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 draft 2013 safety assessment, the CNSC stated that all six 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 14 “fully satisfactory” ratings in 2013, up from 12 such ratings in the previous year. Five of the six power plants received an average score of “satisfactory,” while the newest plant, the Darlington nuclear generating station, received a “fully satisfactory” score.

Mines, mills and processing facilities

The CNSC’s 2012 safety assessment 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.

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 River (Cameco), and McLean 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
  • nuclear substance processing facilities: Shield Source Inc. (Peterborough, Ontario), SRB Technologies (Canada) Inc. (Pembroke, Ontario), and Nordion (Canada) Inc. (headquartered in Ottawa with facilities in Vancouver and Laval, Quebec).

All of the mines and mills scored “satisfactory,” with the Cigar Lake project achieving a “fully satisfactory” score for its conventional health and safety program.

Cigar Lake

The Cigar Lake project. Source: Cameco.

All of the uranium processing facilities scored “satisfactory,” with GE-Hitachi achieving a “fully satisfactory” grade for its environmental protection program.

radioisotopes

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

The two tritium-processing firms – SRB Technologies (Canada) Inc. and Shield Source Inc. – achieved “satisfactory” scores, with SRB achieving “fully satisfactory” performance on its conventional health and safety program. Shield Source Inc. earned three “below expectations” ratings for its management, its operating performance, and its environmental protection program. The company has now ceased operations permanently.

Nordion, which produced radioisotopes for the health- and life-sciences sector, as well as industrial radiation sources, achieved 11 “satisfactory” ratings, along with three “fully satisfactory” ratings, for its environmental protection, conventional health and safety, and security programs.

The 2012 safety assessment represents the most recent published set of findings; the CNSC has completed its 2013 assessment, and the draft CNSC Staff Integrated Safety Assessment of Canadian Nuclear Power Plants for 2013 is available on its website.