Thursday, 12 May 2016

Radioactive waste at Fort McMurray

Put your mind at rest?

Wildfires deemed not a threat to Fort McMurray radioactive waste site

The Beacon Hill neighbourhood in Fort McMurray, now burned, is the site of buried radioactive waste. SUPPLIED / LOW-LEVEL RADIOACTIVE WASTE MANAGEMENT OFFICE

10 May, 2016

Buried by the Fort McMurray neighbourhood of Beacon Hill is 43,500 cubic metres of radioactive waste.

It’s an innocuous landscape of rolling hills, covered in grass and dotted by yellow and purple wildflowers.

An estimated 80 per cent of Beacon Hill homes were destroyed when the wildfire ripped through the region, but the federal Crown corporation that looks after low-level radiation sites said the fire’s proximity to the waste poses no risk.

Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) described the waste as low-grade uranium mixed with topsoil. It’s buried in a self-contained cell under a thick layer of clay and 45 centimetres of topsoil.

The waste has been there since 2003, the result of cleanup activities after radioactive spills from the 1930s until the late ’50s.

A company called Eldorado Nuclear used to transport uranium and radio ore by barge from its Port Radium mine in the Northwest Territories to Fort McMurray for shipment by rail to refining facilities in Ontario.

Spokeswoman for AECL, Maude-Emilie Page, said although the waste is in the fire-affected area, there are no concerns about the integrity of the cell and no immediate risk to human health or the environment.

Page said there are also no worries about it catching fire, though AECL is monitoring the situation.

It is akin to a field or garden; while the surface vegetation may catch fire, the soil itself won’t,” she said.

The provincial government said the emergency operations centre is aware of the radioactive waste storage site.

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