– Safety practices and protocols make all the difference no matter what environment a person finds themselves in – no one knows this more than Dion Devoe, who deals with nuclear and gamma radiation substances on a daily basis.
The College of the North Atlantic (CNA) instructor for the Non-Destructive Testing Technician (NDT) program in Port aux Basques has worked in his trade for the past 26 years. He received his certification from CNA in 1991, lived and worked in Western Canada in the NDT field for 11 years, and spent seven years as a travelling inspector until an economic downturn forced him to find employment elsewhere. In 2009, he joined CNA, where he teaches students how to handle and test substances that would make those faint of heart cringe.
He says students are nervous when they first join the program, but he reminds them, “it’s like anything, you have to respect what you’re working with, and if you respect and know what you’re dealing with, it’s no more dangerous than driving a bus.”
Devoe, who is also considered the executive Radiation Safety Officer for CNA, recently received good news from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) - Nuclear Substance and Radiation Devices Licensing Division, which makes him “pretty proud.” He received notification that the NDT program continues to meet the regulatory requirements, policies and guidelines of the CNSC, and the college’s license has once again been renewed. The permit is good for both the Port aux Basques and Burin campuses (NDT/Welding Engineering Technician programs), where nuclear and radioactive materials are stored and handled.
The college is required to revamp and review its radiation safety manual every five years, which Devoe says is a comprehensive and lengthy process. In addition to this, the campuses are audited annually to ensure that the CNA Radiation Safety manual is being followed and the regulations set out by the Canadian Nuclear Safety and Control Act are adhered to.
Due to the nature of the substances, the regulatory body is very thorough when it comes to its reviews and audits, and Devoe recognizes the need for this.
“They come down from the Quebec office and make sure all my documents are following the regulatory requirements. I have to ensure that we have calibrated equipment, follow the Radiation Safety manual, and ensure radiography is carried out in a safe and responsible manner.”
At the Port aux Basques campus, Devoe describes the storage area for the radioactive source as a concrete vault that is approximately 20 by 20 feet, with walls that are four feet thick.
“Radiation is absorbed by the thick walls and will not impact the general public’s safety – anyone who completes this course becomes a nuclear energy worker,” said Devoe. “And with that comes certain obligations – one being that we are more exposed to radiation than the general public. The room that holds the sources and the X-ray tube are built within the standards of the CNSC, and it allows us to do our work without impacting the general public. We have a really safe environment and we pick up no radiation here because of the thickness of the vault, and we do not perform radiography outside the vault.”
The NDT and Welding Engineering Technician programs are also monitored by Health Canada, notes Devoe, because it is all about the health, safety and welfare of the country and its people when dealing with nuclear energy. All students wear radiation dosage badges that are sent in every two weeks to check body and skin for exposure amounts. There are also gamma survey meters, audible alarms and direct reading dosimeters (devices which measures exposure to ionizing radiation) to check levels at any moment during a radiation exposure.
Devoe insists that a person’s best safety is knowledge.
“We are protected by time, distance and shielding. The less time you are around radiation, the better. The farther away from it, the better. And any kind of dense shield – tungsten, lead or concrete – will reduce the amount of radiation exposure significantly,” he stressed. “I tell my students they are currently in the perfect environment to not pick up any radiation; however, things will be a little different in the field. But there is a lot better that comes out of the nuclear industry than bad. The safety factor, resulting from inspection of heavy industry components with Industrial radioisotopes, greatly offsets the danger of the radiation to the technician when utilized in a safe and responsible manner.”
Devoe says the campus has yet to have an incident in its 30-plus years, and the NDT program itself has had a busy few years. There are currently two classes with a total of 30 students, “from all walks of life.”
He said anyone who wants to be in this field, particularly as an inspector, has to be detail-oriented and self-motivated. Employment opportunities can be found in the “heavy industries,” such as refineries, dockyards, pulp mills, aeronautics or anywhere that involves welding, castings, forgings and composite materials.
“Some of our students have been fortunate enough to be offshore or out west working,” noted Devoe. “We have had students come from as far as British Columbia to do our program.”
For more information about the Non-Destructive Testing Technician and Welding Engineering Technician programs, visit www.cna.nl.ca.
College of the North Atlantic