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Canada's response framework for nuclear, radiological emergencies gets solid marks

by Angela Stelmakowich
EcoLog, 2/28/2020 11:23:00 AM

Canada has received words of praise for its emergency preparedness system across all levels of government and its implementation of safety standards in nuclear and radiological emergency preparedness response, but there’s room to improve.

In response to a request by the Canadian government for an Emergency Preparedness Review (EPREV), an 11-person review team with experts from nine countries and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited sites in Ontario and New Brunswick over 11 days in June 2019. The EPREV mission focused on preparedness for emergencies that could follow events at nuclear power plants.

Canada is the first G7 country to ask for such a review.

IAEA’s report, published on February 19, 2020, is the result of the EPREV mission and includes Canada’s best practices as well as recommendations and suggestions for improvements.

With a view to enhancing Canada’s current approach, the report includes six recommendations for the federal government:

  • ensure the protection strategy includes provisions for justification and optimization of the individual protective actions and the overall strategy
  • ensure the results of the nuclear security threat assessment are incorporated in a hazard assessment
  • revise and further develop arrangements for the protection of emergency workers and helpers, and clarify how helpers in an emergency would be utilized
  • ensure a detailed monitoring strategy or strategies exist for emergency response and sufficient resources are available in a suitable time to implement the strategy throughout the emergency response
  • document and fully develop roles/responsibilities and arrangements for safely managing off-site radioactive waste arising from an emergency, and
  • develop detailed arrangements to terminate a nuclear or radiological emergency, including criteria and procedures for making a formal decision.

Some issues raised in the report are cause for concern, says Ole Hendrickson, chair of the Sierra Club Canada Foundation National Conservation Committee.

The review team observed that the protection strategy for an emergency “does not include provisions for justification and optimization of the specified protective actions, e.g., a comparison of the benefits of sheltering vs. evacuation under specific circumstances and also the optimization of decontamination measures,” Hendrickson notes in an e-mail response to EcoLog News.

“Whether to shelter or evacuate in the event of an emergency would be a major concern for members of the public living near a nuclear facility. Governments should prioritize the comparison of these two options from a public health perspective,” he adds.

Health Canada says the federal government and its partners “have developed an action plan to address the recommendations and suggestions in the report, and intend to host a follow-up EPREV mission in the future.”

Rumina Velshi, president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, adds: “The IAEA’s EPREV mission confirmed that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is prepared to respond in the event of a nuclear emergency. The review mission has helped us identify areas to enhance in order to be even better prepared.”

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