December 16, 1999
Port Hope’s Environmental Advisory Committee and Community Health Concerns Committee will make renewed submissions to the Atomic Energy Control Board in Ottawa today at the board’s second meeting to consider relicensing of Cameco’s Port Hope uranium conversion plant. Representatives of the Community Health Concerns Committee also met Health Minister Allan Rock yesterday to discuss a proposed health study of Port Hope residents.
The groups will be joined at the AECB hearings by Norman Rubin of Energy Probe and public health physician Dr. Trevor Hancock.
Cameco’s two-year operating license expires on December 31. The company has requested a five-year renewal. The two local citizens’ committees have asked that the license renewal be deferred pending completion of “comprehen-sive and independent environmental, health, social and economic studies.” The environmental committee has added several points to its October brief to the AECB, noting evidence of uranium accumulation in the soil at the marina, and commenting on levels of possible radiation exposure for workers at Cameco, the relevant varieties of fish monitored for radionuclides in the Ganaraska River, and the AECB’s proposed new and reduced public dose limits for radioactive exposure.
In its new brief, the Community Health Concerns Committee repeats its previous request that the AECB should fully finance an independent scientific study of the long-term health effects of pollution from the Eldorado/Cameco refinery on the residents of Port Hope. Such a study is estimated to cost about $250,000. The study was designed by Dr. Hancock, who comments today to the AECB that “It is clear that the citizens of Port Hope have been subjected to unusual and prolonged exposure to radioactive contamination for the past 50 or 60 years…. and what still strikes me as extraordinary, if not downright negligent, is that in all the years that this has been going on nobody has ever conducted any sort of survey of the residents and nobody has ever been tested for anything! If a clinician were to fail to examine a patient in this way, they would be in serious trouble with their licensing authority.”
Hancock’s study is intended “to gain some understanding of whether there was current or past exposure.” He describes the AECB as “an unpleasant, adversarial client,” and suggests either that it has “no understanding of social science or the community or the process of community-based research,” or that “the AECB simply does not want to know what has gone on in this community.”
A prominent health care consult specializing in the planning of healthy communities, Hancock is chair of the board of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. In his brief to the AECB, Norman Rubin, the Director of Nuclear Research and Senior Policy Analyst for Energy Probe, raises basic technical questions about the AECB’s prescribed safety levels for radiation exposure. He suggests that currently licensed radiation dose limits are unacceptable.
Rubin notes that the International Commission on Radiological Protection lowered its maximum dose limits for cancer-causing radiation by a factor of five in 1990, while the AECB still retains its “obsolete” regulatory limits.
“In other words,” he says, “we now estimate that the AECB-licensed operation of Cameco is today causing greater health risks in Port Hope than the estimates that were given to the public and civic officials in the past by both the licensee and the regulator…. The people of Port Hope are exposed to health risks from Cameco’s activities that would not be tolerated by other regulators, or if they came from non-radioactive substances.” Nor would the risks be tolerated by the AECB “if they came from a nuclear generating station,” where allowable risk levels are significantly lower than those applied in Port Hope. Rubin concludes that the AECB “must ensure that these risks in Port Hope are reduced to levels that AECB Board members might accept for their own families.”
The Atomic Energy Control Board is expected to announce its decision on Cameco’s relicensing application shortly after the hearing.
Cameco requests five-year renewal
Cameco says its Port Hope plant continues to operate in a safe and environmentally responsible manner, and wants the AECB to renew its license to process uranium for another five years. In a brief to the board, the company notes that it “maintains a good relationship with the Town of Port Hope,” and has made what it calls “significant improvements” over the years to improve its safety and disposal of potentially harmful wastes.