Inspection of nuclear facilities showcases McMaster’s collaborative approach to safety
Regulatory inspectors from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) visited McMaster last fall for a routine inspection of the University’s nuclear facilities. McMaster holds several licences from the CNSC, Canada’s nuclear materials regulator, which allow University personnel to work with radioactive materials.
Josip Zic, McMaster’s Senior Health Physicist, says inspections like these are both mandatory and welcome.
“With over 1200 people regularly working with radioactive materials across campus, the CNSC came to verify that we are protecting staff, students, members of the public, and the environment in the course of our nuclear activities,” says Zic. “While it’s a requirement of our licence, we welcome the opportunity to highlight our safety strategies and track record and identify opportunities to advance our nuclear safety programs.”
McMaster and the CNSC have a relationship strengthened by decades of interaction. In 2014, the CNSC granted the McMaster Nuclear Reactor a ten-year licence renewal – the maximum licence extension issued by the CNSC. McMaster University currently holds the largest consolidated licence from the CNSC in the country. The licence spans nuclear activities at the University’s various research laboratories and nuclear facilities, including those at McMaster Innovation Park (MIP) and the McMaster University Medical Centre (MUMC).
During the week-long on-site inspection, regulators visited 26 laboratories, including the Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization (CPDC) and CPDC spinoff, Fusion Pharmaceuticals (located at MIP), where researchers develop new radiopharmaceuticals for cancer treatments, and the Centre for Advanced Nuclear Systems (CANS), where materials research is performed on pressure tubes and other nuclear power plant components.
Also at MIP, inspectors met with staff from the Clean Energy Materials Sorting and Recycling Research Initiative (CEMSR) – a collaboration between McMaster and Laurentis Energy Partners (LEP) designed to advance materials sorting and recycling practices within the nuclear energy industry and find innovative ways to manage nuclear waste.
Zic says the culture of safety and depth of radiological protection knowledge demonstrated by staff at the new CEMSR laboratory was consistently recognized by the regulator, noting that LEP has just been granted its first Nuclear Substance Radiation Devices (NSRD) licence for the CEMSR lab.
The CNSC commended McMaster’s initiative in applying lessons learned from across all licence activities to the physical design of new laboratories, such as those at the CPDC and Fusion Pharmaceuticals. The CNSC also recognized McMaster’s initiative in going above and beyond standard safety regulations.
“Many of our safety programs are designed to ensure safety beyond the requirements,” says Zic. “We typically set dose limits that are lower than what is required in order to provide as much safety for our staff and community as possible.”
McMaster’s Health Physics department is responsible for ensuring the radiological safety and training of those who work with nuclear substances and radiation devices in the McMaster community. It is also responsible for ensuring the University is adhering to the measures outlined in its CNSC licences.
Zic says the CNSC was impressed by the collaborative approach to safety between the Health Physics department and the groups it supports and offered up further recommendations to support McMaster’s radiation safety program and licensed activities.
“We have built decades of trust with the regulator, and their feedback shows this,” says Zic. “Safety programs are an important part of working with nuclear materials; they ensure that we can continue to provide innovative research and life-saving medicines while keeping students, researchers, workers, the public and the environment safe from radiation.”