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Nobel prize nominee says Port Hope should be moved Durham Region

Northumberland News: Jennifer O'Meara - October 22, 2009

PORT HOPE -- The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) approved a five-year licence for the Port Hope Project on Oct. 16, to clean up historic low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) in the municipality.

"We're very pleased that we were given a five-year licence," said Bob Neufeld, manager of stakeholder relations and communications for Port Hope Area Initiative Management Office.

Atomic Energy of Canada Limited's (AECL) nuclear waste substance license to operate a long-term low-level waste management facility allows AECL to proceed with an ambitious plan to clean up historic waste in Port Hope.

AECL will assume management of the Welcome Waste Management Facility, design and build a new facility and remove the waste currently stored in a number of locations around Port Hope.

The Baulch Road containment mound will hold 1.2 million cubic metres of waste, and an active and passive recreation facility will be built on and around the site.

At the CNSC public hearing in August, Port Hope asked the commission to make public consultation one of the conditions of future approvals for the project and was given CNSC reassurances that municipal involvement would be added as part of the licensing.

"We're very pleased the project is moving forward and this is another step in the process," said Mayor Linda Thompson.

At the hearing, almost 100 people submitted written input on the licensing application and over 40 made presentations to the commission. Most people asked the CNSC to grant the license to move forward the clean up of the town.

Families Against Radiation Exposure (FARE) interim president Louise Barraclough issued a statement saying the group is pleased the CNSC approveda five-year license rather than the 10-year license originally recommended. She said FARE supports the clean-up, but wants more details on exactly how much waste there is, where it is, and how to store it and treat the runoff to prevent leakage into Lake Ontario.

In Peterborough, on Oct. 14, at a Safe And Green Energy nuclear forum, world famous anti-nuclear activist Dr. Helen Caldicott said Port Hope residents are not safe living on top of historic radioactive waste and should move.

"It seems to me the government has taken absolutely no responsibility for the people. The population of 16,000 should be moved and a new town should be formed," Dr. Caldicott told the Northumberland News in a phone interview, on Oct. 20.

A CNSC report released in June, containing over 50 years of health data, found the local nuclear industry poses no threat to the health of residents. The synthesis report compiled local data from toxicological and radiation effects studies, environmental studies and epidemiological studies. The CNSC researchers looked at incidents of lung and bone cancer and kidney disease as plausible health effects of long-term, low-level exposure.

Descriptive ecological studies looking at cancer incidence and mortality rates of Port Hope residents found the rates were comparable with the general population of Ontario and Canada.

"The health of Port Hope residents is no different than other communities," said Mayor Thompson, who said numerous regulatory agencies have guidelines to protect local residents.

Dr. Caldicott called the scientific study inadequate and the federal government should fund "proper studies" on the health of Port Hope citizens.

While residents have been in a dangerous situation for years, things could actually get worse during the Port Hope Project clean up, according to the U.S. based doctor, who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. There is no way to safely remove the historic radiation in Port Hope, Dr. Caldicott said.

"If you clean it up, it's massive levels of dust," she said. "It's a physical impossibility, it's also a danger to workers and residents."

There will be safety measures in place during the clean up, Mr. Neufeld said. There are a number of dust suppressing plans, soil will be moistened, excavation areas will be kept to a minimum and surface treatments will be used on unpaved roads to the new facility. Material being moved will be covered and all trucks will be monitored before they leave the work site. Air quality will also be monitored.

"We believe the steps we've taken, outlined in our environmental assessment report, will be sufficient to deal with dust," said Mr. Neufeld.

The granting of the licence means AECL can begin to develop a detailed design for the new long-term waste management facility, and tender construction contracts. That planning will happen over the next 18 months and the clean-up is expected to begin in 2011.

"We've always said this must be done right, and it takes a little while," said Mr. Neufeld.