Tag Archives: Safety



Just outside of Boston is where you’ll find iRobot. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) vision turned global robotics company in just 25 years. We recently sat down with Thomas Phelps, Director of Robotic Products, Defense and Security Business Unit.


Can you tell me a little bit about iRobot’s history?

We started out with research robots and in the late 1990s early 2000s we transitioned into commercial products such as the Roomba, robotic vacuum cleaner. In terms of our defense and security robots, the PackBot was first used after 9/11. iRobot sent a team of engineers and robots to the World Trade Center complex to help look for survivors. It was the first time robots had been deployed for search and rescue. It started to build a reputation of how these robots could be effective and help provide assistance in dangerous environments.  They are now used by bomb squads and tactical teams to help keep people safe.

How did your company help out with Fukushima?

After the Tsunami in Fukushima we sent in a robot to do radiological monitoring and assess the inside of the reactor buildings after the meltdown. It was our first exposure in working with nuclear power companies. We equipped the robots with vacuums so that they could also help to clean up the debris inside the power plant. Since then the robots have been used for emergency response and standard tools for everyday applications.

Tell me a little more about the iRobot fleet.


We have a family of robots for Defense and Security. The smallest one is a 5lb robot for confined space inspections. They go all the way up to 500lb robots.  The robots currently run on lithium ion batteries and the 510 PackBot for example, can run for up to 8 hours on this battery. We are looking at updating the system so that the robots can be plugged in and recharged.

What’s next for iRobot?

Recently we’ve partnered with sensor manufacturers. We see things evolving, in that we have a new way to control the robots. In the past robots had single purpose control systems but we have taken all of this software and reformulated it onto an app that can be used on a tablet.  We are making the operation as simple and as easy as possible but it also opens up the architecture to integrate with networks such as cloud for evidence collection and data sharing. So if you can play Angry Birds you can now use a robot.


You’ve recently celebrated 10 years with the company. What makes iRobot such a great company?

The products that we making here make adifference in people’s lives; we solve real problems within the industry and make people’s lives safer and easier.

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?

CNA Responds Nuclear Energy

Just the Facts, Ma’am. Just the Facts.

You’d think the facts would persuade people like the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) . But that appears not to be the case.

Gideon Forman, their executive director, apparently told health authorities in Haliburton region that kids living near nuclear energy facilities face higher risks of leukemia.  Forman, who is not a medical doctor, cited the widely discredited German study Kinderkrebs in der umgebung von Kernkraftwerken (KiKK), published in 2008. (The title translates to “Childhood Cancer in the Environment of Nuclear Power Plants.”)

Here’s the problem. It’s just not true.

In fact, several follow-up studies have reviewed the KiKK work. Every one of them concluded that the kids’ leukemia risk could NOT be blamed on the nearby nuclear energy facility.

Even CAPE acknowledges in its own literature that the German study proved nothing: “The authors state that the reason for the elevated risk is unexplained, as the levels of radioactive emissions from these facilities are considered too low to explain the increase in childhood leukemia.” (Source:  Cathy Vakil and Linda Harvey, Human Health Implications of the Nuclear Energy Industry, p. 62)

As the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission said in its review of the KiKK studies, “any claims of a link between childhood leukemia and radiation from nuclear power plants are unfounded and not supported by a wealth of evidence resulting from multiple epidemiology studies.”

And as the commission chairman, Dr. Michael Binder, wrote last August in a letter to the Hamilton Spectator  specifically rebutting CAPE’s allegations, “The truth is that studies have shown over and over that people living near nuclear power plants are as healthy as the rest of the population.”

Forman also cited scientific studies to show that “all reactors release radioactive material routinely” but failed completely to put this into perspective.  The truth is that nuclear energy facilities generally add less than 0.1% to the background radiation that occurs naturally.

In fact, Canadians receive over 100 times more radiation dose naturally through the food we eat than from Canada’s nuclear energy facilities.

Those are the facts. Shouldn’t doctors deal in facts rather than fiction?


CNA2013 Video: Evolution of Nuclear Safety Practices

Mr. Tom Mitchell, President and Chief Executive Officer of Ontario Power Generation, provides an update on the safety measures OPG has implemented at its nuclear plants following the Fukushima nuclear event of two years ago. He also offers observations on the nuclear industry’s evolving approach to nuclear safety, including the insights gained from studying the Fukushima experience.

You can watch more CNA2013 conference videos on the playlist we created. Other videos including videos from previous conference years can be found on our YouTube channel.

Messages Nuclear Energy Nuclear Safety

The Point Lepreau Generating Station is Seismically Robust and Safe

Below is a press release from NB Power correcting misinformation being circulated about the safety of their facility at Point Lepreau.

We echo the sentiments of NB Power Site VP & CNO, Sean Granville, when he says that our industry is one of most (if not THE most) closely regulated industries in Canada. Nuclear safety is not something we take lightly, it’s part of our culture.

Please read on for the straight facts on the matter.

The Point Lepreau Generating Station is seismically robust and safe

February 6, 2013

Fredericton, N.B. – NB Power takes exception to comments made today about the safety of the Point Lepreau Generating Station (PLGS) by the Conservation Council of New Brunswick (CCNB) Action Committee.

“These comments are misleading and attempt to undermine public trust in nuclear safety regulation and in the Point Lepreau Generating Station,” said Sean Granville, Site Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer. “The nuclear industry is one of Canada’s most closely regulated industries and its safety record is excellent and very transparent to the public. The people of New Brunswick can take great confidence in the safety of Point Lepreau.”

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) regulatory framework relies, in part, on International Atomic Energy Agency guidelines. On the basis of that framework, the CNSC sets licensing conditions for PLGS, which also includes meeting various Canadian standards. The Station meets or exceeds the specifications required under its federal licence. Comments made today by CCNB take highly technical seismic data about Point Lepreau out of context.

