operators to truly understand potential fault possibilities and how best  to prevent them.

Dr. Gabbar and students have been developing computer models that use real-time utility data and simulate problems, or “faults,” at nuclear power plants.

This model-based approach can be implemented in parallel with a real plant. It is expected to enhance system performance by improving plant safety.

“This will enable operators like OPG and Bruce Power to actually model the fault and model the problems in critical equipment and identify what are the protection barriers or layers and what is the probability of different faults,” Dr. Gabbar said.

“It will allow operators to have a better understanding of actual fault propagation scenarios and will link these fault scenarios into safety protection layers to overcome any fault propagation scenario.”

Dr. Gabbar and his students have done a number of case studies that simulate things such as steam generation faults and steam pressure faults.

Canada’s nuclear power operations have a proven track record of being among the safest in the world. They are highly monitored, stringently regulated and continuously improved through the daily efforts of qualified professionals who are committed to ensuring public safety.

In keeping with the industry’s philosophy of continuous improvement, new methods and enhancements to existing methods are being developed in the areas of systems analysis, accident causation, human factors, error reduction and measurement of safety performance.

Using Fault Semantic Network (FSN) for troubleshooting faults in CANDU reactors will only build on the current knowledge and improve safety in the future.

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Uranium Mining Safety

Uranium Mining Safety Infographic - English

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When We All Have a Say, Who Flies the Plane?

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

You find your seat, stuff your bag in the overhead, sit down, and put your lap-belt on.

Sixteen inches from your face, the video lights up.

Welcome aboard our flight today. I’m the Chairman of this airline’s board of directors, and I’d like to ask for three minutes of your help.

Our customers are the heart of what we do.

Our Board is trying to decide how far that can go. With this in mind, we’ve drafted some possible new guidance for our great airline. We want to hear from you, our customers – the reason we fly.

Please touch the screen to express your support for each of the following measures on a scale of 1 to 4 (where 4 expresses greatest support).

  1. Customers were under-represented in past decisions around fuel mix, engine technology, flying altitude, and emergency procedures. We propose to consult you regularly from now on. Based on passenger consultations, the airline CEO will make sure customer concerns are addressed.  

[Your fellow passengers tap their screens in response. You hesitate and look around. You see your seat-mate touch 4.]

  1. Criteria for making weather-related flight cancellations should reflect customer needs. The airline CEO will lead a consultation process to review these criteria. The decision criteria in poor weather may be relaxed if customers believe they were needlessly inconvenienced by past cancellations.

[Your seat-mate touches 3.]

  1. The airline CEO will transition our company to full “flight deck transparency.” Conversations within the flight deck, and between aircraft and ground, will be available for you to monitor on Channel 3 of our audio system.

[Your seat-mate hesitates, then touches 2.]

  1. In the next level of “flight deck transparency,” passengers will be able to submit real-time comments on those flight deck conversations. Comments will be moderated by the flight director and read to the pilot.

[Your seat-mate starts looking around the cabin. Others are doing the same. An audible murmur starts.]

  1. In the next level of “flight deck transparency,” warning signals and alarms from our avionic systems would be broadcast on the cabin speakers. We plan for passengers to be able to record their level of concern online at fifteen-second intervals. At each interval the pilot would hear a reading of the current average concern level. When multiple alarms are sounding, this reading frequency to the pilot would be shortened to five-second intervals.

The murmur of worry gets louder; hands move away from screens.

Absurd? Not entirely.

Sure, nearly all of us probably want to let the pilots fly the planes – and not distract them with our “concern level.” Whether it’s because we trust their professional qualifications, or we trust those who regulate them, or just because we aren’t sure we know better than they do, we let them do their jobs.

What about the “pilots” of the other critical systems in our modern world – those who plan and maintain city drinking water supplies, for example? Or the public health officers who manage disease outbreaks? Or fire marshals who regulate our office and apartment buildings to reduce fire risks? Do we let them do their jobs? In these cases, mostly the answer is yes, particularly as long as their record of protecting us is good.

