Port Hope radioactive pollutants may be seeping into Lake Ontario - Uranium Producer Warns of Lake Ontario Pollution

New York Times: IAN AUSTEN - May 22, 2008

OTTAWA - Cameco, the world's largest uranium producer, has told the Canadian nuclear regulator that its refinery might have leaked uranium, arsenic and fluorides into Lake Ontario.

The plant at Port Hope, Ontario, across the lake from Rochester and down the shore from Toronto, first refined uranium for the Manhattan Project during World War II. It has been temporarily closed since July to remove contaminated soil.

A spokesman for Cameco, Lyle Krahn, said Wednesday that a computer model created for the cleanup, which is several months behind schedule, indicated that the radioactive and toxic materials have been polluting a harbor adjacent to the factory. The harbor leads directly to the lake.

The company notified the regulatory agency, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, about the finding at a meeting last week and now plans drilling tests to confirm the contamination and to measure its extent.

"We're anticipating that material may have been entering the harbor," Mr. Krahn said, adding that Cameco did not know how long it would take to confirm any possible pollution.

A spokesman for the agency, Aurèle Gervais, said: "The Port Hope UF6 plant matter has been ongoing for some time and the harbor issue is a recent development," using the chemical formula for uranium hexafluoride.

In a background paper prepared for the agency's commissioners last week, its staff concluded that the potential remained for continued water pollution from the plant.

Cameco in general and the aging Port Hope refinery, which transforms mined uranium into forms suitable for electrical power reactors, have long been targets of environmental groups and the regulatory agency.

After a flood last year closed one of the company's mines, which produces about 10 percent of the world's uranium, Linda J. Keen, then the head of the regulatory agency, said her commissioners and staff had a "lack of confidence" in Cameco and its management.

Gordon Edwards, the president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, an environmental group in Montreal, said that contamination of the lake had been assumed, given the plant's age, history and location.

"There's a long history of contamination at Port Hope," he said. "The whole siting of this refinery is absurd. It's right in the center of town, it's on flood plain and right on the lakefront."

The plant was opened in the 1930s by Eldorado Mining and Refining to process radium and has undergone several cleanups.

The most recent effort began in July when a construction project at the factory uncovered soil contamination that led to the plant's closing. At the time, the company said that the shutdown and cleanup would take about two months. Mr. Krahn said the 18 million-Canadian-dollar project, which involves removing soil under the plant and constructing a leakproof floor, will be finished by the third quarter.

If drilling confirms lake pollution, Mr. Krahn said that Cameco did not expect that would delay the plant's reopening.

The plant in question is a UF6 plant, converting natural uranium trioxide into uranium hexafluoride (UF6) for enrichment in some other country (Canada has no enrichment facilities). UF6 is a radioactive substance which is chemically reactive with both water and air; it gives off neutron radiation as well as alpha radiation. -- GE

Cameco pollutants may be seeping into Lake Ontario

Reuters: Cameron French - May 21, 2008

TORONTO - Contaminants such as arsenic and uranium that shut down Cameco Corp's (CCO.TO: Quote, Profile, Research) Port Hope, Ontario, nuclear conversion facility last year may be seeping into nearby Lake Ontario, the company said on Wednesday, suggesting the scope of the cleanup could be larger than previously expected.

The plant's operations were suspended last July after contaminants were found in nearby soil.

"Based on the data points we have, and the modeling that we do, it does appear that some contaminants are reaching the water," company spokesman Doug Prendergast told Reuters.

The company said the data was taken from studies of wells dug on the property in recent weeks, but that recent samples of lake water have not suggested any noticeable change.

The discovery of the contaminated soil last year was one of a series of setbacks for Cameco, the world's top uranium producer. The company has also faced delays in overhauling its flooded Cigar Lake mine, and dealt with a water inflow at its Rabbit Lake mine.

Shares of the company fell about 3 percent on news of the possible spread of the contamination.

At mid-afternoon, the stock was down C$2.02 at C$41.82 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

The company had hoped to reopen the Port Hope facility in the third quarter, and Prendergast said as yet there was no change to that plan.

