Cameco Corporation owns and operates a uranium conversion facility in Port Hope, Ontario. The plant is located at the heart of one of Lake Ontario’s most historic and environmentally vulnerable harbours. For decades, nuclear-related industrial pollution has affected water quality and the natural environment in and around Port Hope.
The company has applied for an amendment to the existing Permit To Take Water (PTTW) #6025-7BHRJH, issued in February 2008, which was itself issued as an amendment to the original PTTW #04-P-4012. The Ministry of the Environment [the Ministry] must decide whether it should renew this permit, and if so, what terms and conditions should be imposed on Cameco to protect the environment.
The facility consists of a uranium hexaﬂuoride (UF6) plant and a uranium dioxide (UO2) plant. Both have been shutdown for some part of the past two years. In July 2007, UF6 contamination was discovered in the soil and groundwater beneath a plant building. The contaminated groundwater was found to be migrating towards the southeast corner of the property and discharging into Lake Ontario.
The UF6 plant was shutdown for 14 months, between July 19, 2007 and September 30, 2008. During that time, Cameco applied to the Ministry of the Environment for a Category 3 amendment to PTTW #04-P-4012 in order to capture and divert groundwater on the site through the installation of pumping wells, excavations, and trenches. The amended PTTW 6025-7BHRJH was issued by the Ministry in February of 2008. In November 2008, the UF6 plant was again shutdown, this time due to a contractual dispute between Cameco and its sole supplier of hydroﬂuoric acid (HF), an essential component of UF6 production. It remained closed until June 17, 2009.
In May 2009, Cameco applied for a second amendment to its PTTW in order to install additional pumping wells, “to control the migration of contaminated groundwater”. The application states that water taken up through the pumps would be directed through the plant’s water treatment system, which consists of an evaporator. The evaporated water would be discharged as water vapour to the atmosphere. The total amount of water taken would not change, but more wells would be installed to allow for greater ﬂexibility in reducing contaminant ﬂow into the Lake. This represents an opportunity for Cameco to begin the important process of restoring the area around their Port Hope facility to a healthy, livable, and environmental sound condition.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper submits the following recommendations:
- If the permit is issued, the Ministry should make it contingent on zero direct emissions to surface water in order to be consistent with the Application.
- The Ministry should ensure that testing is undertaken to determine whether the release of a vapour plume increases the precipitation of airborne uranium and whether the vapour plume contains any contaminants that could be introduced into the water cycle.
- The MInistry should request detailed information from Cameco regarding the precipitated pollutants and the company’s plans to store and dispose of them in a way that protects the environment from further contamination.
- The Ministry should only issue the PTTW on a temporary basis, on the condition that Cameco address the source of contamination to prevent future groundwater contamination.
- An amended PTTW should only be issued on the condition that it be reviewed by the Ministry at the commencement of Vision 2010.
- A permit must be conditional on ongoing testing to conﬁrm that the taking has no impacts on surface water, the harbour, or air quality.
- A provincial PTTW should not outlast the federal facility license, which expires on February 29, 2012.
- The MInistry must ensure that licensing this consumptive use is not a violation of the province’s international commitments.