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FAQs

FAQ

Last updated: February 18, 2020

How many people work for BWXT Nuclear Energy Canada (BWXT NEC)?

BWXT NEC employs approximately 400 people at our three locations in Arnprior, Toronto and Peterborough. 

Approximately 300 people work for BWXT NEC in Peterborough in high-tech, manufacturing and administrative positions. Approximately 120 of these employees are engineers in disciplines such as software, metallurgy, mechanical, electrical and systems. 

Both Arnprior and Toronto, each have about 40 employees in manufacturing, engineering, environment health and safety and other functions. 

Where can I find information about jobs at BWXT NEC?

Available positions are posted online at www.bwxt.com/careers

What do you make in Peterborough?

At BWXT NEC in Peterborough, we assemble CANDU® fuel bundles for use in CANDU® reactors. The natural uranium pellets are produced at our Toronto facility and the zirconium tubes are manufactured at our Arnprior facility. These components are shipped to our Peterborough operation where they are assembled into fuel bundles that meet the stringent requirements of reactor operating conditions. 

BWXT Canada’s fuel handling and reactor inspection and maintenance tooling and delivery systems are also designed and manufactured in Peterborough. These highly-engineered systems and tools support refurbishment requirements for reactor defueling, fuel channel inspection and maintenance, and other reactor operating needs. 

 What do you make in Toronto?

At BWXT NEC in Toronto, we make ceramic pellets from natural uranium powder (not yellow cake). Our Toronto facility receives natural uranium oxide powder from Cameco Corporation, in Port Hope. After pressing, baking, grinding to precision size and inspecting the pellets, we send them to our facility in Peterborough, where they are placed into fuel bundles for CANDU® power stations.

The pellets produced at our Toronto facility go on to provide about 25% of Ontario’s electricity.

What do you make in Arnprior?

At BWXT NEC in Arnprior, we make zirconium-alloy tubes which are used in the production of CANDU® fuel. BWXT NEC has been producing tubes for CANDU® fuel for over 40 years and is a qualified supplier to Canadian and international markets.

Do you use enriched uranium?

 No. We are not licensed to use or possess enriched uranium.

What is uranium? 

Uranium is an element found all around us in nature: in most rocks and soils; in rivers and oceans; in the food we eat; and in our bodies. Because uranium is a naturally-occurring, low-level radioactive material that exists virtually everywhere, it contributes to what is called “natural background radiation.”

What is radiation?

Radiation is energy in the form of waves or particles. Radiation doesn’t just come from nuclear energy. It’s all around us – and we’re exposed to both natural and man-made sources of radiation daily. There are two types of radiation, ionizing and non-ionizing. Some examples of non-ionizing radiation include microwaves, radio waves and television signals. Ionizing radiation comes from natural sources and man-made sources such as x-ray machines and nuclear power plants.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) regulates the nuclear energy industry to limit the radiation that employees and members of the public receive. Using studies performed by the International Commission on Radiological Protection on acceptable levels of radiation exposure, the CNSC has set limits of 50 mSv (millisievert) per year, or 100 mSv per five-year span for workers. The regulatory limit for members of the public is 1 mSv.

BWXT NEC has a comprehensive radiation protection program and is guided by the principles of ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable). We use the best available technology to restrict uranium emissions and ensure emissions from our facilities are as low as possible. The small amount of uranium emissions that do occur does not pose a risk to members of the public.

Do the natural uranium pellets used at the Peterborough facility pose a radiation risk to the public?

No. The health and safety of employees, members of the public and the environment is our number one priority. 

The potential for emissions is exceptionally low. We routinely monitor uranium emissions and results show that our Peterborough operation is a near-zero emissions facility. In 2018, the estimated annual public dose from our Peterborough facility was 0.000 mSv (zero milliSieverts).

The Peterborough facility (along with our Toronto operation) is licensed by Canada’s nuclear regulator, the CNSC. BWXT NEC is committed to meeting all its licence requirements. 