"We don't believe that this produces any kind of timetable delay at this point," he said, adding "It clearly is a new wrinkle. It's a further complication."

($1=$0.98 Canadian) (Reporting by Cameron French; editing by Renato Andrade)


UF6 leak reaches harbour, CNSC told - Water being tested and not showing contamination, Cameco officials say

Cobourg - Port Hope - Northumberland: Jennifer O'Meara - May 15, 2008

The contamination could have been going on for 10 to 20 years... it's been on your watch." Dr. Christopher Barnes

PORT HOPE - The leak from Cameco's uranium hexafluoride (UF6) plant has reached the harbour, federal nuclear regulators were told on May 14, in Ajax.

"If this has been going on for decades it could have been contaminating the harbour and who knows what else," said Dr. Christopher Barnes, a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) tribunal member.

Cameco officials replied that while the underground leak has reached the harbour, the company has been closely testing the water of Lake Ontario for years and found no change.

"We have to say there are trace quantities of contamination reaching the harbour but it's not enough to be a risk," said Cameco Vice-President Andy Oliver.

The CNSC tribunal heard there are actually two plumes of contaminated groundwater coming from the UF6 plant - one heading east and another heading south and then turning east. The plume that edges along the harbour contains arsenic as well as uranium.

"The contamination could have been going on for 10 to 20 years," said Dr. Barnes. "It's been since Cameco took over the plant. In other words it's been on your watch."

Cameco has installed 170 wells to track the groundwater contamination. The company installed seven monitoring wells along the harbour in 2007 and 22 new monitoring wells should be put in at the harbour before the end of the month. The spacing between the wells is planned so there is very little chance of subsurface contamination not being detected.

"One of the things we've learned is these plumes can follow a fairly narrow path," said Kirk Vetor, manager of the Port Hope conversion facility.

The company removed the top two feet, almost 1,000 cubic metres, of soil underneath the UF6 plant, to lessen the contamination, the tribunal was told. The soil is being stored on site until it can be sent to an industrial waste management facility in the U.S. A new concrete floor with a chemically-resistant coating has been put in.

The CNSC tribunal had questions about whether taking two feet of soil had removed all the contamination from under the UF6 plant.

"We did not go below the two feet, even though there is contamination below that, because it starts to threaten the stability of the building," said Mr. Oliver.

Cameco has a plan to keep the contamination from the UF6 plant from spreading. Contaminated groundwater will be collected and treated by evaporation. There are currently five collection wells working, one east of the plant and four to the south. The company plans to install one more collection well and increase the evaporator capacity. A permanent collection system will connect the wells by pipes to the evaporators and should be running by the end of July.

"When we have those all operational that plume will be essentially stopped," Mr. Oliver said.

The evaporation treatment will not work well at the harbour so Cameco is investigating passive treatment options.

"It's probably not the best option, we'd effectively be treating lake water," said Mr. Vetor.

The CNSC tribunal asked about whether the ground underneath Cameco's UO2 plant had been checked for contamination.

"If the UO2 plant is built on rock and rubble the ability for contamination to travel will be very different," said Dr. Barnes.

Cameco officials said the company is planning a soil and groundwater study for the rest of the plant that will look at hydro-geological conditions.

"We want to learn from the UF6 plant and apply that to the UO2 plant," Mr. Oliver said.

Production at the UF6 plant has been shut down since July 2007. The clean up work has been done by Cameco's 440 employees and over 200 contractors have been brought in to help with the leak. Mr. Oliver told the CNSC he was hopeful Cameco employees would be back to their regular work and the UF6 plant would be up and running by the end of September.

"Of this year?" asked Michael Binder, president of the CNSC tribunal.

Despite a massive amount of work ahead Cameco officials are hoping for business as usual by the end of the third quarter.

"I can assure the members that Cameco is taking the necessary steps to correct the environment that lead to the incident," said Tim Gitzel, Cameco's chief operating officer.

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