For decades, the community of Port Hope has struggled with the issue of radioactive and toxic waste: The still-operating uranium refinery looms over the Port Hope marina as local residents, government, and nuclear industry representatives try to figure out what they are going to do with the wastes it has been producing since the 1930?s.
The Canadian government is now undertaking to move low-level radioactive waste currently in short-term storage to new long-term storage facilities in Port Hope, and to ?upgrade? the Port Granby waste management facility from short-term to long-term storage. After LOK submitted its comments on the two projects to the Federal government a number of local residents asked to meet with LOK to discuss the various interests and attempt to coordinate our efforts.
So, on Friday, May 24, Kevin and I headed off to the Port Granby waste management facility ? a radioactive hazardous waste site that has been leaking directly into Lake Ontario for decades.
Leachate and a blistered fish were found splashing in the shallows on the Port Granby beach. We took samples of the leachate, the results of which we will compare to our samples from 1997-2000. Long-term plans for the site aside, LOK maintains that the discharges entering Lake Ontario every day are toxic to fish and that the site, like any other waste site in this province, should be subject to provincial and federal environmental laws.
At 11:30, Kevin, Krystyn, and I met at Pat Lawson's home in the Town of Port Hope. Pat and her husband Tom have been leaders in the community for years and graciously opened their home to a number of Port Hope and Port Granby residents for our meetings.
These meetings were very informative, as they highlighted severe weaknesses in the Federal governments approach to dealing with the contamination of Port Hope. The process, in fact, is riddled with problems:
- The Federal government is the owner, operator, and regulator of radioactive waste (this applies to rad waste anywhere in Canada). Accordingly, it can impose regulatory and cost regimes to its own benefit; this often means avoiding scrutiny from the provinces (which would traditionally regulate hazardous waste operations).
- The Federal government gives multi-million dollar gifts to local governments to support the proposals. These gifts are not required to be used to mitigate the impacts on the residents directly affected by the projects a serious concern to residents in the rural Port Granby region. The people living near the rad waste site have far less political clout than the residents in more populous nearby Newcastle. Without guidance as to how the gifts should be used, there is no guarantee the political leaders in Clarington will not use the funds to charm the more populous tax-base which elected (and has the power to re-elect) them, while the rad waste project proceeds quietly in the background.
- Because hazardous waste operations are traditionally a Provincial concern, it is the Province that has the experts (i.e., hydrogeologists and landfill engineers) who should be designing such a project. To date, Ontario has shown reluctance to involve itself in the Port Hope and Port Granby projects, meaning its experts have no means to control the assessment process or assist members of the community. The Federal governments lack of expertise with regards to siting and regulating landfills in Canada, combined with its poor record in the region, beg for the assistance of an independent third party.
Even if the Federal government had chosen the highest possible level of environmental assessment for the Ports Hope and Granby Projects meaning the process with the highest standards for public participation and independent decision-making the assessments would not meet Ontario's requirements for hazardous waste site initiatives. The fact that the Canadian government selected the absolute lowest level of assessment is little more than a slap in the face to the people living in the middle of sixty years of radioactive waste.
In our meetings last Friday, I said LOK's position is simple: the Ontario government must step in and ensure that its communities Ports Hope and Granby and Lake Ontario are treated fairly. At a minimum, the Federal government should be treated like all other hazardous waste site operators, requiring a certificate of approval for their sites and complying with the necessary environmental assessment standards.
No one can be sure of what the right decision is without a full hearing, public participation, and independent guidance. It is extremely important to the people of these communities, and to every other Ontario citizen who might someday face a similarly one-sided proposal, that the Provincial government assume its role as a third-party guarantor for due process.
In addition to our discussion about the roles of various governments, we also talked about the roles of the various members of the community. Anecdotes speak to a long history of life in the midst of radioactive and heavy metal waste and emissions we heard all kinds of stories about radioactive materials being discovered long after irreparable personal and environmental damage have occurred. The formal chronicling of the stories, testimonials, and experiences of the people of Port Hope is only now beginning a public testament to the legacy of nuclear waste.
As I sat in Pat's living room, I thought, the refinery is pumping uranium into the air right now. Port Granby is leaking heavy metals into Lake Ontario right now.? Right now is the time for the Federal government to come clean on the waste: to admit the damage done, to compensate for harm, and to hold itself to the highest standard of conduct possible.