Canadian Underwriter

Radiation safety specialists enroute to Fort McMurray as precaution

May 13, 2016   by Jennifer Graham, The Canadian Press

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FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is sending specialists to Fort McMurray to help emergency crews check out radiological devices that may have been affected by the wildfire.

The equipment – which includes radiography cameras used to check welding work and portable gauges to measure density of roadways – is all in packaging designed for safe transport and to survive building or vehicle fires.

The commission said it received a request for assistance from Alberta’s provincial emergency operations centre. Two specialists in radiation safety were en route Thursday.

Radioactive warning sign

Luc Sigouin, the commission’s director of emergency management programs, stressed it is a precautionary move.

“I think it’s important to highlight that we don’t believe there’s any risk associated with any of the radiation devices or sources in the area,” Sigouin said in a phone interview from Ottawa. “They’re built very robustly and take into account fire protection and resistance to fire. However, we understand that there may be some concern about that.”

Sigouin said the equipment is used every day in manufacturing and construction across the country. There are about 20 locations in the Fort McMurray area that have radiological devices that need to be checked.

“If, unfortunately, the storage site had been affected by fire, they will take radiation measurements to confirm whether the device has been affected by the fire, whether the radiation safety properties of the devices have been affected and we’ll go from there.”

More than 2,400 homes and buildings were destroyed in the blaze and 530 were damaged, but firefighters have been credited with saving up to 90% of the city.

The flames also burned over a radioactive waste site just south of Fort McMurray.

The waste is from the 1930s to the 1950s, when uranium ore was transported from the Northwest Territories to the railhead at what is now Fort McMurray. Some of the uranium spilled along the route. The cleanup was completed in 2003.

Maude-Emilie Page, communications director for Atomic Energy of Canada, said the site has about 43,000 cubic metres of low-level radioactive waste made up of low-grade uranium ore residue and contaminated soil.

She said the site is fenced in, capped with a thick layer of soil and basically looks like grassy hills. The vegetation burned, but there’s no worry about the site catching fire, she said.

“The thick soil cover remains intact. There’s really no risk to the health and safety of the public or the environment,” said Page.

“Once we are able to go back in, there might be some re-seeding activities to put the vegetation cover back on, but that’s about it for what we can see for now.”


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