Community Matters: Interstellar radiation innovation

John Peevers, Director, Community and Media Relations

Bruce Power is teaming up with the Nuclear Innovation Institute and students at McMaster University to study the effects of radiation in space.

As horizons expand on space exploration in the future we will need to overcome the risks associated with prolonged exposure to space radiation, which is much higher than on Earth and can significantly increase cancer risks for astronauts.

Dr. Eric Johnston, Chief Innovation Officer at the Nuclear Innovation Institute (NII), and Dr. Andrei Hanu, Senior Scientist at Bruce Power, along with Dr. Soo-Hyun Byun, Professor at McMaster University, have helped lead a team of students from McMaster to design and create a small satellite to measure space radiation.

With funding from Bruce Power through the Environment@NII program and supported by NII, Drs. Johnston and Hanu worked with the McMaster team to develop the NEUDOSE (neutron dosimetry and exploration) satellite.

The project was years in the making but was launched aboard a SpaceX rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida in March. The satellite travelled to the International Space Station, where astronauts then released it into orbit around the Earth.

The satellite is about the size of a loaf of bread. Inside it is the actual measuring instrument, which behaves like regular human fat tissue would, absorbing space radiation and relaying those measurements back to Earth. What separates the NEUDOSE instrument from other detectors is its capability to measure both the radiation dose and the type of the radiation that caused it, which is important when looking at the long-term risks of ionizing radiation.

Many people are unaware that radiation is all around us, all of the time.

Humans have been exposed to radiation from natural sources since the dawn of time. It’s in the ground, the air, the food we eat, and our entire solar system.

We’re also exposed to man-made radiation from sources such as televisions, watches, smoke detectors, medical x-rays and air travel.

According to Health Canada, the amount of natural radiation each of us receives is between 2,000 and 4,000 microsieverts per year. A year of watching TV is equivalent to about 10 microsieverts of exposure, while an x-ray is about 20.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has established an upper limit of 1,000 microsieverts of human-made radiation per year for members of the public.

Our constant monitoring and evaluation show that the most dose Bruce Power’s closest year-round neighbours could have received is 1.8 microsieverts, or the equivalent of eating one and a half bananas a month.

We’re committed to protecting the safety of our community and driving innovation here at home, throughout the province, around the world, and beyond!