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Independent Environmental Monitoring Program: Whiteshell Laboratories site

Site name Whiteshell Laboratories site
Licensee  Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL)
Facility name Whiteshell Laboratories 
Facility location Pinawa, Manitoba
Land acknowledgement The CNSC acknowledges that the Whiteshell Laboratories site is located within Treaty 3 and Treaty 1 territory, the traditional territory of Anishinaabe and Ojibway peoples and the homeland of the Red River Métis 
Facility description CNL is licensed by the CNSC to decommission the Whiteshell Laboratories site, located in Pinawa, Manitoba. CNL implements a comprehensive environmental protection and monitoring program, which controls and monitors emissions of radioactive and hazardous substances from the site and assesses any impacts to the public and the environment.

In the early 1960s, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) established the site for nuclear research. A major focus of the program was the Whiteshell Reactor #1 (WR-1), an organically cooled research reactor, which was shut down in 1985. In 1997, AECL discontinued the program and decommissioning planning began. CNL has taken a systematic approach to decommissioning. After thorough reviews and approvals, several buildings have been successfully demolished. Currently, the decommissioning plan for the WR-1 is undergoing an extensive environmental review to ensure that the public and the environment continue to be protected throughout the duration of decommissioning and in the future.

As part of its decommissioning process, CNL is proposing to decommission the WR-1 Reactor through an in-situ (leaving in place) approach. Before the CNSC can make a licensing decision on this proposal, the CNSC must undertake, and is undertaking, an environmental assessment conducted under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 to determine if the proposed activities will cause significant adverse environmental effects.

For more information and updates on the WR-1 decommissioning project, visit: WR-1 decommissioning project – Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission

Environmental protection requirements In accordance with regulatory requirements under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, all licensees must maintain a comprehensive environmental protection program to monitor and control nuclear and hazardous substances released from the facilities they own and operate. As part of every licensee’s environmental protection program, concentrations of contaminants in the environment must be determined and the potential exposure routes to the public must be assessed.

Our IEMP results from 2017 and 2022 are consistent with the results submitted by CNL, supporting our assessment that the licensee’s environmental protection program is effective. The results add to the body of evidence that people and the environment in the vicinity of the Whiteshell Laboratories site are protected and that there are no anticipated health impacts from the operation of the facilities on the site. 


Whiteshell Laboratories site

1 The < symbol indicates that a result is below the provided laboratory analytical detection limit.

2 N/A – not available.

3 For radiological parameters (expressed as Bq/L, Bq/kg or Bq/m3) where no federal or provincial guidelines exist, our screening levels were established based on conservative assumptions using CSA standard N288.1-14, Guidelines for Calculating Derived Release Limits for Radioactive Material in Airborne and Liquid Effluents for Normal Operation of Nuclear Facilities. The screening level for a particular radionuclide in a particular medium (e.g., water, air, food) represents the activity concentration that would result in a dose of 0.1 millisieverts per year (mSv/yr), a dose at which no impacts on human health are expected. For more information, please refer to the IEMP technical information sheet.

4 Tritiated water (HTO) is a radioactive form of water where the usual hydrogen atoms in water (H2O) are replaced with tritium. Elemental tritium (HT) refers to the radioactive form of hydrogen gas. Organically bound tritium (OBT) is tritium that is bound to an organic molecule, such as a carbohydrate, fat or protein.


Under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act (NSCA), licensees of nuclear facilities are required to implement an environmental monitoring program (EMP) to demonstrate that the public and the environment are protected from emissions related to the facilities' nuclear activities. The results of these monitoring programs are submitted to the CNSC to ensure compliance with applicable guidelines and limits, as set out in regulations that oversee Canada's nuclear industry.

The CNSC has implemented its IEMP to verify that the public and the environment around licensed nuclear facilities are protected. It is separate from, but complementary to, the CNSC's ongoing compliance verification program. The IEMP involves taking samples from public areas around the facilities, and measuring and analyzing the amount of radioactive and hazardous substances in those samples. CNSC staff collect the samples and send them to the CNSC's state-of-the-art laboratory for testing and analysis. The area outside of the Whiteshell Laboratories site perimeter was sampled as part of the IEMP in 2017.

2022 results

The 2022 IEMP sampling plan for the Whiteshell Laboratories site focused on radioactive substances. We developed a site-specific sampling plan based on the licensee’s approved environmental monitoring program and on our regulatory experience with the site. We endeavour to incorporate traditional Indigenous land use, values and knowledge by engaging with Indigenous Nations and communities on the sampling plan. More information on this engagement is provided in the “Indigenous nations and communities’ participation” section.

In August 2022, we collected water, soil, sediment, vegetation, and food samples in publicly accessible areas outside the facility perimeter.

The levels of radioactive substances measured in water, soil, sediment, vegetation, and food were below available guidelines and our own screening levels. Our screening levels are based on conservative assumptions about the exposure that would result in a dose of 0.1 mSv/yr (one-tenth of the regulatory public dose limit of 1 mSv/yr). For samples where no guidelines or screening levels exist, results were compared to reference Footnote 1 samples. Measurements of IEMP samples found radioactivity levels to be low and well below guidance values and screening levels. As a result, no effects on human health are expected.

2017 Results

CSNC staff collect air samples near the Whiteshell Laboratories site, 2017.

