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Environmental protection review report summary: SRB Technologies (Canada) Inc.

The environmental protection review (EPR) reports offer a summary of CNSC staff’s technical assessment of how effectively licensees are protecting human health and the environment in the communities where they are operating.

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About the facility

SRB Technologies (Canada) Inc. (SRBT) owns and operates a gaseous tritium light source manufacturing facility in Pembroke, Ontario. The facility is approximately 150 kilometres northwest of Ottawa and is situated close to the traditional homelands and treaty territories of many Indigenous Nations and communities, including the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation, the Algonquins of Ontario, the Métis Nation of Ontario, Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, Kebaowek First Nation and the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council.

SRBT uses tritium to produce self-luminous lights, such as emergency exit signs, watch dials, and other safety products not requiring batteries or other external sources of power.

SRBT leases space in an industrial building of the TransCanada Corporate Park, an industrial park within the City of Pembroke limits. SRBT fully controls approximately 1,400 square metres of the interior floor space of the industrial building, as well as the immediate surrounding grounds outside of the facility. Farmland extends to the west of the facility for approximately 300 to 500 metres, alongside 2 hotels and a local distillery to the southwest. To the northeast of the property is the Pembroke and Area Community Centre, and there are commercial buildings and a lumberyard to the south and southeast.

About the report

This summary highlights key areas of interest from the Environmental Protection Review Report: SRB Technologies (Canada) Inc. It represents only some of the information presented in the full report.

The purpose of the report is to share CNSC staff’s findings from the review of SRBT’s environmental protection measures, environmental compliance activities and an overview of past regulatory actions from the early years of SRBT operations as it relates to concerns of elevated levels of tritium in groundwater. This includes any possible environmental releases as part of normal operations and the risks that tritium poses to the environment and human health. The report draws on information provided by SRBT and CNSC staff’s technical assessments, including:

Overall, CNSC staff found that SRBT continues to implement and maintain effective environmental protection measures to adequately protect the environment and the health of people living and working in and around the facility. CNSC staff found that the potential risks to the environment from any of the releases observed over the last 5 years are similar to natural background levels, and that any health risk is similar to that experienced by the general public in other parts of the province.

Environmental monitoring

In the nuclear industry, any kind of contaminant emitted by a facility is called a release. The report looks at different kinds of releases and their possible impacts on the land, air and water in the area surrounding the facility, as well as any potential impact on human health.

The Figure 1 below illustrates how a release may reach the environment through what’s called exposure pathways. In the case of SRBT, this diagram is a simplified representation of the actual facility and different types of releases – such as emissions in the air or effluent from the water – and the human and ecological receptors that may interact with the releases.

Overview of the interactions between the CNSC’s environmental protection review framework and the licensee’s environmental protection measures.

Figure 1 – Text description: This diagram illustrates the different potential exposure pathways a release from SRBT may use to reach the environment and humans. These pathways include the following components: atmospheric release, liquid release to water, inhalation and immersion in air, wild food ingestion, aquatic food ingestion, ingestion by wildlife, and uptake by aquatic organisms.

SRBT releases only a single contaminant of concern: tritium. SRBT must monitor its releases and measure them against pre-established limits. It then reports its results to the CNSC and other levels of government. The CNSC verifies this data by conducting reviews and inspections of SRBT’s environmental protection programs as well as by using mechanisms such as the IEMP (see CNSC’s monitoring).

CNSC’s monitoring

Under the IEMP, CNSC staff take samples, such as air, water, soil, sediment, vegetation, or some local food like meat or vegetables, from public areas near nuclear facilities. These areas may include parks, farmland and beaches. The samples are then tested at the CNSC’s own laboratory for contaminants related to each facility's operations.

CNSC staff collected samples outside the perimeter of the SRBT facility in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2018 and 2021. The samples were analyzed as follows:

  • Water and soil samples were analyzed for elemental tritium gas (HT) / oxidized tritium or tritiated water (HTO).
  • Air samples were analyzed for HTO and elemental tritium gas.
  • Food and vegetation samples were analyzed for HTO and organically bound tritium.

The results in all tested samples remain below available guidelines and CNSC screening levels – that is, they remain at safe levels – and were similar to the range of results seen in previous years. The CNSC’s IEMP page has more information, including detailed sampling results.

SRBT’s monitoring

Air: atmospheric releases

SRBT monitors airborne emissions using active ventilation systems that send contaminated air through 2 air-handling units.

