Canadian nuclear watchdog requests review

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is asking for a review of all Canadian nuclear plants in light of the disaster in Japan.
This satellite image taken on March 17 shows the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Canada's nuclear safety regulator has requested reviews of all nuclear plants in the aftermath of the Japanese crisis. (GeoEye satellite image)

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is asking for a review of all Canadian nuclear plants in light of the disaster in Japan.

The in-depth review would also include Atomic Energy Canada Ltd.'s Chalk River Laboratories facility, located northwest of Ottawa.

Ramzi Jammal, the chief regulatory officer at the commission, requested the review of nuclear safety and control regulations on Thursday in a memo sent to Hydro-Quebec, NB Power, Ontario Power Generation, Bruce Power and AECL.

The directive is a response to "the serious situation that is occurring at the Fukushima site in Japan," where a devastating earthquake last week damaged a nuclear power station, causing panic over a potential nuclear meltdown and radiation leaks.

The focus of the Canadian review will be on emergency responses, prevention measures in cases of severe accidents, and preparedness in the event of "external hazards" including fires, extreme weather events such as flooding, and earthquakes.

Among the tasks Jammal recommended for completion by April 29 are:

  • A review of initial lessons learned from the 9.0-magnitude Japan earthquake that occurred on March 10. 
  • A re-examination of safety cases of nuclear power plants, with a particular focus on the so-called "defence-in-depth" principle (a strategy involving multiple barriers to protect from radioactive leaks).
  • A report on implementation plans for short- and long-term measures to address safety gaps.

He asked each company to confirm by April 1 a commitment to carrying out a review.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is an independent regulator overseeing the safety of the country's nuclear power plants. The commission has inspectors at each plant site, as well as at the Chalk River Laboratories.

Canada has seven nuclear generating stations at five sites in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. The plants are in areas of relatively low levels of seismic activity, although potentially damage-causing earthquakes have occurred in those provinces before.