Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. From where did the materials originate?

A. The materials were imported to Canada for use in research activities and medical isotope production that spanned two decades of operation at Chalk River Laboratories.

Production of the medical isotope Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) is a by-product of nuclear fission and progressively decays to Technetium-99, which is the most widely used radioisotope in nuclear medicine. Technetium-99m is used in medical diagnosis (imaging) of the brain, thyroid, heart, lungs, liver, kidney, spleen and bone marrow. Tens of thousands of people benefit from the application of this vital nuclear medical isotope every day.

Q2. How will the material be transferred to the new location?

A. The transportation of HEU is done in containers (casks) that are specifically designed and certified by both the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) and its U.S. counterpart to meet international safety requirements.

Q3. How safe is it to transfer radioactive material this way?

A. Transport in this cask is accepted internationally and has been used for safe transport of radioactive materials in many countries. These specially designed transportation casks undergo stringent testing, which simulate both normal and abnormal conditions of transport, including:

  • A 9-metre drop onto an unyielding surface
  • A 30-minute thermal test at 800°C
  • Immersion in 15 metres of water for one hour without a breach of containment.

Q4. How hazardous are the liquids and how will they be contained?

A. The liquids contain radioactive material and toxic non-radiological substances. As is common practice when transferring hazardous material, it is isolated from people and the surrounding environment by multiple robust barriers within the shipping package.

Q5. Other sources have suggested alternative options such as vitrication or solidification. Why is repatriation the best option?

A. This option provides a safe, permanent and cost effective solution. Vitrification or other solidification approaches will result in the requirement for long-term management of the produced radioactive material in Canada. Further, repatriation of the HEU materials contributes to the global efforts to consolidate HEU inventories in fewer locations around the world.

Q6. What preparations are in place if an “unlikely event” were to occur during the transportation of these materials?

A. Preparations for public safety and the protection of the environment are a constant focus. Every organization involved in the transport of radioactive material must:

  • use approved transport packages
  • have an emergency plan in place
  • maintain a radiation protection program
  • train their workers
  • report to the CNSC any incident involving radioactive materials

Each shipment of HEU must be licensed by U.S. and Canadian authorities, including the CNSC.
In the highly unlikely event of an accident, preparations are in place to ensure that the environment, the public, contractors and employees are protected.

Q7. What will happen to the HEU once it is returned to the U.S.?

A. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will convert or manage the HEU so that it permanently eliminates proliferation risks. Nuclear material can then be re-used in U.S. nuclear power reactors to produce electricity.

Q8. In the unlikely event there is a spill during transportation, how will CNL manage this to ensure that the safety of the public, the environment and employees is assured?

To avoid spills, transportation casks are designed to withstand potential accident scenarios, and undergo stringent testing, including:

  • A 9-metre drop onto an unyielding surface.
  • A 30-minute thermal test at 800°C.
  • Immersion in 15 metres of water for one hour without a breach of containment.

Potential accident scenarios will be addressed during the planning phase so that CNL personnel are prepared for, and able to manage, any accident situation.

First responders are trained to recognize the identifying markers on vehicles specific to this transport and act in accordance with the regional emergency response protocols.

Q9. Who is paying for the repatriation of HEU to the U.S.?

A. HEU repatriation is funded and carried out under the Government of Canada. This program is a long-term strategy to manage legacy materials and contamination at CNL sites, including Chalk River Laboratories.

These projects address our responsibilities to future Canadians. The funds ensure the long-term health, safety, security and environmental protection for generations to come.