The CNSC issued an order on Oct. 5, demanding that the contaminated container be sent back to India by Hanjin Shipping Canada — the company that delivered the cargo to Montreal's port last May.
André Régimbald, the director of nuclear substance regulations for the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, said "this was a relatively low-risk package or container and therefore, there was no need at that time to take immediate strong measures to get the container out of the port."
According to the order issued to Hanjin Shipping Canada, the utensils inside the two-cubic-foot box are contaminated with Cobalt-60, a radioactive isotope often used for medical radiation.
The Canadian Borders Services Agency (CBSA) found the merchandise during routine scans performed on incoming cargo.
Radiation could stem from medical device scraps
Régimbald said the kitchenware's radioactivity could stem from a failure to properly recycle medical devices.
"There could have been a source that is used in medical devices," he said. "[Devices] to treat cancer, are very high-level sources and the replacement and disposal…is extremely regulated and it is possible that the source was inadvertently misplaced or misdisposed and found its way in the recycling industry, was melted with other metals and the metal was used to produce all sorts of manufactured goods."
The safety commission said the material does not pose any risk to the health and safety of workers or the environment in its current location but would rather see the package sent away than seeing its contents accidentally travel to distributors.
Increase in contaminated packages
Régimbald said Canada has seen an increase in contaminated packages coming from Asia since 2011.
According to the commission, the CBSA has intercepted about 15 shipments with radiation levels, above the permitted threshold since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant meltdown in Japan. Most of these cargos were sent to Vancouver.
Régimbald said that in most cases, the radiation was on the outside of the shipping containers and not within.
"We had a few cases like that but the Japanese authorities dealt with it and dealt with the problem," he said.
Hanjin Shipping Canada has until 12 p.m. on Oct. 26 to remove the container from Canada.
Gordon Edwards, spokesman for the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility said "I think it shows that our regulator is really lax, that they don't act very quickly and also act with a lot of due deliberation because simply sending it back to where it came from, there's no guarantee that it won't be sent to some other consumer somewhere else in the world."
Gérimbald said the Indian authorities have been advised by the commission that there may be a problem with the control of radioactive sources and contamination in household products.Indian officials said they were looking into the matter and taking precautions to prevent the problem.