March 26, 2007

Port Hope low-level radwaste project moves forward to licensing stage

Nearly six years to the day after the federal government signed a legal agreement with former municipalities of Port Hope, Hope Township and Clarington for the long-term management of historic low-level radioactive wastes, the Port Hope project is about to move forward to the licensing stage.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commision (CNSC) has concluded that the Port Hope long-term low-level radioactive waste management project is unlikely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, provided mitigation measures outlined in the screening environmental assessment (EA) for the project are implemented. The Commission has also decided not to refer the project to the federal Environment Minister for referral to a review panel or mediator.

The project, proposed by the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Office (LLRMWO), a division within Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), would clean up historic wastes and contaminated soil in the municipality of Port Hope. In addition, it would involve the construction of a facility to manage the wastes over the long term. The wastes were generated by Eldorado Nuclear, a former Crown corporation, at its Port Hope refinery beginning in the early 1930s.

An agreement signed March 29, 2001 between the federal government and the former municipalities of Port Hope, Hope Township and Clarington is designed to provide a long-term solution to the contamination problem. The ten-year, $260-million initiative includes both the Port Hope project and the Port Granby project, a proposal for the long-term management of wastes currently being stored in a radioactive waste management facility in the municipality of Clarington.

The LLRWMO, acting as an agent of the government, manages the projects. Natural Resources Canada is the lead responsible authority for the EAs, with the CNSC and Fisheries and Oceans Canada serving as joint responsible authorities. The EAs, together with the regulatory review and licensing activities, make up the first phase of the Port Hope and Port Granby projects. The second phase will be the implementation: cleanup of the wastes, development of the new management facilities and transfer of the wastes to the new facilities.

The Port Hope EA included broad consultation with the community as well as with technical experts from the provincial and federal governments at each stage. The Port Granby project EA is still in progress.

The LLRWMO can now apply for the required regulatory approvals that will enable the Port Hope proposal to proceed. The Commission will consider, under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, a licence application from the LLRWMO.

A record of proceedings from the January 24, 2007 hearing, including reasons for decision, may be viewed on the CNSC Web site, www.nuclearsafety.gc.ca. More information is also available on the Natural Resources Canada Web site, www2.nrcan.gc.ca.

In another EA decision, the CNSC has concluded that AECL's proposal to decommission the fuel storage bays at the Chalk River Laboratories is unlikely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, provided mitigation measures outlined in the screening environmental assessment (EA) for the project are implemented. The Commission has also decided not to refer the project to the federal Minister of the Environment for referral to a review panel or mediator.

The decommissioning project involves the demolition of buildings and remediation of the site where the bays are located. The screening EA prepared by AECL as the proponent, in accordance with the requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, served as the basis for the CNSC's decision. The Commission held a hearing on the proposal last October and issued its decision March 14. It will now proceed with its consideration of an application by AECL for a licence amendment under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act which will enable the company to carry out the proposed project.

Finally, the CNSC, having reviewed a screening EA for Cameco's proposed modification to the operation of the Blind River Refinery, has handed down the same conclusion and decision. The decision follows from a hearing held last December.

Cameco is proposing to upgrade the existing incinerator at the Blind River refinery to burn radioactively contaminated, combustible by-products generated from the company's Blind River and Port Hope facilities. Cameco also proposes to install an oil injection system to allow for the incineration of contaminated uranium-bearing waste oil.

An application by Cameco for a licence amendment under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act allowing the project to proceed will shortly be considered by the Commission.

Records of proceedings, including reasons for decisions on both the AECL and Cameco proposals will be published within the next two weeks. More information on these two projects is also available on the CNSC Web site noted above.

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