Nuclear watchdog blamed for leaving thousands at risk

Nuclear watchdog blamed for leaving thousands at risk

Postby admin » Mon Apr 03, 2006 5:11 am

First Posted: 11 Mar 2006 07:20 pm

Nuclear watchdog blamed for leaving thousands in Port Hope, Ont., at risk

Canadian Press - February 16, 2006

TORONTO (CP) - Lax enforcement of fire-safety standards by Canada's nuclear watchdog has left thousands of Ontario residents at risk of radiation and toxic fumes from two uranium processing plants, environmentalists and civic officials said Wednesday.

While the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has known about the dangers at plants for years, people in Port Hope east of Toronto are still without a fire department able to deal with fires involving hazardous materials. "The risk is catastrophic even though the risk is low," said Christine Elwell, a lawyer with the Sierra Legal Defence Fund.

"It's just reckless behaviour on the part of the commission to not be more strict about these basic requirements."

The Cameco and Zircatec plants, both owned by Saskatchewan-based Cameco Corp., are located close to homes.

The facilities store and use potentially deadly chemicals such as anhydrous hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acids to process uranium ore into radioactive fuel for nuclear reactors.

Last May, the safety commission ordered the companies to come up with a plan to deal with the "unacceptable" risk of fire or face possible suspension of their licences.

In a report prepared for a regulatory meeting Thursday, the agency said the plants had made "an acceptable rate of progress in addressing the risks."

Cameco has provided training to off-site emergency responders, "including a number of volunteer firefighters from the Port Hope Fire Department," the report noted.

But Frank Haylow, chief of the town's 56-member volunteer fire department, said Wednesday his men simply cannot handle a fire involving hazardous materials.

While Cameco has provided some training, the department still has no specialized hazardous materials gear, he said.

That means having to call in help, perhaps from as far as Toronto two hours away, in the event of a serious fire.Break>

"We cannot guarantee response at any given time," Haylow said.

"Until we have everybody trained, until we have sufficient equipment, we still can't respond."

Haylow said he planned to make that point to the commission at Thursday's meeting in Ottawa.

Resident John Miller, president of the 1,500-member grassroots Families Against Radiation Exposure, said the town is unacceptably vulnerable.

"If there's a fire tomorrow, God help us," said Miller.

"We're depending on the nuclear regulator to say to the companies, 'Look, you've got to arrange something now'."

At minimum, Cameco should pay for a dedicated firefighting force or contract with an outside agency able to respond appropriately, said Miller.

Cameco spokesman Lyle Krahn said the plants have beefed up internal training and equipment to satisfy the nuclear watchdog's demands, and denied Port Hope residents are at risk.

The company has put together a risk assessment of "realistic fire scenarios" and is confident it can deal with them, said Krahn.

"We believe we have those scenarios covered off."

SOURCE: ... 7b&k=65559
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