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RADIOACTIVE TRITIUM IN GREAT LAKES PUTS KIDS AT RISK: STUDY

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

By CHINTA PUXLEY, CP

TORONTO __ There is no evidence the release of radioactive tritium into the Great Lakes by Ontario nuclear power plants poses a public health threat, Premier Dalton McGuinty said yesterday despite a new study which shows such emissions could put people at risk for genetic mutation and cancer.

Back in February, the province was sufficiently concerned about tritium for Environment Minister Laurel Broten to order her expert advisory council on drinking water to look into its health risks and report back with recommendations on whether Ontario should impose its own stricter standard. The report is not yet complete.

McGuinty said he has no reason to be overly concerned about those who live in the shadow of Ontario nuclear power plants, but added if there is new evidence that the plants pose a risk, it's up to the federal government to address the problem.

"The federal government has the principled responsibility to provide us with a reassurance, and if there are new measures we have to take to ensure our nuclear reactors are even safer, then that's something we'll have to consider," he said during an event in Kingston.

But the latest concerns about tritium aren't enough to change the province's course when it comes to bringing more nuclear reactors online, he said.

"We will continue to move forward with refurbishment of nuclear generation and to construct new generation where required," McGuinty said. "Over time there will be a reduced percentage of our electricity that's coming from nuclear generation."

A study commissioned by Greenpeace, released yesterday, found Canada's standards for tritium exposure are "lax" compared to the rest of the world, especially in light of new evidence suggesting the material is more dangerous than thought.

Ian Fairlie, a British radiation expert and author of the study, said young children under four and pregnant women are particularly susceptible to tritium, which can become embedded in human cells once it binds with water.

The risk is so high that women who live near a nuclear plant should think twice before having children or should move to another area, he said.

"It's serious," Fairlie said. "It's the water that's radioactive."

People who live within five kilometres of a nuclear power plant are most at risk, Fairlie said, because the concentrations of tritium are highest.

Fairlie's study has since been read by the environment minister and passed along to the province's drinking water advisory council.

While Ontario Power Generation says they hold themselves to a strict standard when it comes to the release of tritium, Shawn_Patrick Stensil of Greenpeace said the findings should prompt the government to reconsider dangers of tritium and the province's reliance on nuclear power.

"There is an urgency around this," said Stensil, adding the province should be directing Ontario Power Generation to reduce its tritium emissions.

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