RE: Lake Ontario Waterkeeper petition regarding low-level radioactive waste
Dear Petitions Officer,
Please find enclosed a petition to the Ministry of Natural Resources Canada, submitted under the Auditor General Act.
The questions outlined in the petition below deal with the issue of radioactive hazardous waste in the Port Hope Area, as well as the ongoing, screening-level environmental assessment, for which Natural Resources Canada is the responsible authority.
If you have any questions or require further information, please do not hesitate to contact me at any time.
While researching the history of low-level radioactive waste in the Port Hope region, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper identified a number of issues which require some clarification. As the responsible authority for the Port Hope Project, Natural Resources Canada appears to be the most appropriate agency to respond to these questions.
The Port Hope environmental assessment process was initiated in fall 2001. The Port Hope Project concerns the remediation and management of sites containing low-level radioactive waste located within the Town of Port Hope and within the former Hope Township.
Questions which would appear to fall outside of the jurisdiction of Natural Resources Canada have been forwarded to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency independently of this petitions process.
Provisions of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act
Section 16(1)(a) of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act suggests that a screening report is required to take into consideration ?any cumulative environmental effects that are likely to result from the project in combination with other projects or activities that have been or will be carried out.?
(This question could be asked during any environmental assessment, but is of particular interest in the case of Port Hope, given that we are only beginning to understand the environmental effects of radioactive hazardous waste and that there is a lack of full certainty regarding the extent of contamination in Port Hope.)
(This question arises in light of public concern that the Port Hope Project may rely on existing local environmental conditions to provide a baseline; since the region already has a greater than average presence of low-level radioactive waste, some residents have expressed concerns that the baseline, or status quo, is not an acceptable standard.)
(These provisions would be implemented in accordance with s.4(b) of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which states that one of the purposes of the Act is to encourage responsible authorities to take actions that promote sustainable development and thereby achieve or maintain a healthy environment and a healthy economy. The use of the word ?achieve? implies that, in areas where the environment is already degraded, responsible authorities should to take actions to improve environmental quality.)
- How does Natural Resources Canada accurately predict which effects are "likely"?
- How does Natural Resources Canada define ?likely,? within the context of s.(16)(1)(a)?
- Is the assessment of cumulative environmental effects based on a baseline standard which would be considered acceptable in every region of Canada?
- If the Port Hope Project relies on existing local environmental conditions to establish a baseline, how is this project contributing to improving the quality of the Port Hope environment?
Independence in the Port Hope environmental assessment
- Because the Government of Canada is both the proponent of the project and the adjudicator of its merits, how can the public be sure that the assessment process will remain independent?
- S. 25(b) of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act states that a project may be referred to a mediator or a review panel when the responsible authority is of the opinion that public concerns warrants such a referral. How does Natural Resources Canada define ?public concern??
- How does Natural Resources Canada measure public concern?
- What criteria does Natural Resources Canada use to determine whether or not sufficient public concern has been demonstrated to warrant a reference to a mediator or a review panel?
- If Natural Resources Canada believes that it has satisfied public consultation requirements and addressed public concerns, but the public does not agree, what avenues are available to the public to seek redress?
Selecting a screening level assessment for the Port Hope Project
- If the screening assessment that is being done for the Port Hope Project reveals that environmental impacts could be more severe than originally anticipated, how can the public be assured that Natural Resources Canada will undertake a more stringent environmental assessment?
- The description of the proposed project (creating a new waste-storage facility for the existing low-level nuclear radiation) suggests that ? at a minimum ? a comprehensive study should be performed under Part VI, section 19(g)(ii) or (iii) of the Comprehensive Study List Regulations:
The proposed construction, decommissioning or abandonment, or an expansion that would result in an increase in production capacity of more than 35 per cent, of a facility that is on a site that is not within the boundaries of an existing licensed nuclear facility and is for the processing or storage of radioactive waste other than irradiated nuclear fuel, where
(A) the activity of the throughput of radioactive material with a half-life greater than one year is more than 1 TBq/a, or
(B) the activity of the inventory of radioactive material with a half-life greater than one year is more than 100 TBq, or the disposal of radioactive prescribed substances within the meaning assigned in section 2 of the Atomic Energy Control Act
Is it the position of Natural Resources Canada that the Port Hope Project, the Port Granby Project, or any of the elements of these projects falls under the Comprehensive Study List Regulations? Why or why not?
- Why has Natural Resources Canada selected the screening report process?
- By what process could the Port Hope Environmental Assessment be upgraded to - at minimum ? a comprehensive study?
- Lake Ontario Waterkeeper has noted that federal and provincial standards differ for hazardous waste projects. What steps has Natural Resources Canada taken, and what steps will be taken over the course of the project, to ensure that federal assessments meet the more stringent provincial standards for dealing with hazardous waste in Ontario? (per s. 62(b) of the CEAA)
Thank you for your assistance.
April 9, 2003