Back in spring 2009, Cameco Corporation asked the Ontario government to renew its permit to withdraw water from Lake Ontario to cool its uranium conversion operations on the Port Hope waterfront. The company can pull as much as 2.5-million litres of water per day, or 10-billion litres per year.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper made a number of suggestions to help ensure the water-taking would not further harm the fragile local environment, including monitoring and reporting requirements.
We also pointed out one glaring problem with Cameco's water use - the company has never had a licence to discharge cooling water back into Lake Ontario. For at least a decade, Cameco has been pulling cooling water from the lake and returning it to the harbour without approval from Ontario's Ministry of the Environment. The government responded by issuing the permit to take water on the condition that Cameco apply for a permit to discharge the water as well.
Cameco complied with the government order and the public comment period on the application to discharge water ended earlier this fall. In a comment submitted to the Ministry of the Environment last week, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper asked the Province to limit Cameco's water discharge licence to five years - the same period sanctioned by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission in Cameco's operating licence. We also asked that Cameco be required to develop a longer-term plan for implementing the best technology available for cooling water: closed-cycle cooling. Currently, Cameco - like most major industrial facilities on the Great Lakes - has an open-cycle cooling system. Water is continuously drawn in at an enormous rate, destroying fish and fish eggs on the way in and creating a plume of warm water that changes fish habitat on the way out. With a closed-cycle system, much less water would be needed and the environment around the Cameco plant would be better protected.
With Ontario regulators looking at Cameco's cooling water system for the first time, as well as the upcoming Vision 2010 redevelopment project, there has never been a better time to upgrade the company's cooling water practices. To read our full comment, please visit our website.