Security in the Nuclear Industry

Mar 15, 2007

With the recent convergence of debate on the potential for growth in Canada’s nuclear industry, and renewed terrorist threats directed at this country, it is timely to review the security situation of Canada’s nuclear facilities and materials. After 9/11, Canada’s nuclear regulator – the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) – determined that the entire industry (including its own organization) faced a need for significant enhancements in their approach to security.

Ontario Power Generation Facility in Pickering.

With concern over the release of radio­activity due to the increased potential for sabotage or theft in this new era, a robust and comprehensive security posture was needed. The CNSC quickly implemented emergency security measures after 9/11. Six years later, the vulnerability of nuclear facilities against acts of terrorism has been drastically reduced. Security at Canadian nuclear facilities now meets or exceeds international recommendations and best practices, but the job of monitoring and improving nuclear security continues.

Canada is a world leader in uranium mining, with downstream facilities for refining, conversion and fuel fabrication. Canadian companies and institutions are also involved in nuclear research, energy production, and medical and industrial applications, and are world-leaders in radioisotope production. The Nuclear Safety and Control Act of 1997 established the CNSC as the federal regulator for the use of nuclear energy and materials to protect health, safety, security and the environment. The CNSC also oversees Canada’s international commitments on the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The agency fulfills this mandate through a stringent licensing process, and through the development of regulations. Although licensees are responsible for implementing security measures, the CNSC develops the requirements and monitors their implementation.

Following 9/11, the CNSC undertook an emergency review of nuclear security. Within weeks, an order was issued detailing enhanced security requirements for all major facilities, such as power reactors and nuclear research and test establishments. Shortly after, enhanced ­security requirements were ordered for a second group of installations having a lower-risk profile, including uranium refineries and fuel fabricators. A subsequent review was completed of all nuclear licensees.

At the same time, the CNSC began a thorough evaluation of the existing Nuclear Security Regulations, based on emerging threats and their own security studies. As an issue of international concern, a great deal of work had been done in documenting international best practices by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This worldwide expertise was critical in the development of new Canadian security standards. The CNSC consulted with licensees, law enforcement and intelligence agencies, other federal departments, and other levels of government. This broad review led to the amendments to the Nuclear Security Regulations in the fall of 2006. The amendments gave permanent codification to the requirements of the two emergency orders of 2001, along with additional security requirements for licensees.

Each of these measures represents a significant undertaking. For example, the construction of physical protections and vehicle barriers has taken years and a large investment to implement. Access control has been improved through state of the art dual verification systems, such as card access and biometrics. In addition, x-ray imaging and explosive and metal detection devices provide enhanced levels of screening for weapons.

In terms of the human element, nuclear power facilities previously relied mainly on unarmed guards. Off-site response forces were to be called in for serious threats, with on-site security focusing on delay. Today, each major facility is protected by well-equipped, highly trained tactical operations units. While the police would always be called in for an emergency, the on-site forces have been trained and equipped to handle anticipated threats and will intervene immediately until the police response arrives.

Tightened access control at Darlington facility. (Photo courtesy of Ontario Power Generation)

The design basis threat analysis is the foundation for all other measures, as has been stressed in IAEA documentation. This means investigating the characteristics of threats that facilities must be prepared to counter. It also provides the standard of protection for which the CNSC holds licensees accountable. Updated design basis threat studies were undertaken with the cooperation of the RCMP and CSIS, licensees, and jurisdictional police agencies. These involved looking at the characteristics of postulated adversaries: the history of tactics which could be used; the types of weapons and explosives to be considered; the size of attacking force which might be expected; and the types of vehicles which might be used.

While the emergency security measures instituted in 2001 remain in force under the 2006 regulation amendments, significant improvements have also been included, such as the introduction of double-fencing for new installations to enhance delays, uninterruptible power supply for critical security systems, heavily managed key controls, and new requirements for Nuclear Security Officers. Qualified practitioners in the relevant fields must now certify Officers for physical, mental and psychological fitness. Security exercises and drills are now more prescribed and more frequent, including major performance exercises involving off-site forces.

As mentioned earlier, the development of new security requirements relied heavily on the IAEA recommendations and best practices. In the planning stages, the CNSC consulted closely with the licensees themselves, as they were ultimately responsible for implementation. Facilitating these discussions was the Inter-Utility Security Working Group, established in 2002 by the major licensees. For the most part, licensees understood from the beginning the importance of these endeavours, but it was critical to consult with them at all stages, as well as with appropriate law enforcement agencies. Successful implementation depended on the ability to justify the measures being recommended. This was aided by the international recommendations. It was also important to demonstrate the credibility of need. This was defined through communication with law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The CNSC had to demonstrate perseverance and continue to follow-up to show that the regulator took this issue as seriously as licensees were being asked to.

The CNSC security staff has grown from being a three person section to a sizeable division, with numerous security inspectors and specialists in a variety of areas, including tactical response, security systems, personal security, and intelligence analysis. They monitor the implementation of these measures to verify compliance. The costs for implementation were significant. Total capital costs for the physical protection requirements are in the range of $300 million, with ongoing costs totalling close to $60 million annually. The majority of these costs are borne by licensees.

Aside from facility protection, a major issue for the CNSC is the safeguarding of high-risk radioactive sources. There are thousands of CNSC licensees in Canada authorized to use nuclear materials. Oil pipeline operators use radiography devices, nuclear gauges are used in factories, and nuclear imaging and therapy devices are widely used in the medical fields. Any lost source represents a potential health threat. There is also a risk that sources may be diverted to malicious uses, such as the construction of a radiological dispersal device (dirty bomb). In 2006, regulatory controls were strengthened through the establishment of a Sealed Source Tracking System within an upgraded National Sealed Source Registry. This placed obligations on licensees to report transactions involving sealed sources, using a secure system with data managed as Protected B under the Canadian information classification system. Canada is the first country to have implemented such robust inventory tracking controls.

Response Team at the Bruce Power plant.

Nuclear fuel waste is also subject to protection under the Nuclear Security Regulations. Within the protective barriers of each nuclear generating station in Canada, there is enough storage space for all the used fuel produced during the operating life of the station. Such storage is required to provide safe, secure containment shielding, with resistance to extreme site conditions, and are monitored to ensure continued integrity.

The adaptation of Canadian nuclear security to the post-9/11 world is continuing. In particular, ‘next steps’ being considered or implemented include a more rigorous export and import control program for nuclear materials; performance testing of security personnel and systems at facilities under realistic conditions; expanding internal intelligence analysis capabilities to relay information to licensees in a timely manner; and, the corollary technical standards and guidelines which will be developed based on the amended security regulations.

In addition to the changes in operational requirements for nuclear licensees, and at the CNSC to oversee that activity, the CNSC continues to receive information from CSIS, the RCMP, the Integrated Threat Assessment Centre (ITAC), and others. As such, the CNSC follows potential threats to ensure effective response, and to improve our understanding of ­postulated threats for further design basis threat analyses. This information, and the CNSC’s involvement in the development of additional international standards, will drive the next generation of improvements in security for Canada’s nuclear industry, assuring Canadians that our nuclear security is based on expert recommendations from around the world.

Gerry Frappier is Director-General of Security and Safeguards, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
David Sachs is also with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
© FrontLine Security 2007