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AECB/CNSC historical events depicted by staff

Operation Morning Light

Mike White and Bonnie Duff, Senior Project Officers, recount events of Operation Morning Light, the massive search and recovery operation of the Cosmos 954 Russian satellite crash in 1978.


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Establishing a regional office in Saskatoon

Denis Schryer, Project Officer

The following information is primarily from Denis Schryer, a CNSC project officer, ventilation specialist with the Uranium Mines and Mills Division (UMMD) in the Directorate of Nuclear Cycle and Facilities Regulation. He played an important role in establishing a regional office in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1991.

The first regional office of the AECB for uranium mining was in Elliot Lake, Ontario. Falling uranium ore prices made places like Elliot Lake, no longer economical, especially when they started to discover very rich uranium ore bodies in Saskatchewan. For example, Elliot Lake had ore grades of around 0.1%, whereas the ore grades in Saskatchewan ranged from 0.5% to 5%, going as high as 20%.

In early 1990, there were five new uranium mining projects on the table. The AECB was invited by then-premier Grant Devine to consider setting up an office in Saskatchewan. With these increased ore grades, it was very important to develop the appropriate technology to mine uranium ore bodies safely and to protect people and the environment. Also, a strong regulatory presence was required to monitor these new operations.

The AECB had staff with 15 years of experience or more in uranium mining and milling at Elliot Lake. A number of these were relocated to the new Saskatoon office.

Our initial challenge for the Saskatoon office was to develop technical assessments and licensing recommendations for five new uranium mining projects. We needed to prepare and assess the risks to the environment, health and safety, radiation protection and other variables. We put defensible, scientific arguments in place for these projects, and during the application process we made them better.

As a result, we received merit awards. It added satisfaction to the work and laid a solid foundation for the role played by the Saskatoon office in preserving nuclear safety.

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20th anniversary of the inception of the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES)

George Ishack, Director, Licensing Support Division

The following is an excerpt of an interview held with George Ishack, the CNSC's Director, Licensing Support Division in the Directorate of Power Reactor Regulation. He shared his recollections of the 20th anniversary of the inception of the INES, which analyzes and reports radiological events.

I joined the Atomic Energy Control Board in 1978. Around 1986 I was asked to be the coordinator of the Incident Reporting System (IRS) – not related to INES – at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Develepment Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA). I was stationed at the NEA headquarters in Paris from 1987 to 1992.

The idea for the IRS came in 1979 after the Three Mile Island incident. There had been other events over the years that occurred — such as those in New York state (the SL1 research reactor), Chernobyl, the UK (the Windscale accident), among others. The IRS was meant for use by the technical community, and in 1990 the INES was developed by the NEA Secretariat for public consumption. As I mentioned earlier, IRS and INES are completely separate and serve different purposes.

Once the advantage of having a technical reporting system (IRS) became clear, the NEA handed it over to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ensure much wider coverage. Similarly, administration of the INES was eventually turned over to the IAEA. The trigger for reporting to the public via the INES network could be any incident occurring at a nuclear facility or involving nuclear substances.

Also around 1990, the NEA Secretariat created an international working group to address aspects of communications with the public. Why not create something for public reporting?

The INES started off with nuclear power plants and was generalized to apply to any nuclear facility. To help develop the INES metrics, we started with the most extreme event – Chernobyl – down to the least significant incident (99 percent of reported cases are trivial). This scale was meant for people dealing with public affairs, whereas the international technical community uses different avenues such as the IRS.

My involvement with the NEA as its employee ended in 1992 when I returned to the CNSC's predecessor, the AECB.

When it was launched, the INES was heralded as a great idea. There is not a lot of significant reporting: the volumes of reporting may be high, but the risks associated with each individual occurrence are low.

Events like Three Mile Island had an impact on the AECB/CNSC. We studied the related reports to see what applied to us and what did not. We then suggested modifications to Canadian nuclear power plants to help prevent any similar incidents from happening in Canada.

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Development of Canada's first simulator-based test for evaluating the proficiency of nuclear power plant operators

Daniel Gagné, retired Methodology and Standards Officer

The following is an excerpt from an interview held with Daniel Gagné, a retired Methodology and Standards Officer who worked in the Personnel Qualification Assessment Division (now the Policy Coordination Division) of the AECB/CNSC. Mr. Gagné was instrumental in developing the organization's (and Canada's) first simulator-based test for evaluating the proficiency of nuclear power plant operators. This exam has become a critical component of the technical testing carried out by today's nuclear power plant licensees.