Look further and the situation gets muddier. In CNA’s mid-2014 poll, nearly one in four respondents did NOT agree that the government agencies that regulate Canadian nuclear power plants are taking the issue of safety “seriously.” Attend public regulatory hearings and you’ll hear the same message in even less polite terms from those citizens who turn out to state their views. Canadians say they trust the corporations running the plants just as much as they trust the independent public regulators, if not more so. And trust in the public regulators seems to be trending downward.

Regulate Canadian power plants graph

It’s not just nuclear. A similar trend seems to affect a wide range of industry regulatory activities: from health product approvals to food inspection to environmental assessments to electricity generation. Canadians appear less and less willing to trust the people and processes inside regulatory bodies. The result is that more and more, public regulatory decisions get fought out in sidewalk protests, social media, TV news, legislatures, or election campaigns.

This is surprising when you consider that over the past 250 years, the rise of our professional standards of practice, product codes, and independent regulatory agencies have advanced ordinary people’s health and safety by orders of magnitude. (See “How can Nuclear Power be Safe?”)

By the evidence, this is one of the great successes of western society, owed to quiet technocrats who stayed out of politics and applied objective scientific and economic measures to find the public good.

Yet we now seem willing to discard it in favor of political processes where the winners are more likely to be the loudest screamers, the best-resourced lobbyists, or the richest property owners. In re-politicizing regulated industries, we don’t necessarily democratize decisions; rather, we may empower the noisy few. And much clear, demonstrable progress toward better decision-making may simply get undone.

It’s a big issue. It threatens to be a big step backward. And it’s something we should be talking more about. Pilots aren’t perfect; they’re human. So are their managers, and their CEOs, and their Boards, and their regulators. Oversight is always needed. But are we going to let them do their jobs, or not?

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Canadian Nuclear Power Plants Get Top Marks for Safety from CNSC

By Romeo St-Martin
Digital Media Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

OPG, Bruce Power and NB Power all received high marks for their plant safety from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission last week, proving again that nuclear power in Canada is safe.

The CNSC Staff Integrated Safety Assessment of Canadian Nuclear Power Plants for 2013 concluded that Canada’s nuclear power plant operators “made adequate provision for the protection of the health, safety and security of persons and the environment from the use of nuclear energy.”

The report’s highlights included:

  • there were no serious process failures at the nuclear power plants
  • no member of the public received a radiation dose that exceeded the regulatory limit
  • no worker at any plant received a radiation dose that exceeded the regulatory limits
  • the frequency and severity of non-radiological injuries to workers were minimal
  • no radiological releases to the environment from the stations exceeded the regulatory limits

The CNSC rates nuclear power plant safety performance on 14 criteria using a scale of “Fully Satisfactory,” “Satisfactory,” “Below expectations,” and “Unacceptable.”

All nuclear power plants received scores of either “Fully Satisfactory” or “Satisfactory” for all 14 items, including things such as waste, fitness for service and radiation protection.

In addition, OPG’s Darlington was the only station to receive a “Fully Satisfactory” score – the highest score possible – for its overall plant rating.

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Reflections on the Nuclear Industry Summit and the Nuclear Security Summit

By John Barrett
President
Canadian Nuclear Association

From March 23 to 25, I and a number of Canadian nuclear-sector executives participated at the Nuclear Industry Summit (NIS) in Amsterdam. The NIS and the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in The Hague were designed by the Netherlands, as host and organizer, to overlap.

The 2014 NSS was the third in a series of Leaders’ Summits established in 2010 by U.S. President Barack Obama to address the security of nuclear materials and radiological sources and to prevent their illicit acquisition by criminal or terrorist entities.

nis-picture

Nuclear Security Background

The idea of an accompanying nuclear industry summit has gained ground. States participating in the NSS have recognized the important role of nuclear industry in implementing effective security arrangements in the handling of sensitive nuclear materials and radiological sources.

