Reviewing Lake Ontario’s ailing radioactive wounds in Port Hope: PHAI and Cameco’s Conversion Facility
On October 3, 2016, Waterkeeper submitted comments on the Port Hope Area Initiative (PHAI) and Cameco’s Port Hope Conversion Facility (PHCF) to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). Waterkeeper will participate in the public hearing for both projects next month in Port Hope.
In the last five years, some progress has been made to ensure the initiative supports a more swimmable, drinkable, and fishable Lake Ontario. But more work is still needed.
The Port Hope Area Initiative
For over five years, Waterkeeper has been involved in the decision-making processes of the PHAI. And since 2001, Waterkeeper investigated and advocated for the cleanup of radioactive waste in Port Hope and Port Granby.
Here is a brief summary of Waterkeeper’s findings and recommendations for PHAI.
1. The PHAI is an internationally significant project.
The initiative involves removing 1.2 million m3 of low-level radioactive contaminated waste from around several sites in the town of Port Hope, the Cameco Port Hope Conversion Facility, and the Port Hope Harbour.
The initiative also involves removing approximately 450,000 m3 of low-level radioactive contaminated waste from the current Port Granby waste management facility which has leaked into Lake Ontario for decades.
All of this waste will be taken to new Long-Term Waste Management Facilities (LTWMFs) in Port Hope and Port Granby.
The scale of this initiative makes it internationally significant. With one of the largest nuclear waste holding facilities in North America, PHAI is one the biggest radioactive waste cleanups in Canadian history.
2. There is a need for stricter effluent limits at older and newer waste management facilities.
Currently, effluent limits for the older low-level waste management facilities are inadequate. Waterkeeper is requesting lower limits for contaminants of primary concern (COPC) and that these limits be included as enforceable conditions in the PHAI’s LTWMF licences.
3. There is a persisting need for greater interjurisdictional cooperation concerning the implementation of the initiative and its environmental management.
Since 2001, Waterkeeper has called for greater involvement from the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change in the PHAI. To date, little meaningful progress on this issue has been made.
Waterkeeper has recommended that the province be given a proper seat at the table to ensure that the PHAI activities and facilities’ effluent limits meet all provincial environmental standards including the Provincial Water Quality Objectives.
4. The PHAI must share monitoring data with the public.
The PHAI has an active public program containing information on planned activities and new waste facilities. Accessible information assures the public that the PHAI protects local inhabitants and the environment’s well-being.
Currently, no monitoring data confirming these assurances is provided to the public.
Waterkeeper has recommended real-time posting of environmental monitoring data to the PHAI’s website. With more transparency, the public can see PHAI’s activities and facilities are as safe as it claims.
Cameco’s Port Hope Conversion Facility (PHCF)
Waterkeeper was involved in the last licence hearing for the conversion facility five years ago. Waterkeeper also reviewed its environmental assessment (EA) for its Vision in Motion (VIM) project which involves significant renovations to the facility and the removal of 150,000 m3 of legacy low-level radioactive contaminated waste.
Here is a brief summary of Waterkeeper’s findings and recommendations for PHCF.
1. The PHCF must be subject to lower effluent limits and more comprehensive regulation.
Effluent limits for uranium must be reduced, as their current values would be environmentally disastrous. All pollution pathways to local waterways must also be better regulated, monitored, and subject to specific effluent limits.
2. Cameco should develop more comprehensive monitoring programs.
Discharges of uranium and other Contaminants of Primary Concern (COPCs) must be better monitored, especially from the facility’s stormwater system. Monitoring and management plans must also address wastewater and contaminated harbour water that will worsen during the PHAI and VIM excavation activities around the Port Hope Harbour.
3. Cameco must share more information with the public.
The Cameco PHCF’s environmental planning and performance still lacks transparency. Several documents required for Waterkeeper’s review were not made publicly available, and information that was shared alerted the experts to some significant concerns with the facility, none of which had properly been communicated to the public.
Waterkeeper recommended that Cameco’s environmental monitoring and management plans, its Fisheries Act studies, as well as monitoring data be shared with the public via its website.
Participant funding covers the cost of two experts to examine the PHAI and PHCF make recommendations for its improvement:
Wilf Ruland, P. Geo, an experienced Hydrogeologist who examined the potential impacts of the PHAI activities and facilities on local surface water; and
Pippa Feinstein, JD, counsel and case manager for Waterkeeper who examined interjurisdictional regulation of the PHAI and the quality of the PHAI’s Public Information Program (PIP).
As a leading expert on water quality monitoring and public reporting, Waterkeeper will continue to advocate for concerned community members and for the protection of Lake Ontario. The scheduled date for both public hearings is November 9-10, 2016 in Port Hope.