Zach Ruiter on Toronto’s nuclear problem

It was the best-kept secret for the longest time, but a series of protests and meetings over the last year have finally brought GE-Hitachi’s uranium processing plant at Lansdowne and Dupont out into the open.

Now the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) has decided to hold a public meeting December 10 and 11 at the Holiday Inn Yorkdale to review the operation, which processes uranium powder into the nuclear fuel pellets used in CANDU reactors.

The purpose of the meeting, according to the CNSC, “is not to reopen the licensing process or to discuss reasons for renewing the GE-Hitachi licence in 2010, but to update the commission with information on the safety and compliance of the facilities’ current operations and provide an opportunity for interested persons in the community to be heard.”

So at long last, locals will be able to get the details on a facility continuously trucking uranium in and out on residential streets.

The commission has asked deputants to speak only about the plant, and not about environmental, political or ethical concerns regarding the rest of the nuclear fuel cycle – a limitation that will likely be difficult for many.

There’s a lot of transparency to be accomplished. A September 2013 Ministry of the Environment report on the uranium content of soil in the adjacent neighbourhood concludes that all readings except two were lower than Ontario uranium background levels of 2.5 parts per million, and all met the residential guideline of 23 parts per million.

But a CNSC report in October found clear contamination: samples above background levels, ranging from 4.7 to 21.2 ppm – very close to the residential limit though well under the much higher commercial soil guideline of 33 ppm.

It’s disturbing to realize that, as a CNSC spokesperson explains, “any uranium contamination in soil (above natural background levels) occurs through air emissions.”

The release limits set by CNSC are notoriously liberal GE-Hitachi’s licence allows for the annual release of a maximum of 760 grams of uranium wastes into the air and 9,000 kilos into the sewer system. GE-Hitachi claims to release only a fraction of these amounts, which gives the public the impression that their release in a densely populated city is acceptable.

GE-Hitachi CEO Peter Mason says the doses received by the public result in “practically zero health impacts.” But with differing test results and little citizen participation, how can the public judge if the information is reliable?

The precautionary principle tells us we have a safety case against GE-Hitachi, but the only real mechanism for shutting it down is sheer public opposition. Going door to door in the community, it’s easy to put a smile on people’s faces when we tell them, “You can have your Erin Brockovich moment, too!”

How can you take action? Send a letter to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission ( before the November 15 deadline indicating that you wish to make a presentation at the December meeting. It’s up to all of us to keep our communities clean.

Zach Ruiter is a documentary filmmaker and organizer with Idle No More and Marineland Animal Defense.

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