Nova Scotia

Navy to spend $1M on nuclear decontamination centre

The Canadian navy plans to spend about $1 million building a permanent nuclear decontamination centre this year at Canadian Forces Base Shearwater, CBC News has learned.
Every time a nuclear vessel ties up at CFB Shearwater, a temporary decontamination tent is erected in a hanger usually used by the navy's dive unit. (Canadian Forces)

The Canadian navy plans to spend about $1 million building a permanent nuclear decontamination centre this year at Canadian Forces Base Shearwater, CBC News has learned.

The 250-square-metre concrete block and steel-sided building will house various decontamination equipment needed every time a nuclear-powered vessel visits Halifax and ties up at CFB Shearwater.

CFB Halifax commander Capt. Brian Santarpia told CBC News that U.S. nuclear-powered submarines call on Halifax between five and six times each year.

"We're building a decontamination shelter here to do the work we have been doing for a long time, to be ready in case there's an accident on a visiting nuclear vessel," he said.

"If they needed medical aid we would have a team of people to pick up their casualties and we would move them along here and in through the decontamination before moving them off to a hospital."

Currently, every time a nuclear vessel ties up at CFB Shearwater, mobile radiation monitors are set up on the jetty and a temporary decontamination tent is erected in a hanger usually used by the navy's dive unit.

Erecting the temporary tent is a "significant interference," according to navy officials.

"The problem is it impacts upon the operations that happen in that building normally and that building is where we do maintenance on the diving tenders and where a lot of diving equipment is stored," said Santarpia.

"It's really important that that operation isn't impacted negatively and so that's why we're going to build ourselves a purpose built decontamination centre."

Santarpia said there has never been a nuclear safety incident in Halifax since decontamination screening began in the 1960s.

A Canadian navy tender issued last week estimates the cost of a permanent decontamination centre at $950,000. The building will consist of a receiving area, a decontamination area and a clean exit corridor.

"The receiving area will be equipped with a detection gate which will detect radioactivity on persons walking through," according to documents filed with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

"The decontamination area will accommodate a second detection gate, bins to dispose of contaminated garments, a decontamination tent, hot/cold water supply and a sump pit to contain spillage from the decontamination tent."

The construction contract will be awarded this summer with the permanent shelter in place by February.

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