President’s Message, March 2020 / Message du president, mars 2020
Let’s chat about nuclear security. As radiation protection professionals, we are concerned with the safety of the public, workers, and the environment from potential exposure to nuclear and radiological materials. What do we mean by safety?
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Safety Fundamentals (SF-1), “safety” means protection of people and the environment against radiation risks and the facilities and activities that give rise to radiation risks. The IAEA further explains that safety includes the safety of
(i) nuclear installations
(ii) radiation safety
(iii) radioactive waste management
(iv) material in transport
Radiation safety, in this sense, includes risks associated with both normal and abnormal conditions, including loss of control of nuclear chain reactions, loss of control of radioactive sources, and any other sources of radiation.
So why am I now talking about safety when I started out talking about security? Because you cannot have radiation safety without nuclear security. In its Nuclear Security Series, the IAEA defines nuclear security as “the prevention and detection of, and response to, theft, sabotage, unauthorized access and illegal transfer or other malicious acts involving nuclear material and other radioactive substances and their associated facilities.” Accordingly, “nuclear security” addresses all radioactive material.
In 2010, the United States initiated the first Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC. Thereafter, three more summits took place in Seoul, South Korea (2012); The Hague, Netherlands (2014); and the final one again in Washington, DC (2016). The purpose of these summits was to initiate and promote a global effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material in the world. Although much of the emphasis was on securing material that could be used in the fabrication of some sort of nuclear weapon, they also covered control of radioactive material.
The summits were a forum where countries could make commitments to collaborate and partner with other countries to improve the security of all radioactive material. The momentum of these efforts has continued. More recently, in February 2020, IAEA hosted the International Conference on Nuclear Security. This conference was the largest meeting IAEA has ever hosted; it focused on the sustainability of nuclear security efforts and strengthening national-level nuclear security regimes.
Of course, Canada is a country with a strong nuclear energy program (which, by the way, should be increased if we are to take action on climate change seriously). Our medical and industrial uses of radioactive material are also well established. Canada invented Co-60 radiotherapy! We have long been involved in the peaceful use of nuclear technology.
We also have a well-established nuclear security infrastructure in Canada that is continually improving. After the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, Canada immediately responded by adapting our nuclear power plant security to better deal with asymmetrical terrorist threats. In addition, we have been on a continuous improvement pathway for radioactive source security, both based on need and in response to our international commitments stemming from the Nuclear Security Summits.
If the topic of nuclear security in Canada is of interest to you (and it should be), I have provided a list of useful resources, which should give you an abundance of reading! (See Useful Canadian Nuclear Security Resources below.)
In Canada (and indeed worldwide), we know radioactive sources are used routinely by hospitals, research facilities, and industry for purposes such as diagnosing and treating illnesses, sterilizing equipment, and inspecting welds.
In countries with mature regulatory structures, such as Canada, the use of radioactive sources is highly regulated from a safety perspective. Licensees (authorized users) readily accept such regulations because they are well aware of the potential consequences should a safety incident compromise the health, safety, and environment of their employees and surrounding communities. Internationally, comparable security cultures have sometimes been much later to evolve, largely because, in many countries, regulatory authorities and licensees have yet to appreciate how radioactive sources could be used by people who want to cause harm.
This is concerning because many security failures stem from inadequate management practices. Not only can such failures have serious consequences for individuals, communities, and the environment, they can also impact an organization’s financial stability, reputation, and liability.
A security breach resulting from inadequate or negligent management of radioactive sources could spark a financially and emotionally demanding investigation that could seriously affect normal business operations. An organization could be held liable for psychological trauma stemming from a radioactive incident, as well as for any real damages. Financial losses (loss of the use of facilities, lost business, lost wages, recovery costs, replacement costs, cleanup costs, and medical costs for employees and members of the public) could be catastrophic.
For all these reasons, it is crucial that organizations make time to develop, communicate, and implement an effective security program. The importance of nuclear security in reducing risk from radioactive sources cannot be understated.
What can we, as radiation protection professionals, do to improve our knowledge, implementation, and adherence to issues involving nuclear security? There are a lot of things we can do:
- Familiarize ourselves with nuclear security issues (IAEA guidance, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission regulations, provincial guidance, and other third-party guidance available through the World Institute for Nuclear Security)
- Inform ourselves about our organization’s security protocols and procedures
- Have coffee or tea with someone from your security organization and get to know them
- Most importantly, recognize that security is important and is not there to make your life difficult (this is often the hardest thing for us to understand)
So, here are my take-away messages:
- Canada has a well-developed nuclear security regime, supported through acts, regulations, and guidance documents that are consistent with IAEA recommendations and under constant improvement.
- Security of nuclear and radiological material is an essential and integrated component of radiation safety.
- The security of nuclear and radiological material is EVERYONE’s responsibility.