How Canada prepares for radiological and nuclear emergencies

Keeping Canadians safe and protecting health is a priority for the Government of Canada. This commitment was reinforced when Canada became the first G7 country to request an Emergency Preparedness Review (EPREV) mission by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The mission took place in June 2019 and evaluated Canada's emergency preparedness and ability to respond to a nuclear emergency.

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Nuclear emergency preparedness

A radiological or nuclear emergency is declared when an event has taken place that could threaten public health and safety, property, or the environment.

Radiological and nuclear emergencies could result from:

In Canada, every level of government has a responsibility in the event of a radiological or nuclear emergency, beginning at the local or municipal level and progressing to the provincial and federal levels, as needed.

Each level and their responsibilities are:

Canada has been a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since its inception in 1957. Canada is a signatory to two international emergency agreements, the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident (IAEA, 1986) and the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency (IAEA, 1987). This means that Canada has international responsibilities in the event of a domestic or foreign radiological or nuclear emergency to communicate and cooperate with other participating countries.

Federal emergency preparedness

Canada prepares for a radiological or nuclear emergency by developing plans to ensure people and organizations are able to respond rapidly and effectively in an event. This is done by preparing and maintaining emergency plans and procedures, such as the Federal Nuclear Emergency Plan (FNEP). Additionally, the Government of Canada appoints response personnel and ensures they are qualified and equipped to respond during an emergency. These appointed personnel are prepared through activities such as training, drills, and exercises.

Provincial emergency preparedness

New Brunswick and Ontario are the only two provinces with operating nuclear power plants. Each province has its own emergency preparedness information including alerts, instructions, and evacuation plans. These plans are tailored to individual regions and include if, when, and how to take protective actions, and where to get more information.

Individual Emergency Preparedness

Safety starts with planning ahead and every household in Canada should have a general emergency plan. In the unlikely event of a radiological or nuclear emergency, the Get Prepared website has useful information on what you should do before, during and after an emergency, including that of a nuclear emergency.

Federal Nuclear Emergency Plan

Health Canada leads the Federal Nuclear Emergency Plan (FNEP) and is responsible for coordinating the nuclear emergency response of more than 18 federal organizations to support affected provinces and territories.

The FNEP is the central framework that coordinates the planning for and response to a radiological or nuclear emergency. It protects Canadians at home and abroad by:

Recovering following a nuclear emergency

Canada recently developed Guidance on Planning for Recovery Following a Nuclear Emergency. This publication is the first of its kind for Canada and an emerging global topic. The document is consistent with international best practices and is based on recommendations from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP).

Radiological or nuclear emergency preparedness exercises in Canada

Canada exercises its emergency plans through simulated situations. These situations are designed to evaluate the effectiveness of the response organization's emergency plans, procedures, and capabilities by identifying problems or gaps that can be resolved prior to a real emergency. They also identify good practices to be reinforced and provide opportunities for organizations and personnel to test their capabilities to respond to a particular component of a plan.

Exercises can be tailored to test one aspect of a response function with a small group of individuals, or a large-scale scenario involving an integrated approach with a large representation. Various groups participate in the exercises and often representatives of FNEP key stakeholders, along with partners in the nuclear power industry, provinces, municipalities, and international partners and organizations are present.

METER program

Medical Emergency Treatment for Exposures to Radiation (METER) is Canada's nationally-standardized training that focuses on the proper and safe treatment and management of a radiological or nuclear event with medical casualties. It is designed for the Canadian medical community such as first responders, medical receivers and other experienced personnel.

METER focuses on enhancing existing practices and knowledge of radiation exposure in the Canadian medical community. In addition, it aims to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of a medical response to a radiological or nuclear event.

For more information, or to request a METER training session, please contact Health Canada's Radiation Protection Bureau.

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