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Low-level radioactive waste cleanup project in Port Hope, Ontario

Petition: No. 237

Issue(s): Environmental assessment, governance, natural resources, toxic substances, and waste management

Petitioner(s): Larry Hall

Date Received: 4 January 2008

Status: Completed

Summary: This petition relates to the Port Hope Area Initiative, a $260-million project agreed on by the Government of Canada and the municipalities of Port Hope and Clarington, for undertaking a cleanup of low-level radioactive waste in the area. According to the petitioner, the project is running behind schedule and he is worried that continuing delays could be costly for the municipalities and area residents. The petitioner seeks answers from the federal government about why it is taking so long, how much money has been spent, and what is being done on this issue.

Federal Departments Responsible for Reply: Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada

Petition

LARRY HALL
30 Crossley Dr.,
PORT HOPE, Ont.  L1A 3T4 - Telephone (905) 885-2315

January 3 - 2008

Ms. Sheila Fraser
Audotor General
240 Spark St., Ottawa, Ont.
K1A 0G6

ATTENTION - Environmental petitions process

Re: The Low Level Radioactive waste cleanup project (Port Hope area initiative)

The Government of Canada some years ago entered into an agreement with the Municipalities of Port Hope and Clarington to undertake a 280 million dollar project to safely and permanently store up to 3.5 million cubic meters of historic low level radioactive waste. This contaminated material originated from a radium/uranium refining operation that began in Port Hope in 1932.

Initially this waste from the refining process was scattered throughout urban Port Hope. In the 1950's the processor, the crown corporation Eldorado Ltd., began using two disposal sites at the nearby communities of Welcome and Port Granby where they merely dumped truckloads on the ground.

The national press first gave widespread publicity to this environmental situation in the mid 1970's when an elementary school was closed because of  the discovery of elevated levels of radon gas (originating from radium) in a gymnasium. This in turn triggered fears on the part of potential home buyers and anyone planning to establish new industry. Port Hope therefore saw much less development than has ocurred in similar towns within commuting distance of Toronto. This lack of expansion has resulted in property taxes rising much more quickly than in similar communities.

Even though the agreement with the Federal Government to fund and carry out a cleanup and disposal of the contaminated material has been in effect for several years, the project, called the Port Hope area initiative, has accomplished little of a substantative nature but it appears close to 100 million of the 230 million dollar budget may already have been spent.

QUESTION ONE - Can you tell me how much of the original budget of 280 million remains and is this enough money to complete the cleanup, storage and onging maintenance of the proposed two consolidated sites?

An evaluation of the work of the Port Hope area Initiative completed by Natural Resources Canada in June 2007 concluded the work was up to three years behind. A new inclusive property survey and licensing of the project by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission was supposed to be completed by 2006 but now this work is not expected to be finished until 2009 at the earliest.

QUESTION TWO - Bearing in mind continuing delays are very costly to the municipalities and area residents as well as being very detrimental to job creation - are there any plans being made to speed this project up?

The International Joint Commission On Water Quality In The Great Lakes has listed Port Hope harbour as one of 43 seriously contaminated sites. It contains some 65 thousand cubic meters of material contaminated by the adjacent uranium processing plant now owned and operated by Cameco Corporation.

QUESTION THREE - Has the International Join Commission questioned why this cleanup process as been so seriously delayed?

QUESTION FOUR - Has the Federal Government's ministry in charge of this project evaluated the staff performance with the intent of improving the level of expertise and introducing an element of urgency, the idea that this job must proceed more quickly?

Government spokespersons have promised these communities that the cleanup would be as thorough as possible bringing the radiation and chemical contamination levels as close to an average for this part of Ontario as feasible. However the head of the Port Hope Area Initiative Glen Case was quoted early in 2007 as saying 3.5 million cubic meters of contaminated material may be involved. Late the same year he was reported to have revised this estimate down to 1.5 million cubic meters.

QUESTION FIVE - How did Mr. Case arrive at this lower figure? Is this the result of new surveys of known contaminated areas or is it a matter of Mr. Case adjusting the amount of material to be cleaned up to the money left in the budget?

In conclusion it appears this project may be both seriously behind schedule and experiencing severe cost overruns.

QUESTION SIX - has any consideration been given to reopening the original 2001 agreement with the purpose of revising the compensation that has been promised to the municipalities upward because of the years of delay and the resulting stagnant local economy and high taxes?

