CNSC update on the Fort McMurray area forest fires

Fires at Fort McMurray

In Canada, nuclear substances and radiation devices are regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). All licensee organizations must be well prepared to respond to emergencies, and to cooperate with local, provincial, federal and international authorities.

The CNSC is actively involved in the regulatory oversight of licensees’ actions regarding the nuclear substances and radiation devices they are authorized to possess and store in the Fort McMurray area and which may have been impacted by the forest fires.

Latest update

Inspectors at the Fort McMurray Fire location

May 16, 2016: The two Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) specialists deployed to Fort McMurray on May 12, 2016 have completed field verifications, confirming that the devices stored in the area have not been impacted and that there is no risk to the public and the environment.

The specialists provided assistance to the Regional Emergency Operations Centre (REOC), visiting all known locations that store radiological sources, and were able to confirm that none of the sources were impacted by the fires. The REOC safety officer also requested that they conduct radiological surveys within residential areas that have been severely impacted by the fires. No radiation above natural background levels was detected. Lastly, the CNSC specialists were asked to assist REOC in assessing the Beacon Hill Long Term Waste Management facility. This facility is a legacy waste storage site under institutional control by AECL. It was confirmed that there are no safety concerns related to this site.

The CNSC remains available to provide assistance to Fort McMurray first responders as necessary.

May 12, 2016: The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) today received a request for assistance from Alberta’s provincial emergency operations centre. Two CNSC specialists have been deployed to the Fort McMurray area to assist emergency personnel in confirming the radiological safety of licensed inventories of radiological devices in areas that may have been impacted by the fires.

May 11, 2016: The CNSC continues to communicate with all licensees in the area, and provide information to both the Alberta Provincial Operations Centre and first responders. The CNSC is monitoring the situation and will provide updated information to support emergency responders and recovery efforts as appropriate.

May 6, 2016: The CNSC contacted licensees in Alberta and British Columbia who have radiation devices that are portable (industrial radiography exposure devices, portable gauges, well logging sources) to determine if they had any radioactive material in the Fort McMurray area. Licensees were asked for a description and location of the material, as well as the number of devices and sources.

The CNSC also distributed radiological risk information to CANUTEC and to the Alberta Provincial Operations Centre to answer questions from first responders. CANUTEC is the Canadian Transport Emergency Centre operated by the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Directorate of Transport Canada. The Directorate’s overall mandate is to promote public safety in the transportation of dangerous goods by all modes.

May 5, 2016: CNSC staff are working with licensees impacted by the forest fires to ensure the safe storage of all inventories. Licensees have been evacuated from the area. They have been provided CNSC contact information should they require any assistance, and the CNSC has staff available to support any technical inquiries. The CNSC will remain in contact with available licensees and determine if any of the sources/devices are impacted by the fires. An update on the situation will be provided at an upcoming Commission meeting.

About the substances and devices in the Fort McMurray area

Category 2 sources

QSA 880 industrial radiography camera

Example of a QSA 880 camera

These sources are considered risk significant and are required to be directly monitored by licensee staff or placed in secure storage. All category 2 sources in the area are contained in QSA 880 radiography cameras, which are certified transport packages subject to rigorous testing, including a fire test. Some sources are contained in secure storage locations that may be at risk of fire.

Category 3, 4, and 5 sources

Industrial fixed gauge

Example of an industrial fixed gauge

Portable gauge

Example of a portable gauge

material analyzer

Example of a material analyzer

These sources are considered moderate to low risk and do not require direct monitoring. Examples include fixed gauges, portable gauges and material analyzers.

The security measures required by CNSC regulations for all sealed sources help protect the public from any radiological risk. Read more about the categorization of sealed sources.

Information for first responders

  • The risk of radiological contamination from a sealed source on the ground or in the air is near zero.
  • The highest risk source is found in industrial radiography cameras, which have gamma sources enclosed in special form capsules.
  • These special form capsules are shielded by depleted uranium (DU) and encapsulated stainless steel. These containers are designed to withstand this type of thermal event.
  • In addition, these devices are typically stored in secure steel/concrete storage rooms.
  • Although the risk of exposure is very low, radiation protection principles (time, distance and shielding) and radiation detection instrumentation should be used when approaching areas known to store radioactive sources.
  • Other lower-risk sources of radiation can come from fixed nuclear gauges, portable nuclear gauges and sources used in oil and gas well data logging. These sources are also encapsulated by stainless steel and are typically shielded by lead or tungsten.
  • CNSC staff are available to provide radiation awareness and instrumentation training for first responders in the affected communities. To request training for your organization, please contact the CNSC. If the situation is urgent and you require immediate assistance from the CNSC, please contact the 24/7 emergency Duty Officer at (613) 995-0479.

Reference information

The purpose of the documents below is to provide quick reference to first responders in a nuclear or radiological emergency. These documents do not replace the need for proper training and should only be used as a quick reference by people who have received radiation training.