More information on our environmental and safety performance can be found in our Annual Compliance Report which is available on our website: nec.bwxt.com/safety. 

Do you monitor uranium emissions to air from your facility in Peterborough?

Yes, air emissions are routinely monitored for the presence of uranium. At our Peterborough facility we perform in-stack sampling. Air monitoring results are hundreds of thousands of times below the CNSC Licensed Release Limit and can be found in our Annual Compliance Reports here: https://www.bwxt.com/bwxt-nec/safety/our-compliance-record

Do you monitor uranium emissions to water from your facility in Peterborough?

Yes. At BWXT NEC Peterborough, all potentially uranium-contaminated waste water is held in storage tanks, filtered and then samples are sent to an external lab for analysis. This waste water is only released once the test results confirm it meets regulatory requirements for release. 

Water is used to clean floors and other janitorial functions in the uranium pellet loading and end closure weld areas of our facility in Peterborough. 

Results of water monitoring can be found in our Annual Compliance Reports here: https://www.bwxt.com/bwxt-nec/safety/our-compliance-record

Do you monitor uranium emissions to air from your facility in Toronto?

Yes. At BWXT NEC in Toronto, we perform continuous in-stack sampling and boundary air monitoring for uranium. The in-stack samples are analyzed daily and verified externally by an outside laboratory. The boundary air samples are high volume air samples drawn at five positions around the facility perimeter.

Results of air monitoring can be found in our Annual Compliance Reports here: https://www.bwxt.com/bwxt-nec/safety/our-compliance-record

Do you monitor uranium emissions to water from your facility in Toronto?

Yes. At BWXT NEC in Toronto, waste water is held in storage tanks in the facility, treated to remove uranium dioxide, tested and only released in batches once the test results confirm it meets regulatory requirements to be released.

Water is used to clean protective clothing, floors, equipment and in other janitorial functions in the facility.

Results of water monitoring can be found in our Annual Compliance Reports here: https://www.bwxt.com/bwxt-nec/safety/our-compliance-record

If natural uranium pellet manufacturing were to occur at BWXT NEC Peterborough, how would this change impact your emissions?

In our application to renew our licence, we are seeking the flexibility during the proposed next 10-year licence period to produce pellets at both the Peterborough and Toronto facilities. While at this time there is no plan to change our current state of operations, the additional flexibility sought will give us the ability to adapt as required to changing business needs over the decade-long licence period.

Introducing pelleting to Peterborough, if that were to occur, would see emissions similar to, but no higher than our existing pelleting operation in Toronto where emissions to air are about 1% of the Licensed Release Level and emissions to water are less than 0.3 percent of the Licence Release Level.

Further, any project to incorporate pelleting into the existing Peterborough operation would make use of best available technologies to minimize emissions to be as low as reasonably practical.

Is natural uranium pellet manufacturing a dusty operation? How does it impact air, water and soil?

Pellet production has been done safely at our existing facility in Toronto for over 50 years. There are well established limits set by both the CNSC and the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) for emissions. Most steps in the production of pellets do not generate significant airborne dust. Those that do are serviced by robust ventilation systems that filter particulate from the air using multiple stages of filtration, including High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters that filter 99.97% of particles. Therefore, releases to the environment are a small fraction of limits set by CNSC and MOE.

Similarly, water is treated and sampled to be confirmed below any release limits prior to discharge.  If it doesn’t meet the criteria, it isn’t released. In Toronto, we conduct annual soil tests both onsite and in the surrounding community to ensure we meet or exceed regulatory environmental standards.

Are beryllium emissions from the Peterborough facility safe for the community?

Releases are all within allowable limits and are exceptionally low. In fact, beryllium emissions are so low that monitoring is not required by the MOE. Monitoring is performed to ensure releases remain very low. Emissions are several hundreds of times lower than MOE limits.

Have you conducted a risk assessment that takes into account how manufacturing natural uranium pellets in Peterborough would impact the public and environment?

