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FAQs

FAQ

Last updated: September 2, 2021

ABOUT BWXT NEC

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

BWXT NEC employs over 500 people across our three locations in Arnprior, Toronto and Peterborough. 

Approximately 420 people work for BWXT NEC in Peterborough in high-tech, manufacturing and administrative positions. Approximately 180 of these employees are engineers in disciplines such as software development, metallurgy, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and systems engineering

Arnprior has about 40 employees, and Toronto has about 60 employees. Our Toronto employees have jobs in manufacturing, engineering, environmental health and safety and several other fields.

Where can I find information about jobs at BWXT NEC?

Available positions are posted online at bwxt.com/careers

What do you make in Peterborough?

At BWXT NEC in Peterborough, we assemble fuel bundles for use in CANDU® reactors. Natural uranium pellets are produced at our Toronto facility, and zirconium tubes are manufactured at our Arnprior facility. These components are then 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, reactor inspection, 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 yellowcake). Our Toronto facility receives natural uranium oxide powder from Cameco Corporation, in Port Hope. After pressing, baking, grinding (to a precise size) and inspecting the pellets, we send them to our facility in Peterborough. There, 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 bundles. BWXT NEC has been producing tubes for use in CANDU® fuel reactors for over 40 years. We are a qualified supplier to both Canadian and international markets.

URANIUM & EMISSIONS

What is uranium? 

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

Because uranium is a naturally occurring, low-level radioactive material that is found across virtually all parts of our environment, it contributes to what is called “natural background radiation.”

The amount of uranium BWXT NEC emits is insignificant when to the levels that already exist naturally in the environment. BWXT NEC’s Toronto location emits about 1% of the regulatory limit set for emissions. To put this into further context, on average, the public in Canada is exposed to 1.8 millisieverts (mSv) of natural background radiation. Our Toronto facility, meanwhile, emits about 0.02 mSv.

Do you use enriched uranium?

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

Are uranium emissions from your facilities safe for the public? 

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

The amount of uranium BWXT emits is insignificant when compared to the levels that already exist, naturally, in our 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 things into further context, on average, the public in Canada is exposed to 1.8 mSv of natural background radiation. BWXT’s Toronto facility, meanwhile, emits a mere 0.02 mSv. 

Uranium is not a carcinogen. According to Health Canada, US Environmental Protection Agency, World Health Organization and United Nations Scientific Committee on Atomic Radiation, the main safety concerns associated with Uranium relate to chemical toxicity athigh exposure levels.

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 dangerous emissions is exceptionally low. We continuously monitor uranium emissions and results show that our Peterborough operation is a near-zero emissions facility. In 2019, the estimated annual public dose from our Peterborough facility was 0.0115 mSv (milliSieverts).

The Peterborough facility (along with our Toronto facility) 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 Reports which are available on our website: nec.bwxt.com/safety. 

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

Yes, air emissions are continuously monitored for the presence of uranium. At our Peterborough facility, we perform in-stack sampling. Air monitoring results are 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 wastewater is held in storage tanks and filtered; then, samples are sent to an external lab for analysis. This wastewater is only released once test results confirm it meets release requirements. 

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

Water monitoring results 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.

Air monitoring results 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, wastewater is held in storage tanks in the facility, treated to remove uranium dioxide, and tested; water is only released, in batches, once test results confirm it meets release requirements.

Water is used to clean protective clothing, floors and equipment and for other janitorial functions at our Toronto facility.

Water monitoring results can be found in our Annual Compliance Reports, here: https://www.bwxt.com/bwxt-nec/safety/our-compliance-record

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

Although the current Peterborough manufacturing operation utilizes essentially no water for its uranium operation, our pelleting operations in Toronto do utilizesmallamounts of water – approximately 3,500 litres per day. Most of that water is used for laundry and cleaning activities. For context, in 2019, the average three-person household in Toronto used 630 litres of water per day.  

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, emissions into the environment beyond our facility are only a small fraction of the limits set by CNSC and MOE.

Similarly, water is treated and sampled so that we can confirm it to be below any release limits prior to discharge. If it doesn’t meet release 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.

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

In our 2018 application to renew our licence, for our proposed next 10-year license period, we requested the flexibility to produce pellets at both our Peterborough and our Toronto facilities. While at this time there is no plan to change the current state of our operations, the additional flexibility sought would 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 result in emissions similar to, but no higher than, our existing pelleting operation in Toronto. There, emissions into the air are about 1% of the Licensed Release Level, and emissions into water are less than 0.3%  of the Licence Release Level.