This petition does not take into account all of the local residents concerns. There is a major issue with possible health effects.

Yours Truly

[Original signed by Larry Hall]

LARRY HALL

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Minister's Response: Environment Canada

11 April 2008

Mr. Larry Hall
30 Crossley Drive
Port Hope, Ontario
L1A 3T4

Dear Mr Hall:

I am pleased to respond to your Environmental Petition No. 237, pursuant to section 22 of the Auditor General Act, concerning the low-level radioactive waste clean-up project in Port Hope. Your petition was received by Environment Canada on January 18.

In June 2001, Natural Resources Canada established the Port Hope Area Initiative to develop and implement long-term solutions for the management of low-level radioactive waste in Port Hope, and chose the Low‑Level Radioactive Waste Management Office of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited as the proponent for the project. Natural Resources Canada has the lead role for the implementation of the project; however, there are several regulatory requirements for the protection of health, safety and environment to which the project must comply. The project is subject to regulatory licensing requirements of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, and environmental assessment in accordance with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

Although Environment Canada does not have a direct role in the implementation of the project, our regulatory mandate includes the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999; Migratory Birds Convention Act; Species at Risk Act; and subsection 36(3) of the Fisheries Act. It is within the context of our mandate and related policies and expertise that Environment Canada—as a Federal Authority (not as a Responsible Authority)—provides comments and advice on the environmental assessment, in accordance with subsection 12(3) of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

Natural Resources Canada is the lead Responsible Authority for this project. Responsible Authorities determine how the environmental assessment will be conducted, including what level of assessment is required.

I understand that the Minister of Natural Resources will be responding separately to issues that fall under his mandate.

I appreciate this opportunity to respond to your petition, and I trust that you will find this information helpful.

Sincerely,

[Original signed by John Baird, Minister of the Environment]

John Baird, P.C., M.P.

c.c.:  The Honourable Gary Lunn, P.C., M.P.
Mr. Scott Vaughan, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

 

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Minister's Response: Natural Resources Canada

13 May 2008

Mr. Larry Hall
30 Crossley Drive
Port Hope, Ontario
L1A 3T4

Dear Mr. Hall:

I am pleased to provide Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan) response to your Environmental Petition No. 237 on the subject of the Low Level Radioactive Waste Cleanup Project (Port Hope Area Initiative), submitted to the Interim Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development on January 4, 2008. The petition was received at NRCan on January 21, 2008.

Your questions relate to the operations of NRCan, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), and the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Office (LLRWMO). Consequently, my staff at NRCan has worked cooperatively with staff at the CNSC and LLRWMO in the development of my response.

NRCan is the Department responsible for developing and implementing Canadian government policy on radioactive waste management. The LLRWMO was established in 1982 to carry out the responsibilities of the federal government for the management of low-level radioactive waste in Canada. The LLRWMO is operated by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited through a cost recovery agreement with NRCan.

The CNSC is responsible for regulating the development and use of nuclear energy and nuclear substances in order to protect Canadians and their environment from the risks associated with nuclear facilities and nuclear substances. It is an independent, quasi-judicial administrative tribunal. As set out in the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, the CNSC reports to Parliament through the Minister of Natural Resources.

I understand that my colleague the Honourable John Baird, Minister of the Environment, will be responding separately to questions that fall under his mandate.

I trust that you will find the information provided by these responses useful.

Yours sincerely,

[Original signed by Gary Lunn, Minister of Natural Resources]

The Honourable Gary Lunn, P.C., M.P.

Enclosure (1)

c.c.: Mr. Ronald C. Thompson
Interim Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

The Honourable John Baird, P.C., M.P.
Minister of the Environment


RESPONSE TO PETITION NO. 237
Questions directed to the Minister of Natural Resources

Low Level Radioactive Waste Cleanup Project (Port Hope Area Initiative)

Petitioner: Larry Hall

  1. Can you tell me how much of the original budget of $280 million remains and is this enough money to complete the cleanup, storage and ongoing maintenance of the proposed two consolidated sites?

