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.
On this page:
- Nuclear emergency preparedness
- Federal Nuclear Emergency Plan
- Radiological or nuclear emergency preparedness exercises in Canada
- METER program
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:
- An event at a nuclear power plant in Canada, the United States or abroad
- An event involving a nuclear powered vessel in a Canadian port
- An accident involving a radiation source used in research, medicine or industry
- A transportation accident involving the shipment of radioactive material
- An event involving the loss, theft or discovery of radioactive material
- An event involving falling space debris
- A terrorist attack using radioactive materials, such as a "dirty" bomb
- Other events involving the uncontrolled release of radioactive material
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:
- Local (operator of nuclear facilities)
- emergency preparedness and response plans on site
- Municipal governments
- events within their boundaries
- providing first responders
- Provincial governments
- protecting public health and safety, property and the environment
- Federal government departments
- response measures within their respective mandates
- liaising with the international community
- coordinating international support to an emergency in Canada and abroad
- assisting Canadians outside of Canada
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:
- protecting the public from short- and long-term health effects due to exposure to uncontrolled sources of radiation
- reducing the effects of a nuclear emergency on property and the environment
- outlining the federal government's aim, authority, emergency organisation and concept of operations for handling a nuclear emergency
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.
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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