How Canada prepares for radiological and nuclear emergencies

Canada prepares for radiological and nuclear emergencies to protect the public from immediate or delayed health effects due to exposure to uncontrolled sources of ionizing radiation, and to mitigate the impacts of a nuclear emergency on property and the environment.

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Federal Nuclear Emergency Plan

The Federal Nuclear Emergency Plan (FNEP) provides the structure for federal nuclear emergency preparedness and response. Health Canada is the lead department responsible for coordinating the nuclear emergency response of more than eighteen federal organizations in support of impacted provinces and territories.

Canada recently developed Guidance On Planning For Recovery Following A Nuclear Emergency, the first of its kind publication for Canada and an emerging topic globally. 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).

About the Federal Nuclear Emergency Plan

A structured framework is required to facilitate coordination as these organizations have distinct roles and responsibilities. The FNEP provides this structure for coordinating planning and response to a peacetime nuclear emergency involving Canadians at home and abroad in order to:

Content of the FNEP

The FNEP describes the federal government's preparedness and coordinated response to a nuclear emergency. Specifically, the FNEP:

The FNEP and the Provinces

Health Canada coordinates federal operations with provincial and territorial operations as required. The FNEP includes provincial annexes for Ontario, Québec, and New Brunswick as they have nuclear power stations, and with Nova Scotia and British Columbia as they have ports which are visited by nuclear-powered vessels. The FNEP also supports the provinces and territories without specific annexes as required.

Scope of the FNEP

The FNEP could be implemented in the following nuclear emergencies:

Nuclear emergency preparedness

Nuclear emergency preparedness includes all activities done before an emergency happens to ensure that people and groups are ready and able to respond quickly and appropriately when an emergency happens. This includes activities such as:

In Canada, responsibility for nuclear emergency preparedness and response rests with each level of government: local, municipal, provincial, and federal. Responsibility also exists to the international community through International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conventions.

Nuclear emergency exercises

An exercise is a simulated situation designed to enable emergency response organizations to evaluate the effectiveness of their emergency plans, procedures, and capabilities. Exercises are intended to identify any problems, inadequacies, or gaps in preparedness and response plans so that these issues may be resolved prior to a real emergency, and provide opportunities for personnel to be thoroughly trained and ready to respond quickly and effectively.

About emergency exercises

Emergency exercises are designed to test a particular component of a plan, emergency function, or link within or between emergency response organizations. Naturally, exercise scenarios cannot simulate all aspects of a real emergency event; however, exercise planners and designers strive to make scenarios as realistic as possible within their constraints. The exercise is initiated through the input of a hypothetical triggering event, and "players" respond as though the situation was real. The scope of an exercise is kept within prescribed bounds so that the focus remains on the components being exercised. The safety of participants is always paramount.

Nuclear emergency exercises in Canada

Nuclear emergency exercises in Canada can involve many facilities, organizations, and levels of government. An exercise can be designed to train a small group of personnel in one aspect of their response functions, or it can be a large-scale scenario involving many countries, sophisticated technology, and considerable resources.

As lead department for coordinating the federal response to a nuclear emergency, Health Canada consistently trains and drills its response staff; plans and executes exercises; and participates regularly in local, provincial and international nuclear emergency exercises. Partners in these exercises have included the nuclear power industry; the provinces; other government departments and agencies; the United States; and other countries such as France.

Potassium iodide

Potassium iodide (KI) may be used to help protect the thyroid gland from radioactive iodine that may be released into the air during a radiological emergency. KI does not protect any other part of the body other than the thyroid gland. It does not protect against any other radioactive substance other than radioactive iodine.

KI works best when it is taken immediately before (about one-half hour) or as soon as possible after exposure. KI should only be taken when directed by public health officials. Not all radiological emergencies involve radioactive iodine and it is only required when there are significant amount of radioactive iodine present.

KI should not be taken unless there is a clear public health recommendation to do so.

Oral consumption of KI may result in allergic reactions including hives, difficulty breathing, swelling around the eyes and throat, or joint aches and pains. It can also result in "iodism" in some people which can include salivation, sneezing, headache, fever, laryngitis, bronchitis and various skin rashes. It may also cause nausea and vomiting in some people.

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