Fukushima: Lessons Learned to Improve Emergency Preparedness
What has Fukushima taught us?
The most important lesson Fukushima has taught us is to expect the unexpected, and to be prepared to respond to it. Although tsunamis and large earthquakes are unlikely to occur in Ontario or New Brunswick – where Canada’s operating nuclear plants are located – the CNSC has taken concrete steps to ensure that it is ready to respond to extreme accident scenarios.
After the accident, the CNSC assembled a task force of experts in various fields (including nuclear engineering, radiation protection and emergency preparedness) which concluded that Canada’s major nuclear facilities are safe, and that our regulatory oversight is comprehensive.
After carefully considering the most important lessons learned from Fukushima, the CNSC implemented a robust four-year action plan to ensure it is prepared for an extreme event. Improvements include:
- asking operators to review the severe accident management guidelines (SAMG), which are a set of plans and procedures invoked in case of severe accidents
- ensuring emergency response facilities are equipped with additional portable backup power and telecommunications equipment
- asking nuclear power plant operators to acquire portable equipment to ensure that reactors can be cooled and fuel pools replenished, regardless of circumstance; this equipment is to be stored onsite and offsite
Radiation levels: improving access to real-time data in case of emergency
The CNSC’s action plan required nuclear power plant operators to add additional radiation monitoring stations around their facilities in order to provide real-time data on radiation levels. Health Canada has also fixed monitoring stations across the country, including nearby nuclear power plants. These stations can also provide real-time data.
Plant operators are required to enhance their existing modelling capabilities to be able to predict the dispersion of radioactive releases. This upgrade effectively considers very severe accident scenarios involving multiple units.
In case of a nuclear emergency, the federal government would deploy additional equipment to monitor radiation. Provincial authorities would also be involved in monitoring radiation levels (for example, in agricultural products and water).
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 SAMG 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. The CNSC has developed additional tools, like its crisis website, ready to be launched in the event of a major radiological accident.
Since the incident, large-scale nuclear emergency exercises have been conducted regularly in Canada by nuclear power plant operators and agencies across all levels of government.
Updating emergency management regulations and standards
The CNSC has taken a comprehensive look at its regulatory framework and made several modifications which include:
- updating requirements for onsite emergency response
- requiring nuclear power plant operators to support offsite emergency planning (e.g. for KI pre-distribution)
- increasing collaboration between the CNSC and other organizations (e.g., Canadian Standards Association) to establish world-class standards for onsite and offsite nuclear emergency management and preparedness
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