The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission Laboratory

High-resolution gamma spectrometer for measurement of gamma radionuclides

The CNSC Laboratory supports the CNSC by providing sample analysis and radiation instrument calibration services. It provides advanced radiation instrument training and expert services in the fields of radiochemistry, chemistry, radiation physics and nuclear forensics. Furthermore, the Laboratory also maintains a repository of radiation sources, which are used in training and exercises held by the CNSC staff.

In 2009, the CNSC and Government of Canada invested in the renovation, refitting and equipping of a vacant laboratory space at the Natural Resources Canada Limebank Road site in Ottawa. The CNSC Laboratory moved from Tunney’s Pasture to the Limebank location in 2010. The modernized space also contributed to the Laboratory’s ISO/IEC 17025:2005 accreditation, an internationally accepted standard to evaluate testing and calibration laboratories. For more information on the ISO certification, see below.

Laboratory activities

Inductively Coupled Mass Spectrometer (ICP-MS) for measurement of hazardous substances

The Laboratory plays an important role in the CNSC’s Independent Environmental Monitoring Program (IEMP). The IEMP is designed to verify that public health and the environment around licensed nuclear facilities are protected. Types of samples taken by CNSC staff typically include air, water, soil, vegetation, and locally farmed and wild food. CNSC scientists process the samples at the Laboratory, and test for radiological (nuclear) and non-radiological (hazardous) substances related to the operation of a nuclear facility.

Regular inspections and evaluations verify that licensees are operating safely and complying with laws and regulations, as well as adhering to their licence conditions. To verify licensees’ compliance, CNSC inspectors often take samples which are then analyzed at the CNSC Laboratory. These diverse samples, from swiped samples to food, water, air and soil, reflect the complex world of CNSC licensees, from hospitals and universities to waste management facilities. The Laboratory has developed a contemporary suite of analytical capabilities in coordination and with input from the inspection community and always welcomes feedback and opportunities to improve.

The CNSC Laboratory is a member of Canada’s Nuclear Forensic Laboratory network and has developed and exercised significant capability for nuclear forensic sample analysis. In the case of any illicit activity involving nuclear or radioactive material, the Laboratory contributes to the criminal investigation by analyzing the samples, interpreting the results to advance the investigation by the law enforcement authorities and serving as an expert witness for the prosecution.

The state-of-the-art calibration facility enables the Laboratory to test radiation instruments to ensure they are reading radiation levels correctly. Once the radiation instrument is calibrated, it is stored until put into use by CNSC inspectors in the field. The Laboratory maintains an inventory of ~400 radiation instruments, which are used to detect and measure gamma, beta, alpha and neutron radiation.

The Laboratory widely collaborates with universities, domestic and international laboratories, and other Canadian government laboratories to provide research and training opportunities for students and scientists working in areas of nuclear and radiological safety and security.


Gamma irradiator facility (Hopewell Design Inc. G10-2-360)

On November 16, 2016, the CNSC Laboratory was granted accreditation to ISO/IEC 17025:2005, a standard used to evaluate testing and calibration laboratories. Accreditation to this standard provides formal recognition of competent laboratories throughout the world. The accreditation scope includes the calibration of working measurement standards, gamma survey meters, and personal electronic dosimeters – in short, a significant part of the CNSC Laboratory’s calibration services.

Laboratory accreditation is a formal process of recognition by a third-party organization to establish that a laboratory is technically competent and impartial. The CNSC Laboratory was required to demonstrate its ability to produce precise and accurate test and calibration data, and to show the technical competence of staff.

Accreditation was granted by the Standards Council of Canada (SCC), under the Program for the Accreditation of Laboratories – Canada (PALCAN) and the National Research Council of Canada Calibration Laboratory Assessment Service (NRC CLAS). The CNSC Laboratory – known for its excellent measurement capability – is the first of its kind in Canada that the SCC has accredited for calibration of working measurement standards and survey instruments for gamma measurement.