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Workers tested for radiation;

The Owen Sound Sun Times: PAUL JANKOWSKI - February 12, 2010

The 195 workers at Bruce Power who are being tested for exposure to alpha radiation are understandably concerned and frustrated with the slow pace of the process, a company spokesman said Thursday.

"We've had 19 people go through testing (so far). It's urine sampling. It's a slow process and that's the frustrating thing for our workers and for us," John Peevers said.

Peevers said there is only one place accredited by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to do the tests, an Atomic Energy of Canada lab at Chalk River, and it can only process two samples a day.

The discovery of alpha radiation came as a surprise during work on refurbishing Bruce A Unit 1, which the company hopes to return to power generation in 2011, Peevers said. The first hint came during a routine air sample test on Nov. 26, while crews were working on feeder tubes inside the Bruce A Unit 1 nuclear vault. Two days later a similar radiation spike was found.

"We initially thought it was cobalt," Peevers said. But the samples were sent out for testing and on Dec. 21 "we find out that it's alpha (radiation), which we weren't expecting. You don't usually see alpha radiation in commercial Candu plants. It's associated usually with failed fuel bundles."

Bruce Power's refurbishment of the reactors at the Tivertonarea nuclear power complex is "first-of-a-kind work. Nobody's ever done this before . . . it's uncharted territory," Peevers said. "Having said that, any time something unexpected comes up at a nuclear plant it's not good and it's something we take seriously because unexpected is not the way we operate. The alpha is not something we foresaw and that's why we're taking it very seriously."

Nuclear power plant operators focus on beta and gamma radiation because "it's what we tend to encounter . . . Alpha is a little different. It's a larger particle so it's not as penetrating. It can't penetrate your skin, but it's strong, so if it's inhaled or ingested that's the potential hazard there."

Peevers said initial tests "indicate that this is not going to be any contamination over either our internal administrative levels or the levels that are sent to us by our regulator, which is 5,000 millirem each year or 10,000 millirem over five years. All the initial indications we're getting is it's not going to exceed any of those levels."

Peevers said alpha radiation is "a little different from beta/gamma but a radiation dose is radiation dose . . . These people are frustrated because it's taking some time and, as I said, so are we. But we're getting it done as quickly as we can. We're actually looking at getting parallel testing here . . . we're trying to see about setting up a lab here to do testing in parallel just for people's peace of mind."

Initially, only 19 workers directly involved in cleaning up during the feeder tube work in November were going to be tested.

"They were the ones we thought had the most potential to be exposed," Peevers said. "Then we began conservatively looking at others to see if . . . (others) had the potential to get more than 100 millirem (of radiation exposure). If we think they did, then we decided for our own peace of mind and for their peace of mind to expand that net a little bit and give everybody the comfort of knowing that none of this was beyond any safe level."

The 195 people identified -- Bruce Power employees as well as people working for some half a dozen outside contractors -- "were all inside the reactor vault at some point or another in the area where the work was going on."

Work inside the nuclear vaults at both Unit 1 and Unit 2 stopped on Dec. 21 and only resumed Thursday, Peevers said.