Emergency preparedness

While the possibility of a major accident at a Canadian nuclear power plant is very low, the industry recognizes the importance of preparing for one. Working with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), industry partners maintain and regularly update emergency-preparedness measures to reflect industry best practices around the world – with a view to protecting human health and safety, the environment, and the integrity of Canada’s power supply.

CNSC reviewed the emergency plans of Canadian nuclear power plants as part of its post-Fukushima industry review in 2011, and stated that “There are no significant gaps in emergency planning at Canadian NPPs [nuclear power plants].”

At the same time, the CNSC called on plant operators to improve their planning for accidents involving more than one reactor. The Fukushima Daiichi accident involved three reactors; in Canada, the Pickering A, Pickering B, Bruce A, Bruce B and Darlington generating stations all operate reactors in groups of four.

The Government of Canada had updated its nuclear emergency management plan in 2012, after the Fukushima accident, but not fully tested a nuclear emergency plan since 1999.

Emergency preparedness extends far beyond planning, however. In May 2014, for example, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) hosted a full-scale emergency exercise at its Darlington power plant. Exercise Unified Response brought together emergency responders from the federal, Ontario and municipal governments and OPG to test their ability to manage a nuclear accident.

Some of the emergency-preparedness measures in the three provinces hosting nuclear power plants are detailed below.

Ontario

Ontario updated its nuclear emergency plan in 2017. The new plan sets out four zones around each nuclear power plant.

  • The Automatic Action Zone extends 3 km from the power plant. This zone has the aim of preventing or reducing the occurrence of severe deterministic effects.
  • The Detailed Planning Zone extends 10 km around the plant. An alert for any emergency must cover this entire area. Furthermore, municipalities must distribute potassium iodide pills to pharmacies, schools and long-term care facilities in this zone, so that area residents can obtain them anytime. Potassium iodide floods the thyroid, blocking it from absorbing radioactive iodine, which can cause cancer.
  • The Contingency Planning Zone extends from 10 km to 20 km around the plant. Most provisions for this zone include radiation monitoring and education of residents and agricultural producers.
  • The Ingestion Planning Zone extends from 20 km to 50 km around the plant. Plans and arrangements revolve around protecting the food chain and drinking water supplies.

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As the utility responsible for the three nuclear power plants in Ontario, OPG also posts details of its emergency preparedness measures on its website.

New Brunswick

New Brunswick’s nuclear emergency plan sets out a 20-km protective action zone around the Point Lepreau nuclear generating station. In the unlikely event of a nuclear accident, New Brunswick’s emergency-response phone system would alert all homes, businesses, and institutions within the zone.

New Brunswick has distributed potassium iodide pills to all homes within the 20-km zone, and stocks pills at hospitals and police stations.

New Brunswick last tested its nuclear emergency plan in 2017. As the operator of the Point Lepreau station, NB Power posts emergency preparedness information on its website.

Quebec

Quebec’s nuclear emergency plan sets out an 8-km zone around the Gentilly-2 nuclear power plant at Bécancour. It requires the pre-distribution of potassium iodide pills to the 10,000 people who live within this zone. The plan also includes exposure-control measures such as evacuation and sheltering.

Quebec last tested this plan in 2005. In 2012, the provincial government decommissioned the Gentilly-2 power plant. Hydro Québec continues to maintain and service the plant, and posts prevention and safety information on its website.