Ontario nuclear workers exposed to radiation

Almost 200 workers may have been exposed to unhealthy amounts of radioactivity last November at the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station on the eastern shore of Lake Huron, Ontario.

According to an online news release by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), Canada’s nuclear safety watchdog, “on November 28, 2009, routine airborne surveying at the Bruce Nuclear Power Plant Unit 1, which is undergoing refurbishment, detected elevated radiation (alpha) contamination.”

A partition was immediately installed around the area where people were working. Although protective suits are mandatory on site, samples were taken for each worker to be tested for radioactivity.

“When the analysis came back [on December 21, 2009], we discovered that it was alpha activity,” explained a media officer for Bruce Power.

Work on the unit has been shut down and tests for alpha activity are currently underway for any worker who may have been exposed to more than one millisievert of radiation.

“We’re sampling about 195 people. We’ve gotten the first 39 samples back and so far all levels are within what our regulator determines to be safe,” the media officer said. “The ones we thought would have the highest exposure were tested first and those results are coming back well within the limits set by the CNSC.”

He also said that many of the workers are being tested primarily to give them peace of mind. “It’s their health and safety and that’s important to us as well as to them,” he said.

The radioactivity tests, or bioassays, are urine samples sent to the Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the only lab in Canada accredited by the CNSC for testing. The total testing process takes about four weeks and results for all 195 workers are not expected until mid-June, 2010.

Executive vice-president and chief nuclear officer Norm Sawyer said that Bruce Power is installing new alpha-sensitive monitors, as well as other air sampling monitors in an ongoing project to redesign its radiation protection program.

When asked about the conditions of workers, Sawyer said that “several interactive sessions have been held…to keep employees aware of the status of the situation. Potential and final dose results will be discussed with each individual as they are calculated and confirmed.”

But if the final dose results are less than satisfactory, Bruce Power has no plan to compensate the affected employees. “It’s not something that is anticipated, not something that we are contemplating as an issue,” Sawyer said.