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Health Concerns

Nuclear Emergency Response

Nuclear emergency response includes all activities that are carried out during an emergency to protect the public from immediate or delayed health effects due to exposure to uncontrolled sources of radiation and to mitigate environmental impacts of an emergency. This includes activities such as:

  • assessing the emergency situation, alerting affected persons, and notifying others;
  • activating an emergency response organization and implementing emergency plans, if necessary;
  • deciding on and carrying out protective actions for workers at the emergency site and the public, if necessary;
  • minimizing environmental impact; and
  • keeping the public informed.

As in nuclear emergency preparedness, responsibility for responding to a nuclear or radiological emergency involves authorities at the local level from the nuclear facility; from all levels of government (municipal, provincial, and federal); and from the international community.

As the lead department for coordinating the federal response to a peacetime nuclear or radiological emergency, Health Canada maintains and supports the Federal Nuclear Emergency Plan. This national contingency plan outlines the federal response to an uncontrolled release of radioactive materials from any source, describing how federal departments and agencies will coordinate response activities to ensure timely support to provinces and territories, when required, during a nuclear or radiological emergency.

Health Canada also develops and utilizes specific tools for nuclear emergency response efforts. Supporting the FNEP's activities through the Technical Advisory Group (TAG), the Accident Reporting and Guidance Operational System (ARGOS) is an international decision support system for handling and integrating large quantities of dynamic multi-disciplinary, multi-sourced assessment information, such as

  • the meteorological modelling, monitoring and forecasting capabilities provided by Environment Canada's Canadian Meteorological Centre;
  • radiological monitoring data from Health Canada's Radiation Surveillance and Health Assessment Division, the Geological Survey of Canada, and others;
  • radiation dose assessments; and
  • public information resources.

This powerful application includes data import capabilities allowing integration of real-time source terms, directly from the reactor operators. ARGOS, in use by many European countries, is being tooled for interoperability with international partners in North America and abroad.

ARGOS is one of a number of emergency response projects funded by the federal government's Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Research and Technology Initiative (CRTI). Health Canada is also involved as the lead or partner in other CRTI radio-nuclear emergency response projects, such as

  • a mobile real-time radiation surveillance network;
  • a national biological dosimetry response plan;
  • a nuclear detection web;
  • a deployable CBRN monitoring network;
  • real-time determination of the area of influence of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear releases;
  • stand-off detection of radiation; and in
  • new technologies for rapid assessment of radioactive contamination.

These projects are improving knowledge and increasing the federal government's capability to detect a radiological or nuclear emergency; to assess the degree of risk; and to recommend mitigation or corrective actions to protect the public against actual or potential effects of the incident.