Yes, a consolidated Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA) has been conducted and concluded the following:

  • Overall, estimated emissions associated with consolidated operations at the Peterborough facility are determined to be low.
  • All radiological and non-radiological emissions are, and will continue to be, well-below regulatory limits.
  • For human health, there are no radiological or non-radiological risks to members of the public.
  • For ecological health, there are no radiological or non-radiological risks to the environment or wildlife.
  • Potential impacts of future activities at the Peterborough facility, should pelleting occur, are anticipated to be similar to the existing Toronto operation which does not cause any adverse environmental or human health impacts. 
  • BWXT NEC has a well-established and mature environmental monitoring program. Environmental monitoring programs in Toronto would be applied to the Peterborough operations and are considered effective in protecting human health and the environment.

You can find the consolidated Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA) on our website here: https://www.bwxt.com/bwxt-nec/safety/licensing

Will BWXT NEC need to conduct soil sampling if it manufactures natural uranium pellets in Peterborough?

Soil sampling would be conducted, in the event that pelleting manufacturing were to be done in Peterborough, as it is currently done in Toronto.  Soil sampling is typically conducted on and off-site.  It is done as part of a defence-in-depth approach as one of the measures taken to verify that emissions continue to be low.  This defence-in-depth includes – minimization of sources of airborne dust within the facility, ventilation and multi-stage filtration to remove particulate, continuous exhaust air monitoring in the stack, high volume air sampling at the perimeter of the facility, and soil sampling.

In addition to BWXT NEC having an environmental monitoring program to demonstrate that the public and the environment are protected from emissions related to our facility's nuclear activities, the CNSC has also implemented its Independent Environmental Monitoring Program (IEMP) to verify that the public and the environment around licensed nuclear facilities are safe. The IEMP is 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 radiological and hazardous substances in those samples. CNSC staff then collect the samples and sends them to the CNSC's laboratory for testing and analysis. The results are available on the CNSC's website and indicate that the public and environment around the BWXT sites in Toronto and Peterborough are protected and there are no expected health impacts.

Does natural uranium pellet manufacturing utilize a large amount of water?

Although the current Peterborough manufacturing operation utilizes essentially no water within the uranium operation, pelleting operations in Toronto utilize small amounts of water – approximately 3,500 litres per day. Most of that water is used for laundry and cleaning activities.  For context, in 2018, the average three-person household in Toronto used 657 litres of water per day.  

Can you really compare the radiation dose from sources like food, air travel and medical procedures to the radiation dose from natural uranium? 

For radiation exposure to people, there are standard methods to account for the different types of radiation and the different organs of the body that are exposed.  Equivalent dose (expressed in mSv) is calculated for individual organs (e.g. skin).  It is based on the absorbed dose (amount of energy deposited) to an organ, adjusted to account for the type of radiation (i.e. alpha, beta or gamma).  Effective dose (expressed in mSv) is calculated for the whole body.  It is the addition of equivalent doses to all organs, each adjusted to account for the sensitivity of the organ to radiation.

Is there a safe amount of radiation?

Yes. The CNSC and international agencies (IAEA) have established acceptable levels of radiation exposure from nuclear activities.  Everyone has an annual background radiation exposure from naturally existing radionuclides that surround us every day (including minerals like uranium, cosmic rays from the sun, radioactive potassium, and mineral gases). In Canada, this is about 1.8 mSv. The CNSC limit for incremental dose to members of the public is 1 mSv, which represents a small increase over the normal background radiation in Canada. According to the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), significant risks in radiation exposure are unlikely to be observed in doses below 100 to 200 mGy (milligray) which is 100 to 200 mSv for gamma radiation.

How are you prepared for an emergency? 

The safety of our employees, members of the public and the environment is our first priority. The CNSC requires each licensed facility to have an Emergency Preparedness Plan.

Both our Toronto and Peterborough facilities perform emergency response drills regularly. We also schedule drills with outside emergency services and provide them with training about our facilities. This ensures that any response to an emergency event will be a coordinated one.

