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'Uranium wasteland'; Port Hope to process Saddam uranium, but some residents fear contamination

The Toronto Sun: BRYN WEESE - Tuesday, July 8, 2008

PORT HOPE:

Residents of this charmingly historic community 80 km east of Toronto don't seem to care very much that they're closing the book on Saddam Hussein's nuclear program.

The old debate -- whether to refine uranium in Port Hope -- rages on.

"I'm thinking about moving away to Brighton or Cobourg," said area resident Doug Ferguson, who moved to Port Hope just a year ago from Newfoundland. "All the contamination could cause cancer."

He said the contaminated soil under Port Hope should have been cleaned up first before any new potentially hazardous product was brought in.

DEAL WORTH MILLIONS:

Cameco, the Saskatchewan-based company that bought 550 tonnes of "yellowcake" -- or concentrated natural uranium -- from Iraq in a top-secret deal orchestrated by the U.S. for reportedly tens of millions, is spending around $20 million cleaning up low-level contaminated soil.

The company is spending $20 million in plant upgrades -- expected to be completed in the fall.

But that may not be enough for long-time resident Tom Gifford. "Canada is becoming the uranium wasteland of the world," he said.

Cameco was also one of three companies back in the late 1990s chosen to process 90 million kilos of weapons-grade uranium salvaged from Soviet nuclear missiles.

"Uranium is devil's gold because it can't be neutralized. If somebody finds out how to neutralize it, then we're cooking. We can shut down all the fossil fuel plants," Gifford said.

Another bone of contention for Gifford, as it is for others in the area, is that this current shipment, as with others, was done in secret.

NOT CONSULTED:

"No one ever consulted us," Gifford said. "But that seems to be the way they do business."

But Chris Sexsmith, who has lived in Port Hope all his 39 years, said the plant is a benefit to the community, as long as it's operated safely.

His grandfather worked at the plant when, as a Crown corporation, it refined the uranium for the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan to end World War II.

"I've never really had a problem with the plant, and we need the jobs," he said. "There may be problems with how the plant was operated in the past, but things have changed and the company has spent a lot of money cleaning things up."

The Iraqi uranium arrived in Montreal this past weekend after being airlifted out of Baghdad over two weeks. It will be trucked to Ontario by the fall.

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