Up until the early 1990s, nuclear power plant operators in Canada were authorized to perform their duties based on six written exams administered by the AECB. These exams tested intellectual knowledge but not the ability to apply this knowledge in real time or to operate a control panel at a power plant. There was no assurance that people who passed the written exams would do well on the job or be able to use what they knew in practical situations.

At the time, many licensees believed that many of the technical questions in AECB exams could be better asked through a performance-based test, as opposed to one that required writing out lengthy answers. They found the written tests long, tedious and time-consuming, and they disliked the need to memorize intricate details by rote.

On the flip side, neither was the AECB fully satisfied with the written examinations, as these did nothing to demonstrate a candidate's proficiency to operate a panel. It was clear that both the industry and the AECB were of like minds: that a simulator-based exam – one would test certain material previously evaluated in written format – would be the right way to go.

In 1991, a group of AECB employees within the organization's Personnel Qualification Assessment Division decided to look at developing a more practical testing method for nuclear power plant operators. They hired several operational people from the industry to create a simulator-based test.

An inter-utility working group was created to design a made-in-Canada simulator-based test. Most utility members were shift supervisors, from single- and multi-unit nuclear power plants, and they worked with AECB representatives from both academic and operational backgrounds. They started from ground zero, beginning with defining test objectives and determining how to best evaluate abilities and knowledge. It was obvious that some subjects would be best tested in a written format, whereas others would be more suited to simulator-based testing. Some areas were gray and involved material that could be tested equally well either in writing or through a hands-on test.

The working group met for three to four days every month at all Canadian nuclear power plant sites for more than two years. Between meetings, group members were given actions to complete that often involved a great deal of research and trips to other nuclear facilities, primarily in the United Sates. Members also looked at simulator-based testing used by other technical professionals, such as airline pilots, to gain from their experience.

The move to simulator-based testing was very successful. After several years, the original six written AECB examinations were reduced to four and then three. Over time, the simulator-based exam became more precise, and licensees eventually assumed the responsibility for preparing and administering it – with the regulator retaining an arms-length role of oversight only. The new exam also led to improvements in operations and training manuals, as well as better-defined objectives for the licensees.

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Strengthened security at Canadian nuclear facilities

Jacques Lavoie, Senior General Counsel

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Jacques Lavoie, Senior General Counsel for the CNSC. Mr. Lavoie joined the CNSC in 2004. He discussed how the CNSC took several actions to strengthen nuclear security in Canada after the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001.

“Immediately following the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001, our Commission issued an order under section 47 of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act. The order required all nuclear facilities in Canada to implement appropriate security measures for preventing successful attacks from terrorist organizations. This was the first time these powers had been used under the Act. The CNSC's Regulatory Standard S-298, Nuclear Response Force Standard, also required nuclear power plant operators and nuclear facilities to establish onsite nuclear response forces to guard against intruders or invasions. In 2003 – in further response to the events of September 11, 2001 – the Nuclear Security Regulations were amended to incorporate new regulatory and licence requirements.

To guard against terrorist activity at Canadian nuclear facilities, the CNSC analyzed and assessed potential threats posed by terrorists. It then implemented several stringent provisions to enhance security at major nuclear facilities:

  • immediate, onsite armed response forces available 24 hours a day, seven days a week
  • stricter security screening (involving background, police and security checks) for employees and contractors
  • barriers to guard against vehicles attempting to forcibly enter protected areas
  • better screening measures, such as access cards and biometric devices, to verify personnel identity
  • searches of personnel and vehicles entering protected areas, using devices such as explosives detectors, X-ray screening machines and metal detection equipment

When I joined the CNSC in 2004, the first mandate I took over was to work on further updating the Nuclear Security Regulations, which had been put in place in 2003. These amendments were adopted by the Commission in 2006. The new regulations incorporated what had been amended in 2001 after the terrorist attacks. Other regulations were repealed. What resulted from this work was an updated nuclear security framework.

As a consequence of 9-11, the CNSC became increasingly involved in the national security strategy for protecting assets in Canada. Our role grew in the areas of emergency preparedness, nuclear response and response to terrorist attacks. This brought forward our function as a regulator, while increasing our focus on one of our main pillars - national security. We have now established what is arguably one of the world's foremost nuclear security response programs.”

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