Four other environmental groups, including two international ones, have joined with Families Against Radiation Exposure (FARE) in calling for federal Environment Minister Stephane Dion to immediately order a comprehensive panel review of Cameco's plan to blend enriched uranium at its plant in downtown Port Hope.
The groups took their joint action today because of significant public concern that has been voiced in the municipality about the safety and wisdom of licensing a new SEU blending facility on Port hope's waterfront.
Besides FARE, which has signed up 1,370 members since July, the coalition includes two other local citizens groups, the Port Hope Community Health Concerns Committee and Port Hope Nuclear Environmental Watchdogs. As of today, they are joined by:
* Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, a Canadian branch of the international environmental movement representing 100,000 individuals and groups which is led by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Lake Ontario Waterkeeper's goal is to restore and protect Lake Ontario?s natural resources, which it feels may be threatened by Cameco?s proposal.
* Great Lakes United, a coalition of community-based organizations and individuals from Canada, the U.S. and First Nations peoples, with a mandate to preserve the ecosystem of the Great Lakes Basin.
Although these groups have different aims, they are united in their belief that the present screening process for Cameco?s proposal is not working. A comprehensive panel review ordered by the environment minister is the only action that will address the many questions that remain unanswered about the project, and ensure that the people of Port Hope have input into the decision that will be made by the federal regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).
A screening, which allows Cameco to prepare an environmental assessment of its own operations and limits public input, is not adequate for the following reasons:
- Seventy years of experience have eroded Port hope's trust in CNSC (and its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Control Board). In particular, the agency has not followed through on two important conditions attached to its renewal of Cameco?s license in 2002 ? first, that its staff would issue a report by February, 2003, on the design and implementation of a monitoring program to determine the long-term environmental effects of Cameco?s operations on the Port Hope harbour; and second, that a detailed summary of the performance of Cameco, including revised CNSC staff projections of the plant?s effects ?on the health and safety of persons and the environment,? would be made public by August, 2004. Neither has been done.
- Although the public has an opportunity to comment on Cameco?s proposal, the screening process does not require the company to answer questions or adopt any recommendations. In fact, the company has not answered any of the 623 questions FARE submitted after reviewing Cameco?s draft environmental assessment. Neither has the CNSC, which has held only one public meeting on the SEU blending project ? in Ottawa, last November.
- The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency suggests that the screening process is appropriate for small projects. This is not a small project. If approved, it will add to radioactive pollution and restrict public access to the Port Hope waterfront for another 30 years.
- The more rigorous panel review can be ordered by the federal environment minister when he feels it is warranted by public concern. An independent panel of experts conducts site visits and orders studies, and the public has standing at public hearings where experts from Cameco and the CNSC can be cross-examined. FARE?s large membership is proof of significant public concern.
- The federal government has not undertaken comprehensive, independent health studies of current and former residents, despite its promises to do so since 1979. The Port Hope Community Health Concerns Committee has called for independent health studies ever since. The Port Hope Nuclear Environmental Watchdogs group has been active in promoting citizen involvement in the monitoring of ongoing air and soil emissions from Cameco?s plant.
Waterkeeper made a submission to the CNSC last November that said it should ask the Minister of Environment to refer this project to a panel review. Waterkeeper said the environmental assessment guidelines for Cameco ?create far more questions than answers. Only the rigorous scrutiny of the panel review can facilitate legitimate public participation and responsibly and fairly address concerns regarding the nature of the project, the history of contamination in Port Hope, property values, health impacts, waterfront restoration, and the potential for policy and environmental impacts throughout the province.?
FARE has called the SEU blending project ?the most important decision that will be made on behalf of all Port Hope residents in their lifetimes.? Only an independent panel review can ensure that everyone ? including community members, politicians and the press ? can come and hear for themselves if this is a good deal for Port Hope.
The groups believe the CNSC has lost credibility in Port Hope by failing to deliver the two reports relating to community safety that it explicitly promised when it renewed Cameco?s license for five years in 2002. In an unprecedented dissent from that decision, one of the commission?s own members, Dr. C. R. Barnes, argued that the renewal should be limited to three years so that Cameco would be forced to ?adequately address the significant remaining concerns of the public about the health effects of the facility in combination with the past uranium contamination in the community.? Barnes was also concerned about ?the lack of environmental effects monitoring in the vicinity of the facility.? (Source: Record of Proceedings, Including Reasons for Decision, Feb. 18, 2002).
The CNSC should devote its attention to commitments it made to the community two years ago to properly monitor the company?s existing operations. Any new process merits a full and independent panel review under the authority of the minister of the environment. In addition, the community of Port Hope should be fully consulted on the scope of such a review.
FARE mailed a letter today to Minister Dion, formally requesting the comprehensive panel review.
FARE also calls on all concerned citizens to attend tomorrow night?s municipal council meeting at 7 p.m., when a representative of CNSC is scheduled to speak.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper: Mark Mattson 416-861-1237
FARE: John Miller 905-885-5553 or 416-979-5000 ext. 6396
Community Health Concerns Committee: Faye More 905-885-1667
Nuclear Environmental Watchdogs: Chris Conti 905-885-0873
Great Lakes United: Derek Stack 613-277-9532