January 17, 2012

Moving the "Port Hope Area Initiative" (PHAI) Forward

This subject is one that personally hits very close to home for me. So I'm very excited to report that Ottawa has given the green light to continued funding for the Port Hope Area Initiative (PHAI).

First, for those who don't know, I'll first explain what the PHAI actually is.

According to the chronology section of the PHAI website, Eldorado Gold Mine Ltd. began refining radium in Port Hope during the late months of 1932. By 1944, Eldorado Limited had been acquired by the Government of Canada and had already began the processes of refining uranium, an element considered useless before the age of the atom bomb.

During the remainder of the 1940s and all the way through until the 1970s, soil contaminated with low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) was transported from the refinery to various locations throughout the town. In an age before the long-term effects of radioactive exposure was fully understood, diverting the soil from the refinery to fill locations in town was considered the only logical thing to do. The soil could not be kept on the lands owned by the refinery because the company would eventually run out of land to fill. Once the potential hazards of the contaminated soil were understood, Eldorado immediately halted dumping the soil wherever was convenient. Since 1982, the low-level radioactive waste management office (LLRWMO) has managed the known areas affected by the LLRW throughout urban Port Hope.

Birds-eye view of Port Hope, the surrounding countryside
and the locations of the new LLRW diversion sites.
The PHAI is the new incarnation of the plan to rid Port Hope of any dangers as a result of LLRW exposure. Even though many consecutive tests and studies have been conclusive in labelling Port Hope a safe place to live, there is nonetheless concerns present over the future of the community and its longevity if the LLRW is not dealt with.

Today, Cameco Corporation operates the refinery in Port Hope. According to the company website, it was founded in 1988 through the merger of two crown corporations. The first was the Saskatchewan Mining Development Corporation and the second was Eldorado Nuclear Limited. Compared to the haphazard waste disposal of Eldorado, Cameco is a shining star of safety; packing the waste into canisters and disposing of it safely and legally in another location.

CP24 reported yesterday that the federal government has announced a 10-year, $1.28 billion funding plan to keep the project moving forward. This is very big news for Port Hope, which has been waiting for the funding guarantee to continue with the waste relocation. Located in the north-western extreme of the town (not the municipality), the waste site is just south of Highway 401 and west of County Road 2.

Despite the fact that it is the responsibility of the federal government to clean up the waste that was put there by Eldorado, a crown corporation, it is nonetheless impressive that things seem to be moving along so swiftly. In an age of budget cutting and deficit reduction, I'm quite impressed that the government has factored in the cost of the cleanup and is ready to go ahead and actually get the town back to how it was.

What I think is very important for you, my readers, to know is that the LLRW is not harmful to the general population as it sits. No new development is allowed in areas that are known to have been filled with the contaminated soil. As well, the PHAI is taking very calculated steps to ensure that the trucks moving the contaminated soil to the new waste site are to be sealed and carefully monitored.

Sure, things could go wrong with the project, but I am quite as ease with the steps being taken by the federal government to have the project completed within a decade. Also, the accident prevention plan that the PHAI is taking on should prove to make the soil movement very safe and rapid.

Many people, especially residents of Port Hope that are opposed to PHAI, are worried that by removing the soil from the locations it sits greatly increases the risks to the general population. This is a genuine worry, because no one fully knows what will happen when the soil is first dug up. Nonetheless, the potential development opportunities for the town when the soil is moved make all the risks worth it. Port Hope will finally be able to use large tracts of land in the urban areas of town that are currently quarantined because of the contaminated soil.

Above all, the idea that Port Hope will one day be "clean" is what is symbolically pushing the project forward. The pledge of $1.28 billion from the federal government will be able to accomplish this mammoth task.

In my opinion, its about time.

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