“We understand that the CCNB is not in favor of nuclear power and they of course are entirely entitled to hold that opinion,” said Granville. “However, NB Power is fully committed to operating the Station in a safe and responsible manner while meeting all licence and safety requirements.”

As stated by the CNSC, all Canadian nuclear power plants, existing or new, are licensed on the basis of their proven ability to withstand seismic events like earthquakes. Structures and systems have been designed to safely survive earthquakes and the CNSC ensures that all nuclear power plant licensees comply with regulatory requirements. In Canada, reactor sites are geologically screened to ensure they are constructed in a location that is seismically stable.

PLGS is located in an area of much lower seismic hazard risk than Fukushima. It is well within the North American plate and not located at a subduction tectonic plate boundary as is the case in Japan. The Station was designed to withstand potential earthquakes; both the actual structures that form containment and the systems important to safety have been seismically qualified prior to being granted a licence to operate. In addition, a
number of upgrades to the plant were made as part of the recent Refurbishment Project to further enhance seismic safety.

When the CNSC renewed PLGS’s Power Reactor Operating Licence in February 2012, the Commission made the completion of a site-specific seismic hazard assessment a condition of the Station’s licence renewal.

Since early 2012, PLGS staff have worked with experts on the site-specific seismic hazard assessment. Seasonal factors make it impossible to complete all data gathering until the summer of 2013, which means the final assessment report will be issued in 2014. Meanwhile, the preliminary findings offer reassurance about the safety of the Station.

Data included in this study is highly technical information, and NB Power – in reporting to the CNSC – relies on independent, highly qualified experts to conduct this type of work. Additionally, the assessment is reviewed by an independent panel of experts.

Preliminary findings of the seismic assessment received from third-party experts in December 2012 indicate that the current understanding of the earthquake hazard for the Point Lepreau site is not substantially different than that presented in a 1984 study. More information on the preliminary findings is available here.

Based on these findings; we are confident that the original safety case for PLGS remains as strong today as it was when the Station was constructed. The Station is sound and will continue to operate safely. New Brunswickers should be assured that NB Power takes its responsibilities to the people of New Brunswick as its utmost priority and puts the safety of employees and the public above everything else.

– 30 –

MEDIA CONTACT: Kathleen Duguay, Manager, Public Affairs, (506) 647-8057 or kduguay@nbpower.com.

Nuclear Energy Nuclear Pride Nuclear R&D Nuclear Safety

What Kind of Environmentalist Endorses Nuclear? An Informed and Realistic One.

There’s an interesting article on Slate.com today called The Pro-Nukes Environmental Movement: After Fukushima, is nuclear energy still the best way to fight climate change?

The article says what we’ve been saying for a while: that while renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are part of a clean energy mix, they simply can’t meet the world’s growing energy demands in the next few decades without some unforeseen leap forward in grid-scale energy storage. When the wind isn’t blowing, when the sun isn’t shining, and when you don’t have a way to efficiently store huge amounts of power, where does the power come from? Unfortunately in many circumstances, that need is filled by burning fossil fuels like coal and gas.

Nuclear’s reliable base load power, combined with advances in electrifying our transportation systems, is the cleanest way to get off fossil fuels that are, as this article says, cooking the planet.

But the article does raise some concerns – the same concerns that are always raised when talking about nuclear power: capital cost and waste. It also mentions the nuclear renaissance, which, before Fukushima, was underway as the world was recognizing the opportunity for nuclear to help us quit coal and reduce emissions.

The article concludes by talking about “next generation” technology: reactors that are able to efficiently burn the used-fuel and include even more redundant safe guards (our backups have backups).

I asked our policy director, John Stewart, to touch on the cost issue and explain a bit about next generation technology: How far away is it and what’s the hold up?

Well, first, let’s point out that “current generation” nuclear power is already very good – especially when you’re looking at the carbon issue.  A technology with zero carbon emissions in today’s operation is still going to be at zero in its next generation.  If it’s carbon you’re concerned about, today’s nuclear technology is unbeatable. I’m abstracting, of course, from marginal improvements in the way we build or refuel the plants – we can use cleaner trucks to deliver the uranium fuel to the plant, or lower-carbon concrete technologies when we pour the foundation, but that’s about it.

The reactor “generations” you’re talking about is a classification system developed by the US Department of Energy and described in detail at www.energy.gov.  Reactor technology has been advancing just like technology in many other areas over the past three decades.  In cars or phones or computers, we’ve all been aware of those advances because everyone buys the results.  In nuclear, reactors are advancing but virtually nobody in North America has been buying the results.  The reactors we see are mostly older technology, dating back often to the seventies and eighties.  They work just fine, they’re safe, they’re clean, they’re very economical, but they do not reflect the state of the art, which is mostly being bought and built in places like China and India – or will be over the coming decade or two.

So the short answer about next generation technology is it’s not far away, and the hold up is just demand.  Regulatory processes aside, advanced reactor technology is available – it’s largely a matter of building it.

Source: http://nuclear.energy.gov/genIV/documents/gen_iv_roadmap.pdf

Conversations about cost have to be clear – are we talking about up-front capital investment, that is the plant construction cost, or are we talking about the average cost of generating a unit of power?  Nuclear’s record is very clear – it is one of the most affordable ways to get a unit of power in the long run.   It’s now selling for about six cents a kilowatt hour in Ontario, a real bargain especially considering how clean it is.  One of the main reasons is that the plants are so durable, lasting for fifty to sixty years.  When a capital asset is amortized over a period that long, capital costs can be very large and they still shrink in importance.  The unit cost of power over that six decades is very low.