Wednesday night, three dozen Port Hope residents gathered at the Canton Municipal Building. They came to hear representatives from Cameco Corporation describe the company's plans to process enriched uranium on the town's waterfront.
The project - which involves importing radioactive material and mixing it with other radioactive material to create fuel for a new generation of CANDU reactors - is the latest in a series of nuclear experiments slated for Port Hope. And while the nature of the project may be unique, the spirit of the debate in Port Hope is eerily familiar for people in other Port cities on Lake Ontario: how do you balance federal interests with the concerns of the local community?
It is a question that has haunted the Town of Port Hope for generations. In 1933, the Port Hope facility was opened, first to extract radium and then to enrich uranium for the atom bomb. By the mid 1960?s the facility's primary purpose was to supply fuel for nuclear power plants.
Meanwhile, quaint, small-town Port Hope changed. Roughly 90,000 cubic metres of radionuclides, heavy metals, and PCBs leaked into the sediments of the Port Hope Harbour. Brown Bullhead Catfish and Yellow Perch became contaminated with radionuclides. Women and young people developed higher incidents of brain cancer. Radioactive waste was dumped at a number of sites around town, contaminating local waterways and public parks.
Today, the town famous for its scenic main street "Best Preserved Main Street in Ontario"), its 19th Century homes and antique markets ("rumoured to be the antique capital of rural Ontario"), and Ganaraska River (fisheries and recreation, "Float your fanny down the Ganny!") is also infamous for its contaminated lands - one million cubic metres of radioactive waste.
Port Hope now sits at a crossroads. Clean-up of legacy waste in the region will cost more than $320-million and is the subject of a five-year environmental assessment. At the same time, Cameco Corporation wants to expand its refining operations to respond to market changes and maintain its role and position as the primary CANDU fuel supplier.
Wednesday night, many residents walked out on the meeting, dismayed by Cameco's unwillingness to create a meaningful public process. Thursday night, a second meeting lasted over three hours and featured presentations by pro-industry experts. Friday morning, the national newspapers revealed Cameco's plans to build a new nuclear plant in Ontario.
These events only strengthen the community's desire for a real public review. We are seeing, they fear, the new face of Port Hope: a team of industry "experts" who analyze "risks", "probabilities", and "criticalities", while the real authorities - its residents - are ignored.