Safety and control area series – Radiation protection

Safety and control areas

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is responsible for evaluating how well licensees meet regulatory requirements and expectations. We consider the performance of programs in 14 different safety and control areas (SCAs). For the next several months, we will be publishing a series detailing each SCA and its significance for the CNSC and its licensees. This feature article will focus on the radiation protection SCA. For a general overview of all SCAs and their functional areas, visit the CNSC’s safety and control areas Web page.

Suppose you were in charge of promoting safety in your workplace. You might start by understanding the risks associated with your work, and then ensure that your workplace abided by all of the rules and regulations designed to promote safety. You would probably also aim to continuously improve your safety standards, ensuring that everyone at your workplace was properly equipped to always put safety first.

The same idea applies to the "radiation protection" safety and control area (SCA). Radiation protection is essential to the CNSC’s mission to protect health, safety, security and the environment. This SCA aims to ensure that licensees implement a program that minimizes radiation exposure to people in accordance with the Radiation Protection Regulations (RPR) under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act.

Protecting against radiation

The concept of limiting radiation exposure to a level that is as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA) is accomplished by controlling work practices, providing training, controlling occupational and public exposure to radiation, and planning for unusual situations. Releases into the environment are estimated and/or measured and monitored. This is a required element of licensees’ radiation protection programs.

The CNSC’s Radiation Protection Division (RPD) staff in the Directorate of Environmental and Radiation Protection and Assessment evaluate licensees’ radiation protection programs to ensure that contamination levels and radiation doses received by individuals are monitored, controlled and maintained ALARA. To do this, RPD staff determine if licensees’ implementation of their programs meet several specific requirements:

  • application of ALARA – using all reasonable methods to minimize radiation doses to persons and releases of radioactive materials, taking into account social and economic factors
  • worker dose control – implementing measures to control occupational exposures to radiation, and to keep these exposures below regulatory dose limits and ALARA
  • radiation protection program performance – committing to continuous improvement through the setting of performance objectives, goals and targets to assess the effectiveness of the radiation protection program in protecting the health and safety of persons
  • radiological hazard control – ensuring that radiological hazards are controlled in order to prevent unnecessary radioactive releases and radiation exposures
  • estimated dose to the public – reporting public radiation doses by using environmental monitoring results from water, food and air, as well as inhalation and ingestion measurements, and reviewing exposure pathway models

Long-term commitment to safety

At the CNSC, we are constantly aiming to improve our approach to ensuring safety and have committed to maintaining up-to-date radiation protection requirements by proposing amendments to the RPR, drafting new regulatory documents in the radiation protection SCA, and drafting associated documents to support improving RPRs.

The current RPRs, introduced in 2000, were based on guidance from the International Commission on Radiological Protection and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Since then, both of these organizations have updated their guidance.

In addition, we undertook a review of our regulatory framework following the Fukushima nuclear event in 2011 and identified improvements that should be made to existing regulations and supporting regulatory documents. These recommended improvements, together with new international guidance, are reflected in the proposed amendments to the RPR.

The CNSC is fully committed to ensuring that the regulatory framework for radiation protection remains modern in order to fulfill the mandate to protect the health and safety of Canadians and the environment. We will never compromise safety.