Editorial / Éditorial du Bulletin
The Canadian Nuclear Society (CNS) held its 38th annual conference, The Nuclear Future: Challenges and Innovation, on June 3-6, 2018, in beautiful Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
CRPA has a memorandum of understanding with CNS that includes reciprocal attendance for one representative at annual conferences. As a resident of Saskatoon and a member of the CRPA board of directors, I was unanimously elected by the board to represent CRPA! It was an excellent opportunity to introduce CRPA to conference delegates over a coffee or lunch break.
The conference featured many industry leaders and excellent speakers and included talks on a variety of technical aspects of the nuclear industry. A major theme of the conference was small modular reactors (SMRs).
For those of you who may not be aware, SMRs are, as the name implies, small nuclear power plants. They are small enough to be constructed off site and delivered by truck in a nearly ready-to-use state. The power output is typically in the megawatt to tens of megawatts range. The design is intrinsically safe and uses modern technological safety systems. There are currently no fewer than 10 units at the pre-licensing, vendor-design-review stage with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).
As we swelter in the 2018 summer heat across our great country (a high of 37°C forecast in Saskatoon as I write this in my air-conditioned office!), it is easy to appreciate that the worldwide need for power will continue to grow. The best method to generate power is a debate for another forum.
What intrigued me at the CNS conference was the healthy debate about how to discuss risks and benefits of SMRs with prospective clients. Communicating risk is a critical component for any discussion on safety hazards. After all, exposure to ionizing radiation is only one of many hazards we face in the workplace. In radiation protection speak, we consider justification and optimization as fundamental to determining controls. There are regulatory limits we must adhere to in our planning and practice, but we all work hard to maintain exposures as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA).
Determining what is “reasonable” requires leadership, as well as input, from all levels of an organization and/or community. Risk perception can be widely variable among individuals, even in the same household or workplace. The perception of a hazard and the associated risk depend on things like knowledge, trust, and experience; it is often described as being part of an organization’s culture and is determined by (you guessed it—the theme from our CRPA 2018 Quebec City conference) the human factor.
Whether or not SMRs become a source of power for any community remains to be seen. It was interesting to see that the proponents understood that successfully siting a SMR would require a healthy risks-vs.-benefits discussion and that, without support or buy-in from the community, the chances for success were low.
On behalf of the CRPA board of directors I’d like to thank the CNS for the opportunity to attend its excellent conference.