To those involved in Canada’s nuclear industry, this recognition of industry’s role in nuclear security likely comes as no surprise, given the regulations and procedures that they already stringently abide by.

This may be so here in Canada. But there is also an awareness that no comparable international regime exists for nuclear security as it does for nuclear safety.

Governments still struggle more with security because of the interplay between sensitive information – whether concerning physical protection or the whereabouts of nuclear and radiological material – and the transparency necessary to give assurance, both to domestic populations as well as to other states, that such materials remain secure. Getting the balance between the two is the challenge.

That is one of the reasons that forms of verification and confidence-building used increasingly in nuclear safety (note in particular the IAEA’s Action Plan on Nuclear Safety, following the Fukushima accident) such as “peer review” are sometimes more resisted by states when it comes to nuclear security. Perhaps they fear the potential embarrassment or additional costs associated with being held under the international spotlight of a peer review. Their deficiencies could become exposed. This is why achieving progress in transparency and assurances is often slower than one hopes.

Nevertheless, the three nuclear security summits give room for optimism. Building an international nuclear security framework cannot be achieved in one fell swoop. But we can learn from the experiences in other areas of verification and confidence-building in the civil nuclear sphere. In two other areas – nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear safety – the IAEA acts as a mechanism for verification. For states that are parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, they are legally bound to allow the IAEA to impose safeguards on their civil nuclear activities. For states parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety (which includes all countries that operate nuclear power plants, except Iran), they are obliged to undergo peer reviews based on IAEA safety standards.

For nuclear security, however, no such role exists for the IAEA. Some countries insist that security is not part of the agency’s mandate, only safeguards and safety. Yet there is overlap between these two areas and nuclear security. How, for example, can one can talk about the safety of radiological sources without also including their protection and secure handling? Or protecting nuclear material from being diverted or traded illegally, taking into account the role of safeguards in ensuring only legitimate uses of such material?

Bit by bit, the pieces of a coherent nuclear security regime are being assembled. The IAEA offers International Physical Protection Advisory Services, along with Nuclear Security Guidelines. The agency is also the compiler of the Incidents and Trafficking Database. The Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material is signed, though not yet in force.

In short, it’s still a patchwork of agreements and initiatives with no unifying international legal framework. Many actions and commitments are voluntary for states, not binding. This non-binding dimension is not ideal when it comes to giving strong and transparent assurances to others that one’s own nuclear security house is fully and circumspectly in order.

So, given this background, what were some of the achievements of the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit?

NSS Achievements

One thing heard often at both NSS and NIS discussions was that a harmful event involving nuclear materials anywhere can be considered to be a harmful event everywhere. The direct interrelationship between the security of nuclear materials in one country and its impact on other countries is clearly recognized by political and industry leaders alike.

The NSS allowed individual countries to show what they have done domestically and internationally to improve nuclear security. It also produced numerous pledges to do more by the time of the next summit in 2016. Canada showed itself very well in both instances.

The summit also made ground in “strengthening the international nuclear security architecture,” possibly by developing by 2016 the outlines of a unifying framework or instrument. In addition, a block of countries stepped forward to accept peer reviews as a means of demonstrating their intent to improve both transparency as well as the level and effectiveness of their national nuclear security measures. And the IAEA is now clearly the lead international institution to support and promote nuclear security.

The NSS encouraged: the minimization of stocks of Highly Enriched Uranium and separated plutonium; the minimization of HEU use through conversion of reactor fuel from HEU to LEU; efforts to use non-HEU technologies for the production of radio-isotopes; protection of high-activity radiological sources; the investigation of alternative technologies for such production; and security plans for spent fuel and radioactive waste.

Implications for Industry

The NSS made it clear that nuclear industry had “a crucial role to play in maintaining and strengthening nuclear security.”

