Canada’s Nuclear Material Risk Assessment Won’t Look Into Unsafe Practices via Motherboard

More than one million packages of radioactive nuclear material are transported within Canada every year, from spent nuclear fuel to nuclear gauges for breweries. Now the government is gearing up to make sure that they’re safe and sound, although it won’t be seeking to update outdated and potentially inadequate safety regulations.

Both the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) and Transport Canada have regulations in place for the transport of radioactive material, but the CNSC, which is responsible for ensuring Canada’s handling of nuclear material is up to international standards, is soliciting input for a planned Transport Risk Assessment that it hopes will “provide confirmation” that the risks “are low and the safety of packages is high.”

These risks might include vehicle collisions and the risk of releasing radioactive material in the event of a fire or a package being dropped, according to Edwin Lyman, senior global security scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

But international standards for these kinds of tests were developed decades ago, Lyman said, and don’t take into account collisions on high-speed roadways. According to a CNSC spokesperson, the risk assessment is meant to “refine current techniques” and will not “identify ‘unsafe practices or inadequate regulations’.”


Another kind of transport risk—missing nuclear material—won’t be addressed by the CNSC’s planned risk assessment, a spokesperson for the regulator confirmed. CNSC report released last year revealed that in 2014-2015, 14 packages of radioactive material simply went missing. Of those, six were recovered. In 2012-2013, 16 packages of radioactive material went missing, and only five were recovered.

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