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

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

In the event that pellet manufacturing were to be done in Peterborough, soil sampling would be conducted there in the same way it is currently done in Toronto. Soil sampling is typically conducted both on and off-site. It is done as part of a defence-in-depth approach as just one of the measures taken to verify that emissions continue to be low. This defence-in-depth includes minimizing sources of airborne dust within the facility, the use of ventilation and multi-stage filtration to remove particulates, 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 activities, the CNSC has also implemented its Independent Environmental Monitoring Program (IEMP) to verify that both the public and the environment around licensed nuclear facilities are safe. 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 send them to the CNSC's laboratory for testing and analysis. The results are available on the CNSC's website; they indicate that the public and environment around BWXT’s sites in Toronto and Peterborough are protected and that there are no expected health impacts.

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 those at the existing Toronto operation. Our Toronto operation does not cause any adverse environmental or human health impacts. 
  • BWXT NEC has a well-established and mature environmental monitoring program. The same environmental monitoring programs used in Toronto would be applied to our Peterborough operations. These programs 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

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. In fact, 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, including 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 per year.

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 do not pose a risk to members of the public.

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

When considering 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., the 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 calculated by adding the equivalent doses to all organs, each of which is adjusted to account for the sensitivity of a given 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 experiences background radiation exposure from naturally existing radionuclides that surround us every day (these come from minerals such as uranium, cosmic rays from the sun, radioactive potassium and mineralgasses). In Canada, an average person’s annual exposure is about 1.8 mSv. 

The CNSC limit for incremental doses 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 equivalent to 100 to 200 mSv for gamma radiation.

BERYLLIUM & EMISSIONS

What do you use beryllium for? What are the health concerns and how do you control emissions?

Beryllium is deposited onto small sheets of zirconium, which are converted to appendages. These appendages are brazed onto tubes that make up our fuel bundles. BWXT NEC utilizes about 20 kilograms of beryllium per year at our Peterborough facility.

Beryllium is known to be carcinogenic, and the primary concern is inhalation. The highest risk is associated with the vapour deposition process, which occurs in its own small, ventilated room.

Our beryllium emissions are carefully controlled using a defence-in-depth approach. The beryllium coating area is in a secure part of our facility that is approximately 500 square feet in size. There is limited access to this area; only highly trained employees may enter, and they must be wearing a respirator. Our facility has a specialized ventilation system, and the air inside our facility is frequently sampled. Our ventilation system contains two stages of filtration. The latter stage is a High-Efficiency Particulate Air filter, which is capable of trapping 99.97% of particles. Our filtered exhausts are monitored continuously, and emissions from our facility are exceptionally low (approximately 15 mg into the air per year). The concentrations in the stack are typically 50 times lower than the MoECP limit at the fenceline.

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. Furthermore, the CNSC 2019 data indicate there is no accretionary trend over time, as the 2019 background data are similar to most of the data from between 2014 and 2019. Additionally, CNSC’s air monitoring did not measure any beryllium in the air, which is consistent with BWXT’s monitoring.

Soil sampling has been completed, and all results are well below the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment's (CCME) guidelines for the protection of environmental health (4 mg/kg) and human health (75 mg/kg). The full report can be found here, and a news release with more detail is available at this link.

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.

EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS

How are you prepared for an emergency? 

The safety of our employees, members of the public and the environment is our top 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 relevant to our facilities. This ensures that any public response to an emergency event will be a coordinated one.

In the unlikely event of an emergency, BWXT has a comprehensive emergency plan for each site; these plans are continually updated. Like all industrial businesses, each BWXT facility has established emergency prevention programs to minimize the risk of fires and other hazardous events. We also have 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 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 floodwater 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; these plans are continually updated. Like all industrial businesses, each BWXT facility has established emergency prevention programs to minimize the risk of fires and other hazardous events. We also have robust response plans that prescribe the actions to be taken to prevent or minimize potential health and environmental hazards. 

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 would require the evacuation of the public due to a release of radiation from either of oursites. Neither site houses a nuclear reactor. Instead, they house natural uranium, which cannot become highly radioactive until it is installed in a nuclear reactor at one of our customers’ sites.  

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.

HYDROGEN TANK IN TORONTO

Why do you have a hydrogen tank on site?

Hydrogen is used at BWXT NEC’s Toronto facility for pellet sintering. Sintering is a process that turns powder into a solid form. The natural uranium dioxide pellets are sintered in a high-temperature furnace with a hydrogen atmosphere to harden them into a ceramic.

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 in accordance with all requirements and is inspected bytheTechnical Standards and Safety Authority of Ontario (TSSA). The tank is a low-pressure hydrogen system, operating at less than 150 psi (for reference, gaseous hydrogen cylinders operate at approximately 2500 psi).

BWXT NEC has reviewed many accident scenarios involving the hydrogen tank. Through these analyses, we are able to conclude that 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 prompt them to increase distance or move indoors to limit potential injury. 

The hydrogen is stored cryogenically as a liquid in a smaller tank (9000 gallons) and is placed near the centre of our property as far away from neighbouring structures as possible. The tank at our facility is smaller than the tanks seen transporting hydrogen by road on a regular basis (12,000+ gallons).