Fuel cycle safety

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) conducts annual inspections of the nuclear fuel cycle; here are some of its recent findings.

Nuclear power industry

In its 2016-17 safety assessment, the CNSC stated that all five nuclear power plants were being operated safely:

  • no member of the public received a radiation dose that exceeded the regulatory limit, nor did any power-plant worker;
  • no power plants released radiation that exceeded the regulatory limit; and
  • there were no serious process failures.

The CNSC also reported the nuclear power industry scored 19 “fully satisfactory” ratings in 2016, the same number reported in 2015. Three of the five power plants received an average score of “fully satisfactory,” while the other two received a “satisfactory” score.

Mines, mills and processing facilities

The CNSC’s 2016-17 safety assessment and 2016 oversight report found that uranium mines and mills, uranium processing facilities and nuclear substance processing facilities all met safety and environmental protection expectations:

  • radiation protection measures were effective, and results remained “as low as reasonably achievable” (the “ALARA principle”);
  • conventional health and safety programs continued to protect workers;
  • the environmental protection program was effective and results remained ALARA; and
  • construction activities at the facilities were continuously monitored.
Cigar Lake

The Cigar Lake project. Source: Cameco.

To arrive at these conclusions, the CNSC conducted many inspections at the facilities, which included:

  • mines and mills: McArthur River (Cameco), Key Lake (Cameco), Cigar Lake (Cameco), Rabbit Lake (Cameco), and McClean Lake (AREVA);
  • uranium processing facilities: Blind River Refinery (Cameco), Port Hope Conversion Facility (Cameco), Cameco Fuel Manufacturing (located in Port Hope), and Hitachi Nuclear Energy Canada’s facilities in Toronto and Peterborough, Ontario (often called GE-Hitachi); and
    radioisotopes

    Isotopes destined for processing and purification by the Nordion team. Source: Nordion.

  • nuclear substance processing facilities: SRB Technologies (Canada) Inc. (Pembroke, Ontario), Nordion (Canada) Inc. (Ottawa, Ontario), and Best Theratronics Ltd. (Ottawa, Ontario).

Specifically, all of the mines, mills, and processing facilities were rated as “satisfactory” or better in 2016.

In 2015, Best Theratronics received a “below expectations” rating in emergency management and fire protection, prompting the facility to make necessary improvements.

Nordion, which produces radioisotopes for the health- and life-sciences sector, as well as industrial radiation sources, consistently produces “fully satisfactory” scores in the area of environmental protection and security.