Canada Port Hope Radioactive Repository
By: Gordon Edwards
Background: October 18 2017
Before the discovery of nuclear fission in 1939, Port Hope was the home of a radium refinery. Radium is a radioactive heavy metal, a natural byproduct of uranium, that sold for $70,000 per gram in 1931 when the refinery was built. The radioactive ore came from Port Radium, a mine site located on the eastern shore of Great Bear Lake, in the traditional territory of the nomadic Sahtu-Dene people. Large volumes of radioactive waste were left over from the radium refining operation, and much of this waste was dumped into the Port Hope Harbor and into several deep ravines within the town’s boundaries, freely accessible to children and animals.
The Port Radium mine and the Port Hope refinery were shut down in 1940 following the outbreak of World War II, as the demand for radium dried up. But the WWII Atomic Bomb Project needed uranium – the only naturally-occurring material that can be used as a nucear explosive. Port Hope suddenly became a strategically important town, for where there is radium, there is also uranium. Port Hope supplied the first uranium for the A-Bomb project, and refined rich uranium concentrates from the Comgo as well for the same purpose. After the war, Canada’s uranium industry boomed, and for the next 20 years (until 1965) all of Canada’s uranium was sold to the US military, who used it to build tens of thousands of nuclear warheads during the Cold War era.
Meanwhile, large amounts of loose radioactive waste material was used in construction of schools, homes, and roadways all over Port Hope. Because this material spontaneously generates radon gas when it undergoes radioactive disintegration, there were serious health concerns in the town. In 1975 a scandal broke out in the media as it was revealed that hundreds of homes were too radioactive to live in and radioactive effluent was escaping from the Port Hope waste dumps. In the 1980s the Canadian Government established a federal agency called the Siting Task Force to locate a “willing host community” somewhere in Ontario where the Port Hope radioactive wastes (about one million cubic metres) could be buried in a geologically suitable location. The communities expressing an interest were provided with funds to educate themselves in any way they saw fit about the nature and the risks of the Port Hope wastes. In the final analysis, despite years of effort, the Siting Task Force came up empty-handed. There was no community willing to host the Port Hope wastes.
As a fallback position, having failed to find a suitable disposal site, the folks in charge have moved to Plan B. Port Hope wastes are now being collected, packaged, and stored in a gigantic above-ground mound about seven stories high in a marshy wetlands area just north of the town, where water is being continually pumped through underground pipes into Lake Ontario to prevent the wetland area from overflowing. On this dubious site, the radioactive mound will sit with plastic liners but without any rigid containment to prevent erosion, leaching or collapse under the influence of centuries of extreme weather conditions. A similar mound of radioactive waste is being built in the neighbouring community of Port Granby to house a similar quantity of radioactive refuse that had been trucked to that community and dumped on an eroding bluff overlooking Lake Ontario for many decades.
The Port Hope cleanup, currently estimated to cost $1.2 billion (1200 million dollars), is the most expensive environmental cleanup of a municipality in Canadian history. And of course, the project could well run over-budget.
The two waste mounds are designed to last for about 300 years, provided the scientific Hail Mary’s that are muttered succeed in working their magic to prevent those scientific predictions from turning sour, as has happened so many times before in cases of radioactive waste storage. But 300 years is not much time; the wastes will remain dangerous for at least 100,000 years.
These radioactive mounds at Port Hope are now being used as a model to build a similarly conceived mound of radioactive wastes at Chalk River, Ontario, just opne kilometre from the Ottawa River. The Ottawa River flows down through the nation’s capital city, Ottawa, and on down to Montreal where it joins the mighty St. Lawrence River. But the radioactive materials involved are quite different, including dozens of fission products such as caesium-137 and strontium-90 with their 30-year half-lives, iodine-129 with a 16 million year half-life, carbon-14 with a 6000 year half-life, plutonium-239 with its 24,000 year half-life, and hundreds of other human-made radioactive waste byproducts. None of these latter materials exist in the Port Hope or Port Granby wastes, when only naturally-occurring radioactive materials are involved. And, of course, one must remember that the Port Hope and Port Granby mounds are not state-of the art facilities, but the result of a dismal failure — an aborted mission to find a more suitable site and utilize a more elaborate, more robust, more secure waste storage technology.
Public session on Port Hope
cleanup planned for Thursday
By Valerie MacDonald, Northumberland Today, October 16, 2017
PORT HOPE — People can find out the status of the multi-million dollar clean up Low Level Radioactive Waste (LLRW) in Port Hope at a public information session this Thursday, Oct. 19.
They can also learn about associated job opportunities.
Clean up of the existing LLRW on the site of the Port Hope engineered, “above-ground mound” that will be the long-term repository of the waste located throughout the community, began last year.
“The first cell of the engineered aboveground mound will be completed this fall. Construction of the three remaining cells will begin next year. Operation of the long-term waste management facility during receipt and placement of waste is scheduled to take place between 2018 and 2023,” spokesperson Bill Daly stated in an e-mail interview.
Every property in Port Hope is undergoing radiological testing and a separate investigation of road allowances is underway so that once verified, the waste can be moved.
“We anticipate that the majority of the road allowance investigation work will be complete by next spring,” Daly stated. “Some further investigations may be required later on depending on results of the investigations
“…The clean up of sites from within the Municipality of Port Hope will begin in spring 2018. All of the historic low-level radioactive waste from sites within the community will be transported to the engineered mound for long-term safe storage.”
It is expected about 1.2-million cubic metres of this historic radioactive waste will be moved dating back to when the Federal Government owned the forerunner of Cameco in Port Hope, at that time called Eldorado which was involved in the Manhattan Project which produced the first nuclear weapon during WWII.
“Engineering staff will be on hand to discuss the ongoing construction of the engineered above-ground storage mound, and environmental technicians will give dust and noise monitoring demonstrations,” Daly said. “The information session will also feature information about Canadian Nuclear Laboratories job opportunities and a model of the long-term waste management facility and aboveground engineered mound.”
The information session take place Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Port Hope Lions Centre at 29 Thomas St., Port Hope.