Amid mounting concerns from his west downtown community, a city councillor is asking controversial uranium plant on Lansdowne Ave. to pack up and move out of his ward.
In a motion that will go before council next week, Councillor Cesar Palacio is requesting that the city work with General Electric-Hitachi on a five-year plan to phase out the production of nuclear fuel pellets at the company's Davenport Village facility.
"The question is, is this the right kind of operation that should be in the middle of people's backyards?" Palacio says. "This use is not compatible with the rest of the community."
But while anti-nuclear campaigners and some nearby residents are worried about a potential health hazard from the site at 1025 Lansdowne, Palacio says those fears are based on "hysteria" and "half-truths." Instead, he sees the facility as an unwelcome leftover from the increasingly gentrified area's industrial heyday.
"What I'm saying is, the dynamics of the community have changed over time, over the last 100 years, from what it used to be as a heavy industrial area," says Palacio. "Look around, what you have is residential."
At recent community meetings, residents have vented their anger at GE-Hitachi officials, as well as Palacio himself, for not alerting them to the operation. NOW first published a story on the plant in October, but before it received media coverage few residents knew that nuclear fuel was being produced in their midst. Palacio says he didn't know about it until he read the media reports, and accuses the company of keeping him out of the loop.
Zach Ruiter, an anti-nuclear activist, went door to door in the neighbourhood last month warning people about the plant, which has been converting uranium powder into nuclear reactor fuel pellets for fifty years. He says that Palacio's five-year phase-out proposal doesn't move nearly fast enough.
"Palacio's motion is the right step in the wrong direction," says Ruiter. "The plant needs to shut down immediately, not in five years... A doctor wouldn't ask a patient to quit smoking in five years, thus any transition plan has to be done with the recognition that if it is unsafe in five years it is unsafe now."
But whether it's five years from now or immediately, getting GE-Hitachi to relocate could be an uphill battle. The site is zoned for industrial uses and the city has little power to force the plant out.
Failing relocation, Palacio wants more oversight of the facility. His motion also asks Toronto Public Health to add uranium to its list of "priority substances" that are monitored through its ChemTRAC program, seeks a further review of the plant's operations by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, and requests the commission to direct GE-Hitachi to "provide full disclosure of its activities" to Toronto Public Health.
GE-Hitachi did not return a request for comment Thursday.
But TPH spokesperson Kris Sheuer says the city health agency is not considering designating uranium a priority substance at this time because it doesn't meet any of the criteria for ChemTRAC monitoring.
Only substances that already exceed healthy levels in Toronto air, contribute to climate change, or have the greatest potential health impact are put on the list, Sheuer wrote in an email.
The CNSC also has few qualms about the plant's safety. When the commission renewed GE-Hitachi's licence for the Lansdowne facility in 2010, it determined the company was implementing "adequate measures against radiation to protect the health and safety of persons and the environment."
Gamma radiation measured at the property's fence line has been found to be "within the range for background radiation," according to the licence review documents, and the plant is inspected twice a year.
"At the present time, there is no need for the commission to further review the operations of GE's Toronto facility," says commission spokesperson Aurèle Gervias. "[We] would not have issued a licence if it were not safe to do so."