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Radiation Detection

Protecting the security and prosperity of Canada is the ultimate goal of the CBSA’s radiation detection equipment. Screening containers at their earliest entry into Canada is the best way to determine if a container poses a potential threat to the public’s health and safety.

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Radiation detection equipment adds another layer of security at marine ports.

Marine terminals are an integral part of the Canadian economy, where efficient and effective security activities can be undertaken to protect Canada and its citizens. The CBSA’s radiation detection equipment contributes to the worldwide effort to address potential nuclear and radiological threats. Working together with other countries, industry stakeholders and other government organizations, the CBSA is taking important steps to protect the public’s well-being while allowing Canada’s economy to grow and prosper.

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About radiation

Radiation is energy in the form of waves or streams of particles. There are many kinds and levels of radiation around us, both from natural and artificial sources. Sunlight is a familiar form of radiation. The CBSA’s radiation detection equipment is capable of detecting radioactive material from both natural and artificial sources.

Radiation exposure occurs every day from natural sources, such as cosmic rays and radioactive substances in the earth’s soil and rocks (e.g. radon gas). Certain foods, such as bananas, are sources of naturally occurring radioactive material. Some medical procedures also expose people to radiation. All of these types of radiation together are referred to as "background radiation."

Radiation can also be produced through artificial sources. Radiation is associated with the nuclear fuel cycle and the resulting generation of nuclear power. Nuclear substances and devices are used in a variety of ways, such as in medical treatments, density gauges for construction, and oil well and logging equipment.

Levels and doses

Important laws and regulations exist to protect the workforce and the general public from harmful radiation exposure. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s Radiation Protection Regulations indicate the radiation dose that the public may receive from artificial sources of ionizing radiation; these are associated with activities defined under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act. The dose limit in one calendar year for a member of the public is one millisievert above the background radiation. To make sure that workers on the dock are not exposed to radiation levels above the allowed dose, the CBSA works closely with each port authority to ensure the health and safety of everyone working at the port.

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Radiation detection equipment

Radiation detection equipment is designed to locate and identify sources of radiation in marine containers that could be a potential threat to health and safety. There are two main tools used to detect radiation in a marine container: the portal and the carborne unit. These tools each have specific functions that complement one another to detect radiation. This equipment does not emit radiation -- it only detects radiation.



A radiation detection portal is a set of two four-metre-high panels that are anchored to the ground and placed wide enough apart for a container to pass through. When a container is taken off a vessel, it is placed on a transport vehicle and driven through the portal. The portal can quickly scan the container to determine if radiation is present and, if so, measure the level of radiation detected. The size and position of the portal allow a large number of containers to be screened while ensuring the smooth operation and security of the port.  

Screening information is transmitted to the CBSA’s Laboratory and Scientific Services Directorate (LSSD) and the National Risk Assessment Centre (NRAC) for assessment. The LSSD and the NRAC monitor the portals 24 hours a day.



A carborne unit is a mobile screening system that is mounted onto the roof of a vehicle and is capable of detecting the precise types and levels of radiation present in a container. For optimal identification and analysis, the container should be placed on the ground with no obstructions about it, and the vehicle driven around it. The unit is normally used during the secondary examination of a container. If a container is selected for a carborne scan, it does not mean that the contents are emitting dangerous radiation; it only means that further analysis is needed to check the contents of the container.

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Procedures at the port

Port operations rely on time, speed and accuracy. Through careful planning and consultations, radiation portals are strategically positioned for the continued flow of port operations and for the rapid assessment of incoming containers. By placing radiation detection portals at the earliest point of entry, the CBSA can screen virtually 100 percent of incoming containers to Canadian ports without interrupting port operations. At the same time, this layout helps to enhance the security of marine terminals and protect the health and safety of the public.