In the event there is an emergency, BWXT has a comprehensive emergency response plan for each site which is continually updated. Like all industrial businesses, each BWXT facility has established emergency prevention programs to minimize the risk of fires and other hazardous events, as well as robust response plans that prescribe the actions to be taken to prevent or minimize potential health and environmental hazards.

Our site response plans provide guidelines for emergency staff and plant personnel for using sound emergency management practices to fulfill both CNSC operating license requirements and industry standards for Emergency Planning.

What if there is a flood?

In 2004, Peterborough experienced a major rain event where the city received almost the entire volume of a 24-hour, 100-year storm in only one hour. Even in that very large event there was only minor flooding in our Peterborough building. Since that time, a berm has been constructed around the fuel loading area where pellets are handled. The purpose of the berm is to contain any water originating in the area, and to exclude flood water from entering the area. In addition, the City of Peterborough has implemented recommendations to better manage storm water and flooding events.

What if there is a fire?

BWXT has a comprehensive emergency response plan for each site which is continually updated. Like all industrial businesses, each BWXT facility has established emergency prevention programs to minimize the risk of fires and other hazardous events, as well as robust response plans that prescribe the actions to be taken to prevent or minimize potential health and environmental hazards.

Are uranium emissions from your facilities safe for the public? 

Uranium is a naturally occurring, weakly radioactive element which is present at low levels in the environment. Uranium occurs naturally in soil and rocks, the water we drink and air we breathe. 

The amount of uranium BWXT emits is an insignificant source next to the levels that already exist naturally in the environment. BWXT in Toronto emits about 1% of the regulatory limit set for emissions. BWXT in Peterborough is a near zero emissions facility. To put this into further context, the public in Canada is exposed to 1.8 mSv of natural background radiation. BWXT’s Toronto facility provides a mere 0.02 mSv to public dose. 

Uranium is not a carcinogen and the main safety concerns associated with it relate to chemical toxicity at high exposures, according to Health Canada, US Environmental Protection Agency, World Health Organization and United Nations Scientific Committee on Atomic Radiation. 

Why isn’t the public consulted with respect to emergency planning? 

BWXT contemplates all accident scenarios, including low probability events. There are no accident scenarios that require evacuation of the public due to a release of radiation from either site. Neither site houses a nuclear reactor, but rather natural uranium, which cannot become highly radioactive until it is installed in a nuclear reactor at our customers’ sites.  

Is the hydrogen storage tank in Toronto safe for area residents? 

Yes. The hydrogen storage tank at our Toronto facility is sited, installed, operated and maintained according with all requirements and is inspected by TSSA. The tank is a low pressure hydrogen system, operating at less than 150 psi (compare to gaseous hydrogen cylinders that operate at approximately 2500 psi).

There are no credible accident scenarios resulting in:

  • Structural damage to site buildings with a release of uranium
  • Structural damage to offsite buildings
  • Injury to persons from a “blast”

In very low likelihood events, broken windows in the immediate area could occur. Although exceptionally unlikely, a hydrogen fire could expose individuals outdoors and in the immediate vicinity to heat, which would cause them to increase distance or move indoors to limit potential injury. 

The tank is placed near the centre of our property as far away from neighbouring structures as possible. The tank at our facility is significantly smaller (9000 gallons) than the tanks seen transporting hydrogen by road on a regular basis (12,000 gallons or even larger).  

Why won’t you provide the public with information about your insurance?

BWXT maintains a diversified portfolio of insurance coverages appropriate for the size and scope of its operations. This coverage includes public liability for offsite damages or injuries. Our insurance information is confidential, as our insurance providers require confidentiality.

Should I be concerned about beryllium in soil around the facility in Peterborough?

All beryllium in soil results are below the guidance level with no exceedances. Further, the CNSC 2019 data indicates there is no trend over time based on 2019 background being similar to most of the data between 2014 and 2019. Further, CNSC’s air monitoring did not measure any beryllium in air, which is consistent with BWXT’s monitoring.

While BWXT is confident in its sampling and monitoring results, we commit to performing soil sampling for beryllium in the summer of 2020 and will make the results available publicly.