Nuclear Neighbourhood

Nuclear in Your Neighbourhood

Take a walk in your neighbourhood X

You probably already know that nuclear technology is used to produce electricity. But did you also know that Canadians rely on nuclear technology to do hundreds of other things? Radiation is regularly used to diagnose illnesses, sterilize instruments, inspect metal parts for flaws and even treat diseases.

Click on the tabs and drag the map to find examples of nuclear technology at work all around you.

Discover how the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission makes sure that these activities, and the facilities where they take place, are safe for Canadians and the environment.

Nuclear power plants X

All nuclear power reactors in Canada are CANDU (CANada Deuterium-Uranium) reactors, a Canadian invention. They use uranium as fuel to heat water and make steam. The steam turns turbines, which generate about 15 percent of Canada’s electricity.

Inspector in a power plant

Inspector working at Bruce Power’s nuclear generating station.

Cancer clinics X

Cancer clinics use radioisotopes and linear accelerators (linacs) to treat cancer. This is done by targeting the cancer cells with high-energy beams or by inserting a short-lived radioactive source into the tumour. The radiation damages the cancer cells and prevents them from growing or dividing, and the cells eventually die.

A child in a linac machine

A child is prepared for cancer treatment with a linear accelerator or "linac" machine.

Hospitals X

Hospitals use nuclear medicine to diagnose illnesses. Patients are injected with or breathe in a mildly radioactive tracer. Doctors can then observe how organs function. Each year, nuclear medicine helps to diagnose over 40 million people world wide.

A technician examines medical images

A doctor can use the results of the radioactive tracer to observe organs and detect diseases.

Grocery stores X

Food irradiation – the exposure of food to ionizing radiation – can kill harmful bacteria, viruses and insects and keep food fresh longer. Cobalt-60 is a common source used for this ionizing radiation – and it does not make food radioactive.

Food on display in a grocery store

Onions, potatoes, wheat, spices, and dehydrated seasonings are approved for irradiation and sale in Canada.

Construction sites X

Cesium-137, a radioactive material, is used in handheld gauges that measure the depth of soil, detect its moisture content or measure the flow of liquid in pipes. Radiography devices are also used by inspectors to detect underground leaks and flaws in pipe welds without having to dig.

A density gauge

A handheld nuclear gauge used to measure road thickness and moisture content.

Schools X

Tritium gas, a radioisotope of hydrogen, is sealed in glass tubes and used in some exit signs to make them glow. Since these signs do not need electricity, they are an important safety feature during power outages and emergencies. As long as the tubes remain sealed, the signs pose no health or safety hazards. Tritium also occurs naturally in the environment. Released tritium gas disperses quickly in the air.

A high school hall

Exit signs containing tritium will stay bright during an emergency, even without power.

Radioactive substances in transit X

Every day almost 28,000 packages containing nuclear substances are shipped to, from and within Canada. Most contain low-risk contents, like smoke detectors and medical isotopes.

A transport truck

This truck is carrying a container that holds uranium hexafluoride.

Airplanes X

Airplanes go through a lot of wear and tear, and can develop cracks over time that are invisible to the human eye. Gamma radiography is used to detect these “stress” cracks in the airplane’s metal parts without causing further harm.

A jet engine

Companies use gamma radiography on metal products - like airplanes - in much the same way a dentist uses X-rays to check your teeth for decay. The image will identify any flaws in the metal, which can then be corrected.

Canadian ports X

Ports are busy places. Since Canada is a world leader in the production of medical and industrial radioisotopes (radioactive isotopes), as well as a top uranium exporter, millions of packages move in and out of Canada each year.

Shipping containers on a Vancouver warf

Shipping containers waiting to be loaded onto a ship at the Port of Vancouver.

Air travel X

The higher you get in the Earth’s atmosphere, the less it shields you from cosmic radiation. That is why mountain climbing and air travel are associated with an increase in radiation exposure.

Passengers in an airplane

Radiation from a typical cross-Canada flight is only a tiny fraction of the maximum radiation dose that a member of the public can safely be exposed to in one year.

Lakes and streams X

Radioactive substances can enter surface water and groundwater through the weathering of rocks and soil that contains naturally occurring radioisotopes or through the activities of the nuclear industry. CNSC licensees regularly test surface and groundwater near nuclear facilities to make sure radioactivity is well below levels that could harm people or the environment. The CNSC also independently checks the level of radioactivity in the environment near nuclear facilities.

An inspector tests the water downstream from a facility

Releases from Canadian nuclear facilities are consistently well below the strict release limits set by the CNSC, the country’s nuclear regulator.

Industrial plants X

Industrial plants use nuclear gauges that contain small sources of nuclear substances such as cesium-137, cobalt-60 and promethium-147 to detect the flow of liquid through pipes, to make sure that containers like pop cans are filled to the right level. The nuclear gauges are also used to measure the thickness of materials as thin as plastic films or as thick as metal sheets during their production.

A paper measuring gauge

The promethium-147 in this paper-measuring device allows it to measure the exact paper thickness without touching it.

Agriculture X

In modern farming, nuclear gauges, a type of radiation device, are used to check soil erosion, measure moisture content in soil and monitor fertilizer use.

Scientists in a crop field

Using radioisotopes, scientists study crops at an international research farm.

Flea markets X

Before Canadians understood the health effects of radiation, radium and uranium were used to make watches glow in the dark and to add bright colours to glasses and glazed dishes. These were very popular during the 1930s and can still be found in old collections.

Uranium glasswear

Uranium glass displays a blue-green glow under ultraviolet light

Basements X

Radon is a radioactive gas found naturally in the environment. The gas is formed by the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. Radon is colourless, odourless and tasteless, but can be detected with special instruments. If a home is built over soil that contains a lot of uranium, radon gas can enter through cracks in the foundation and increase the risk of developing lung cancer. You can test your home to see if the radon levels are safe.

A radon test kit

Radon test kits are available at stores such as those that sell building supplies, or by contacting Health Canada. The kits can be sent to a lab to find out if radon levels in your home require special ventilation.

Homes X

Household smoke detectors use small amounts of americium-241 – a radioactive material – to sense smoke in the air and warn of fire. When used properly, smoke detectors pose no health risk and can be disposed of in any household garbage.

A smoke detector

Did you know there are two types of smoke detectors – ionizing and photo-electric? Only the ionizing type uses nuclear technology, but both are equally effective in detecting smoke.

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission offices X

With offices throughout Canada, the CNSC ensures that all nuclear facilities and activities are safe and that you and the environment are protected. To do that, the CNSC licenses all facilities that use radioactive substances, and has experts and inspectors at all nuclear power plants to carefully monitor every aspects of plant operations. The CNSC also conducts regular inspections of facilities that use nuclear technology, makes sure that the people working with them have proper training, and that the transport of radioactive substances is properly licensed.

Two CNSC inspectors at a nuclear power generating station

Canada has a fantastic safety record in nuclear power, largely because the CNSC constantly works to improve safety measures.

Space Exploration X

Space exploration relies on nuclear technology in various ways. Canada contributed significantly to the latest Mars mission via the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS). The APXS is a Canadian invention that allows the Mars rover Curiosity to gather data about the planet. The APXS sits on the rover's robotic arm and can bombard soil or rock samples with X-rays and alpha particles (charged helium nuclei) to determine their chemical composition.

The APXS device

The APXS sensor being tested before the 2011 launch. Did you know that plutonium-238, a radioisotope, powers Curiosity as it tries to figure out whether Mars was, or ever will be, habitable?