SRBT measures the gas for tritium concentration in real time by sampling a portion of the releases using special equipment at the point of release, which is where the active ventilation systems’ duct connects to the stacks. SRBT also monitors its emissions using a weekly collection method that distinguishes between HT and HTO.

Table 1: Annual airborne releases, 2016 to 2020

The monitoring results in table 1 show that air emissions were consistently several orders of magnitude below licence limits during the monitoring period. As a result, CNSC staff concluded that the facility’s emissions are not impacting people and the local environment.

Parameter Licence limit
(gigabecquerels per year)
2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Oxidized tritium (HTO) 67,200 6,293 7,198 10,741 11,858 9,755
Total tritium (HTO + HT) 448,000 28,945 24,822 33,180 31,769 25,186

Water: liquid releases

SRBT controls and monitors liquid effluent from its facility. This effluent is released in a controlled manner to the municipal sewer system, which is managed by the Pembroke Pollution Control Centre for waste water treatment.

SRBT monitors its water-soluble tritium by collecting water in batches and calculating the amount of water-soluble tritium per batch. Only after SRBT staff have verified that the tritium concentrations in the samples meet all acceptance criteria – that is, they have not exceeded any administrative limits, action levels, or regulatory requirements – is the batch authorized for release into the sewer system.

Table 2: Annual waterborne releases, 2016 to 2020

The monitoring results in table 2 show that water releases (treated liquid effluent) from the facility into the municipal sewer systems were well below licence limits, leading CNSC staff to determine that the control of SRBT effluent is providing appropriate protection to people and the environment around Pembroke.

Parameter Licence limit
(gigabecquerels per year)
2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Water-soluble tritium 200 5.18 6.85 10.02 13.67 5.56

The monitoring results in table 2 show that water releases (treated liquid effluent) from the facility into the municipal sewer systems were well below licence limits, leading CNSC staff to determine that the control of SRBT effluent is providing appropriate protection to people and the environment around Pembroke.

Groundwater monitoring

SRBT monitors tritium in groundwater around the site with 29 surrounding wells, which are sampled regularly. In 2020, concentrations of tritium in samples obtained from all wells were below the Ontario Drinking Water Quality Standard value of 7,000 Bq/L, with the exception of 1 monitoring well located at the northwestern corner of the facility and directly beneath the area where the active ventilation stacks are located. The results from this monitoring well are representative of historical contamination from the site in the early 2000s. Groundwater contamination from the early operations of SRBT have been addressed through several corrective measures and regulatory oversight.

Human health

Monitoring doses

When ionizing radiation penetrates the human body or an object, it deposits energy. The energy absorbed from exposure to radiation is called a dose. Under the CNSC’s regulations, the maximum dose limit to a member of the public is 1 mSv (millisievert) per year. This is well below levels where any measurable health effect would occur.

To calculate the effective dose to people living near the facility, SRBT assessed the risk to representative persons who had the potential to be the most exposed to contaminants – in this case, the closest residents of various ages (infant, child, adult) living within 250 metres of the facility. A worker at the Pembroke Pollution Control Centre was also included to represent someone who may be exposed to tritium in liquid effluent through releases to the municipal sewer system. SRBT’s calculations considered tritium uptake from inhalation and absorption through skin and consumption of well water, local produce and dairy products.

The evaluation resulted in the following total dose estimates for the selected representative persons:

  • 0.023 mSv/year for the adult worker
  • 0.020 mSv/year for the infant resident
  • 0.022 mSv/year for the child resident
  • 0.024 mSv/year for the adult resident

In 2020, SRBT also undertook environmental sampling with members of the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation (AOPFN), the closest Indigenous community, residing approximately 25 to 35 kilometres south-southeast of the facility. The community has unique traditional land uses and dietary habits. Air samples, precipitation samples, and plant samples of cultural importance to the community were collected and analyzed for tritium. The results showed that the amount of tritium found in air, precipitation and food was low and unlikely to pose a health risk to the AOPFN community.

Health studies

CNSC staff review and conduct health studies as another way to ensure that the people living near nuclear facilities are protected. Population and community health studies indicate that the leading causes of mortality in Renfrew County in 2011 included cancers, circulatory diseases, respiratory diseases and injuries, which accounted for 75% of deaths. In 2011, age-standardized mortality rates in Renfrew County and District were similar to Ontario’s, except for circulatory diseases, which had rates significantly higher for both sexes combined.

Based on exposure and health data, CNSC staff have not observed and do not expect to observe any adverse health outcomes to people in the area due to SRBT’s operations. Major health risk factors, such as smoking, overweight/obesity and alcohol consumption, may account for increases in certain disease rates within Renfrew County.

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