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UPDATE: Radioactive waste remains a contentious issue in Port Hope

Ganaraska River in Port Hope

Northumberland News reporter Paul J. Rellinger gives us the background on the radioactive waste situation in Port Hope, a municipality located about 100 kilometres east of Toronto on the north shore of Lake Ontario and at the mouth of the Ganaraska River. “(For more than) 40 years, massive amounts of ore and chemicals were used to refine tiny amounts of radium and uranium (in Port Hope) — some shipped to the U.S. to aid in the Manhattan Project, a research and development program that included producing the first atomic bomb. Leftover waste, which contained radium, uranium, arsenic and other contaminants from the refinement process, was discarded around the processing plant on Port Hope’s waterfront. Some waste was swept into the harbour, some dumped into local dumpsters and some was used as construction fill throughout the community.” “In the 1970s and 80s, the Atomic Energy Control Board directed a large-scale radiation waste cleanup in Port Hope, where 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil was transferred to Chalk River Laboratories, north of Ottawa, for storage. In 1982, the newly-established Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Office was tasked to manage the historic waste in Port Hope, as well as other contaminated sites across Canada. From 1982 to 2001, committees, task forces and programs were created to minimize the spread of contamination in Port Hope. …After years of paper pushing on Parliament Hill, a 2001 legal agreement was struck between Port Hope, Clarington and the Canadian government to form the Port Hope Area Initiative (PHAI). The plan called for the safe cleanup, transportation, isolation and the long-term management of historic, low-level radioactive waste. The agreement confirmed a commitment by the federal government to clean up Port Hope.” In late-2010, the Toronto Star reported on controversial comments by the well-known anti-nuclear activist Dr. Helen Caldicott on the situation in Port Hope. “Historic low-level radioactive waste buried in parks, ravines, streets, industrial sites, the harbour and hundreds of backyards poses a ‘life or death’ threat and can’t be safely remediated, according to Caldicott. ‘It’s a disaster. You can’t clean it up. Transferring it just exposes more people to radioactive material’… She (says) that the only safe solution is to relocate the entire town of 16,000. …Drinking water that’s taken from Lake Ontario is also at risk, adds Caldicott. She agrees with residents who have long complained about the lack of a real health study in the area. …Caldicott’s warning comes in contrast to assurances by Canada’s nuclear safety commission that cancer rates in Port Hope, which has been living with low-level radioactive contamination for decades, are comparable to other communities – and that the cleanup now underway doesn’t pose a health risk.” “That operation – the largest radioactive waste cleanup in Canadian history – is off to a slow and cautious start with the trial excavation of a private backyard. Removal of contaminated soil from numerous sites around town will begin in earnest (in the fall of 2011). The waste will be trucked to an enclosed storage mound just south of Highway 401, where it will be sealed up for centuries. Digging out more than 1.2 million cubic metres of soil, enough to fill 500 Olympic-size pools, will take a decade and cost at least $260 million. The final scope and price tag are unknown.” And in May 2012, the Globe and Mail reported on Port Hope and the estimated 22,000 contaminated sites across Canada. “Ottawa is looking at $7.7-billion in cleanup costs for contaminated sites, but has only set aside a fraction of the necessary funding, Environment Commissioner Scott Vaughan found. …As the government reforms the environmental assessment process, it’s worth remembering the high price of slipshod oversight from previous decades, Mr. Vaughan said at a news conference. Most of the contaminated sites date back to between 1940 and 1970, well before environmental regulations cracked down on resource extraction and development, the watchdog said. …The biggest sites – including the Giant Mine as well as the low-level radioactive waste dumps in Port Hope, Ont. – are at the top of the government’s priority list for cleanup, but they are devouring the federal funding, Mr. Vaughan said.” The audit states that 15.5 per cent of the contaminated sites affect groundwater, 13.52 per cent affect sediment, and 5.60 per cent affect surface water. To find out more, please check out the following news articles and resources:–port-hope-s-radioactive-waste-legacy,,, and To learn more about the 2006 documentary ‘Port Hope: A Question of Power’ by Sheila Petzold and Michael Fuller, go to