Fukushima: Canada Integrates Lessons Learned to Improve Emergency Preparedness

The CNSC's Luc Sigouin responding to a question during a public meeting of the Commission

Interview with CNSC's Luc Sigouin, Director, Emergency Management Programs

What has Fukushima taught us?

This is a question that often comes back when we meet people in communities across the country. I'd say that the most important lesson Fukushima has taught us is to expect the unexpected, and be prepared to respond to it.

Even though tsunamis and very large earthquakes are not events that are likely to occur in Ontario or New Brunswick – where Canada's operating nuclear plants are located – we've taken concrete steps to ensure we're ready to respond to the most extreme accident scenarios.

Specifically, what sort of improvements have we made?

First, I'd like to mention that, soon after the accident, the CNSC put together a task force of experts in various fields (including nuclear engineering, radiation protection and emergency preparedness). Our task force concluded that Canada's major nuclear facilities are safe, and that our regulatory oversight was comprehensive.

Now, considering the most important lessons from Fukushima, we've put together a robust four-year action plan to ensure we're prepared for the most extreme events.

We asked operators to review what we call severe accident management guidelines (SAMGs), which are a set of plans and procedures that would be invoked in case of severe accidents.

One of the most important modifications to the guidelines was to take into account multi-unit events, as was the case in Fukushima.

In terms of capabilities to respond to an emergency, we realized that it was important for the operators to ensure that emergency response facilities are equipped with additional portable backup power and telecommunications equipment.

In the short term, we asked nuclear power plant operators to acquire portable equipment to ensure reactors can be cooled and fuel pools replenished, no matter what happens. This equipment is stored onsite and offsite.

In Ontario, a regional emergency management centre is being built and commissioned. This centre will be used to store additional portable equipment, such as power generators and pumps.

Radiation levels were a great source of concern and confusion during Fukushima. Have we made any improvements to ensure real-time data would be available in the case of an emergency in Canada?

Fire trucks at the Bruce A & B nuclear generating stations

As part of our action plan, the CNSC requested that nuclear power plant operators add additional radiation monitoring stations around their facilities, to provide us with real-time data on radiation levels.

Health Canada and Natural Resources Canada have fixed monitoring stations across the country, including near nuclear power plants. These stations can also provide real-time data.

Now, in case of a nuclear emergency, it's important for people to understand that the federal government would deploy additional equipment to monitor radiation, such as monitors which can be mounted on different types of aircrafts and trucks.

In the case of a severe accident, provincial authorities would also be involved in monitoring radiation levels in agricultural products and water – for example.

Plant operators are also required to enhance their existing modeling capabilities, to be able to predict the dispersion of radioactive releases. 

The enhanced modeling considers very severe accident scenarios involving multiple units.

Have we been able to verify whether these improvements would actually help in the event of an emergency?

Bruce Power's Emergency Command Centre — In October 2012, Bruce Power participated in a large exercise organized by Emergency Management Ontario

Several emergency exercises – involving severe accident scenarios previously not considered credible – have been conducted by plant operators.

The exercises have allowed operators to validate their revised SAMGs and to test newly acquired emergency mitigation equipment (such as power generators, pipes, pumps and fire trucks), which can be deployed effectively and quickly.

Large exercises in Ontario and New Brunswick have been conducted to verify that the different levels of government understand their role during a nuclear emergency.

The CNSC has also been testing its emergency response capability, as part of these exercises.

We have developed additional tools. For instance, we now maintain a crisis website, ready to be launched in the event of a major radiological accident.

Between May 26 and 28, 2014, the largest nuclear emergency exercise in North America in over a decade will be conducted –  involving Ontario Power Generation's Darlington Nuclear Generating Station and over 50 agencies at all levels of government.

What about the regulations and standards which apply to emergency management? Have those been changed?

Yes, the CNSC has taken a comprehensive look at its regulatory framework and made several modifications.

For instance, as part of our licensing requirements, we now require nuclear power plant operators to submit offsite emergency plans. We have also updated our requirements for the onsite emergency response.

The CNSC is also working collaboratively to establish world-class standards for onsite and offsite nuclear emergency management and preparedness.

For example, we are collaborating with the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) to create a standard for offsite emergency preparedness.

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