The 2017 IEMP sampling plan for Whiteshell Laboratories focused on radioactive contaminants. A site-specific sampling plan was developed based on the CNL's approved environmental monitoring program and the CNSC's regulatory experience with the site. In 2017, CNSC staff collected air, soil, sediment, vegetation, food and water samples in publicly accessible areas outside the Whiteshell Laboratories site perimeter. CSNC staff also worked with the Sagkeeng First Nation to sample a Northern Pike from the Winnipeg River, caught downstream from the Whiteshell Laboratories site. CNSC staff will continue to work with Indigenous communities in future sampling campaigns to ensure meaningful results are obtained.

The levels of radioactivity in all the samples were below available guidelines and CNSC screening levels. These screening levels are based on conservative assumptions about the exposure that would result in a dose of 0.1 mSv/year, which represents one tenth of the CNSC's public dose limit of 1 mSv/year. No health or environmental impacts are expected at these levels.

Indigenous Nations and communities’ participation

We have made it a priority to ensure that IEMP sampling reflects Indigenous traditional knowledge, land use, and values where possible. In addition to routine IEMP sampling activities, we seek input from local Indigenous Nations and communities on our IEMP sampling plans. 

In advance of the 2022 IEMP sampling campaign at the Whiteshell Laboratories site, notification emails were sent to Indigenous Nations and communities near the facility to notify them of the sampling campaign and to seek input on the sampling plan. We invited suggestions for species of interest, valued components, and potential sampling locations where traditional practices and activities may take place. 

In June 2022, CNSC staff met with Sagkeeng Anicinabe First Nation (SAFN) to discuss the program and review the sampling plan. In August, SAFN joined the sampling team for a day in the field. Water, sediment, soil and vegetation were sampled together.

The Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) reviewed the sampling plan over the winter of 2022 and identified several fish species of interest. In August, MMF joined the sampling team and helped CNSC staff obtain these fish samples, which included goldeye, perch, walleye and northern pike. MMF took CNSC staff by boat to collect a water sample from in front of the facility and shared their knowledge of the area. In addition to fish and water sampling, MMF also helped CNSC staff locate local produce to sample.

Hollow Water First Nation (HWFN) and Black River First Nation (BRFN) participated in sampling in August 2022. The sampling team discussed the IEMP and demonstrated sampling techniques as well as packaging and chain of custody procedures. HWFN and BRFN community members helped to gather samples of water, soil and vegetation (grass and blade grass). They also had the opportunity to ask questions about the potential levels and effects of radiation on the land and water near Whiteshell Laboratories.

We would like to thank the MMF, SAFN, HWFN and BRFN for their participation and collaboration. 

We will continue to engage with interested Indigenous Nations and communities to ensure that IEMP sampling incorporates Indigenous knowledge in future sampling.

Focus on health

To verify that the health of people living near Whiteshell Laboratories is protected, CNSC staff review the results of existing public health reports and international publications. At times, they also conduct their own health studies to provide further independent verification of this.

The Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority’s (IERHA) publishes community health assessments. The 2019 assessment examined health indicators and outcomes for the populations serviced by the IERHA, including those near the Whiteshell site. Overall, this report found that cancer incidence rates were significantly higher in Interlake-Eastern residents compared to those in Manitoba from 2014–16. However, cancer incidence rates in the Whiteshell district were similar to the rest of the province. In 2014–16, the most common cancer diagnoses in Interlake-Eastern were lung, followed by prostate, colorectal, and breast – which was consistent with the rest of Manitoba and Canada. Only rates for prostate cancer were found to be significantly higher than the provincial rate. One in four individuals self-identify as Indigenous in the IERHA, and there is an unequal gap in health between the IERHA’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. In 2021, the IERHA developed an Indigenous Health Strategy as a starting point for consultation, reflection, and collaboration. Four strategic directions have been identified, in an effort to move the region and partners toward strong, healthy Indigenous populations with a level of health equity that enables good health and overall well-being at the community and individual levels.

In addition to community health assessments in the region, there is significant international and Canadian research studying health effects across different populations with different levels of radiation exposure. These studies provide objective scientific evidence of the hazards from radiation exposure, and they support regulatory requirements and thresholds that ensure protection of members of the public and Indigenous Nations and communities. The international consensus is that the very low doses of environmental radiation – such as those experienced living near Whiteshell Laboratories – are associated with very low and/or indiscernible risks to health. CNSC staff are confident that those living and working near Whiteshell Laboratories are adequately protected.

Based on all the information reviewed to date, the CNSC has not observed and does not expect to observe any adverse health outcomes related to the presence of Whiteshell Laboratories. Access our library of health studies and third-party research.

If you would like more general health information and data for your community, please visit the following websites:


The conclusions from both our IEMP results and the environmental monitoring results submitted by CNL are the same: there are no offsite releases that could impact human health, and the environment and human health are protected. IEMP sampling conducted in publicly accessible areas confirmed this. The results add to the body of evidence that people and the environment in the vicinity of the Whiteshell Laboratories site are protected, and that there are no anticipated health impacts from the operation of the facilities on the site.

The IEMP results confirm that the public and the environment in the vicinity of the Whiteshell Laboratories facility are protected and that there are no expected health impacts. These results are consistent with the results submitted by CNL, demonstrating that the licensee's environmental protection program protects the health and safety of people and the environment.

To obtain the full technical IEMP report, contact us at or call 613-995-5894 or 1-800-668-5284 (in Canada). Please provide the name of the facility and the report year.

1 The reference samples are taken where it is unlikely to experience radiation exposure from the nuclear facility’s operations. The reference location is chosen based on: distance from the operations; meteorological data, such as predominant wind direction or precipitation (for atmospheric releases); and water current (for effluent discharges). This allows us to collect local data that is representative of the region around the facility. This data is then compared with sampling results. This is especially important when background data, guidelines or screening levels do not exist for a certain contaminant or medium in a certain region.

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