The Port Hope Area Initiative (PHAI) addresses the cleanup and long-term management of historic waste in both the Municipality of Port Hope (Port Hope Project) and in the Municipality of Clarington (Port Granby Project). The funding for the PHAI was established in 2001 based on cost estimates for 1999 municipal concepts. These concepts became the projects described in the Legal Agreement negotiated between the Government of Canada and the then municipalities of Hope Township, Port Hope, and Clarington. Government of Canada funding of $260 million was budgeted and allocated as follows: $50 million for the completion of Phase 1—the environmental assessment (EA) and regulatory review phase; $170 million for the completion of Phase 2—the implementation phase; $10 million for long-term maintenance and monitoring; and, $30 million that was paid to the municipalities in 2001 as host community grants. As of March 31, 2008, proponent expenditures under the PHAI had amounted to $74 million, which includes the $30 million of community grants paid in 2001.

Prior to Phase 2 of the Port Hope and Port Granby projects, costing studies will be carried out to determine whether the original budget estimate for Phase 2 and Phase 3 of $180 million remains adequate. The new costing studies will address, among other things, commitments in the Legal Agreement, the evolution of the proposed projects from the time of the Legal Agreement, the greater understanding of the costs that would be associated with implementation, the environmental assessment and licensing requirements, and the past versus current value of money.

  1. Bearing in mind continuing delays are very costly to the municipalities and area residents as well as being very detrimental to job creation – are there any plans being made to speed this project up?

The responsible authorities, the local municipalities and the LLRWMO are all working together to advance this project as efficiently and quickly as possible, while not compromising the rigour of the EA and licensing processes.

  1. Has the International Joint Commission questioned why this cleanup process has been so seriously delayed?

NRCan, the CNSC and the LLRWMO are not aware of the IJC having expressed concerns of that nature.

  1. Has the Federal Government’s ministry in charge of this project evaluated the staff performance with the intent of improving the level of expertise and introducing an element of urgency, the idea that this job must proceed more quickly?

An evaluation of Phase 1 of the PHAI was carried out in 2007 and is available at www.nrcan.gc.ca/dmo/aeb/aeb-rpts-2007-EV0703-e.htm. The report concludes that:

  • Phase 1 has been conducted in a cost-effective manner.
  • The LLRWMO has been adequately staffed, although sometimes strained due to high workload.
  • Apparent delays in the schedule were unavoidable and are attributable to the participatory nature of the planning process, as required by the Legal Agreement, and the complexity of the environmental assessments.
  • The PHAI compares favourably to similar projects in other countries, and the international community continues to follow progress on the PHAI with interest.
  • The LLRWMO is held in high regard by international officials familiar with other radioactive waste management projects.

In preparation for Phase 2, the report recommends that:

  1. NRCan and the LLRWMO produce up-to-date cost estimates for Phase 2;
  2. NRCan determine the model for project management, contracting and involvement of the LLRWMO for Phase 2;
  3. A transition period of 18-24 months be used to prepare for Phase 2; and
  4. The roles and responsibilities of NRCan, the LLRWMO and other government departments be clearly defined through detailed formal agreements addressing the various issues identified in the evaluation report.

In keeping with NRCan’s ongoing commitments to the PHAI, and to its continued delivery in a high-quality, cost-effective manner, it is taking action on all of the above recommendations.

  1. How did Mr. Case arrive at this lower figure (1.5 million m3 from 3.5 million m3) Is this the result of new surveys of known contaminated areas or is it a matter of Mr. Case adjusting the amount of material to be cleaned up to the money left in the budget?  

The estimated volume of historic LLRW that will be remediated through the PHAI has not changed. The LLRWMO discussed the implications of cleanup criteria with the public in 2005. High, realistic and low volumes were presented to explain the implications on the community of various scenarios for the cleanup and construction of the aboveground mound. The 3.5 million m3 figure was the high figure, the estimated volume if the cleanup was to background at depth. Through scientific and public consultation it was determined that a cleanup of approximately 1.3 million m3 would meet the clean-up criteria objectives of protecting human and ecological health for all foreseeable future uses of properties in Port Hope.

  1. Has any consideration been given to reopening the original 2001 agreement with the purpose of revising the compensation that has been promised to the municipalities upward because of the years of delay and the resulting stagnant local economy and high taxes?

The Municipalities were each provided with a host community grant of $10 million to enable them to address, as they see fit, the impacts of the presence of LTWMFs within their communities. This grant is held in trust until Canada receives a license from the nuclear regulator that allows the facility construction to begin. The Municipalities may use the interest from those moneys as they wish, but must return the fee in the event that the license is not received and the contaminated soil is removed from the community.

The Municipalities meet regularly with the LLRWMO, representing Canada, as part of the Agreement Monitoring Group, to discuss matters relating to the Legal Agreement.