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NRCan Backgrounder

2000/78 (a)

Roughly 1 million cubic metres of low-level radioactive wastes are located in the three Ontario communities of Clarington, Hope Township and the Town of Port Hope. They were produced by the former federal Crown Corporation Eldorado Nuclear Limited at its Port Hope refinery beginning in the 1930s. They were disposed of initially at various sites in the Town of Port Hope, then in the Welcome waste disposal facility in Hope Township, and subsequently, the Port Granby facility in the Municipality of Clarington. The Welcome and Port Granby waste management facilities are licensed by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), and are owned and operated by Cameco Corporation.

While the wastes are being managed safely in their current locations, the present situation is not considered appropriate for the long term by the CNSC, the Government of Canada or the communities themselves.

The Government of Canada initiated a siting exercise in 1988 to locate a disposal facility for these wastes. Despite efforts to identify a solution, ultimately none resulted. In 1997, the municipalities passed resolutions supporting a local solution. Specially appointed municipal committees with public representation met with federal officials and consultants, and then reported back to their respective councils on options for addressing the long-term management of the wastes within their own communities.

The preferred option is a locally developed solution to clean up and store the wastes in three long-term storage facilities, one in each of the municipalities. The facilities would be engineered to last for at least 500 years, with minimal maintenance costs.

The conceptual designs vary somewhat in each community. In Port Hope and Hope Township, the proposals involve complete encapsulation of the low-level radioactive wastes in engineered facilities that would fit into the existing contours of the sites. The facilities would be constructed with a liner beneath them to isolate the buried material from underlying soils and groundwater. They would be protected on the surface by seven-layer cover systems and landscaped. After the clean up, the sites would be monitored on an ongoing basis, but could be safely used for recreational purposes.

Clarington has opted for in situ management of the wastes, constructing a groundwater interceptor trench around the Port Granby waste facility, then capping the wastes with a multi-layer low-permeability cover. The Clarington proposal also involves stabilizing the facility to counteract erosion of the bluffs and shoreline at the location, which borders Lake Ontario. Like the other two facilities, the Clarington facility would undergo long-term monitoring and would be developed for recreational purposes.

The three community facilities are estimated to cost $260 million. This estimate includes costs associated with environmental assessment, regulatory review, site clean ups, remediation, waste transportation, facility construction, waste emplacement, facility closure and ongoing monitoring.

The full project cycle is expected to take up to 10 years. The first step is to initial the Principles of Understanding, which federal and municipal negotiations have developed over the next eight months. The Government of Canada will then work with the communities to develop a legal agreement based on the Principles of Understanding. Once the agreement is finalized, it will be reviewed by the Municipal Councils and Cabinet prior to signature. The preconstruction and regulatory phases can then commence, and are expected to take five years. The project will be subject to a full environmental assessment, with public input. After regulatory review, the clean-up implementation phase will last another five years. Implementation will be managed by Natural Resources Canada, through the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Office.

For more information, media may contact:
Peter Brown
Director, Uranium and Radioactive Division
Natural Resources Canada
(613) 996-2395

David McCauley
Advisor, Radioactive Waste
Natural Resources Canada
(613) 996-4697

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