Operators should put strong emphasis on effective safety and security culture, physical protection, and material accountancy. They should undergo regular and routine tests and evaluations, in line with the “principle of continuous improvement.” The summit leaders also emphasized the importance of information and cyber security, underlining that further exchanges between government, industry and academia were desirable.

However, it was in the Nuclear Industry Summit (NIS) that more specific measures for industry were identified. The NIS issued a Joint Declaration, as well as the reports of three working groups. Working Group 1 (under the chairmanship of Bruce Power CEO Duncan Hawthorne) dealt with corporate governance. Working Group 2 (chaired by Luc Oustel of Areva) examined enhancing of Information and cyber security.  Working Group 3 (chaired by Adi Paterson of ANSTO) looked at further reducing HEU and strengthening controls over highly active radiological sources.

The NIS Joint Declaration committed industry participants to:

  • Promoting a strong security culture
  • Ensuring that all personnel with accountabilities for security must be demonstrably competent
  • Clearly designating accountability for security
  • Conducting routine evaluations of the sufficiency of security provisions
  • Extending the spirit of cooperation and sharing of good practices
  • Reinforcing industry collaboration on cyber security topics
  • Fostering development of high-density fuel (LEU production of radio-isotopes)

Canadian Role

From a Canadian perspective, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced at the Nuclear Security Summit several initiatives and commitments that may have a bearing on industry. Canada is committed to:

  • Eliminating the use of HEU in the production of medical isotopes by 2016
  • Continuing the process of repatriation of its U.S.-origin HEU fuel by 2018
  • Minimizing HEU by providing technical support for a reactor conversion and cleanout project in Jamaica

In addition, Canada will undertake further nuclear and radiological security programming through the Global Partnership Program to: enhance physical security of nuclear and radiological materials in Southeast Asia; prevent loss, theft, and malicious use of radioactive sources, particularly those of Canadian origin, in Latin America and Africa; and combat illicit trafficking by enhancing detection capabilities in the Americas.

The prime minister also announced government co-funding of a Bruce Power and the World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS) project to develop senior-level training courses and instruction methodologies relating to nuclear security. The new WINS Academy was unveiled at the 2014 NSS and NIS Summits. The Academy is launching a Security Certification Programme, “The Route to Demonstrable Competence,” which is targeted at professionals who have management responsibilities for nuclear and radiological materials.

Furthermore, under The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), Canada will undertake a nuclear forensics initiative in partnership with a number of international partners, including Israel, the Netherlands and the US.

In the National Progress Report prepared by the Canadian government for the 2014 NSS, there is mention that Canada is undertaking a comprehensive national project designed to promote the development of a national nuclear forensics capability. To this end, Canada is participating as a programme committee member for the forthcoming International Conference on Advances in Nuclear Forensics. As regards cyber security, Canada is working towards the development and issuance of a national standard for cyber protection.

Furthermore, Canada is examining the potential to develop a Centre of Excellence to connect expertise from government, industry, regulators and academic institutions. The document also notes that both government and industry representatives are actively involved in the development of international recommendations, guidance and best practice guides for enhancing nuclear security, through the IAEA and WINS.

Quick Takeaways

What I drew in particular from the combination of the 2 summit meetings (NSS and NIS) was an emphasis on the following nuclear security areas:

  • Education, training and awareness-raising are key in developing a corporate and institutional “nuclear security culture”
  • Peer review and compliance, while still voluntary in many parts of the international nuclear security architecture, are essential and will be pursued and strengthened
  • Collaboration with industry is important, especially in promoting a nuclear security culture, raising the actual levels of physical protection, and dealing with increasingly salient cyber-security issues
  • There is growing recognition of the interface between safety and security and of how the latter can learn from the former
  • The IAEA is increasingly accepted as the focal point in future for improvements in the practice of nuclear security and in building an international nuclear security architecture
  • Focus is being put on improved detection methods and forensic technologies