NUCLEAR GENOCIDE IN CANADA
In the Beginning - Port Radium Mine
The Port Radium mine opened in 1932 in the North West Territories. Radium is a radioactive material that is part of the decay chain of uranium. In the 1930s, radium was trumpeted as the new wonder drug to cure cancer and as a 'glow-in-the-dark' paint. It was the most expensive material on Earth at the time, commanding prices up to $125,000 per gram.
Canada's Department of Mines warned the Canadian Government in its 1932 'Blood Studies on Port Radium Miners' about the dangers of radiation and radon gas in particular. The report stated "that a hazard may exist in the breathing of air containing even small amounts of radon." No warning was given to the white miners or to the First Nations people from Deline who were hired as porters. The mine shut down and the radium industry collapsed in 1940 when its lethal health effects became known to the public.
One of the main uses for radium at the time was as a paint for the numbers on clock faces so they could be seen in the dark. The painting was done by hand, almost exclusively by women. To get a fine point on the brushes, the women would twirl the brush in their lips, thereby ingesting some of the radium. The health of the women deteriorated quickly; their jaws literally disintegrating.
The Canadian Government expropriated the mine in 1942 and created a company called 'Eldorado Nuclear Ltd' to supply uranium to the American nuclear weapons program. A Federal research team from Montreal sent to monitor the mine in 1945 reported "the radon content seems to be so high as to be definitely dangerous to the health of those working in the mine." Once again, no warning was given to the miners or to the First Nations people who transported the uranium ore.
Refer to: Somba Ke, a one-hour documentary on Port Radium and Deline by MacDonald Stainsby
Village of Widows
The First Nations people of Deline, North West Territories were hired to carry burlap sacks of uranium ore from the mine to the barges on Great Bear Lake. The bags of radioactive ore had to be handled several times on their journey. The workers slept on the bags of uranium all the way to Fort McMurray where they were transferred for shipment to the Port Hope Refinery.
In 1960, cancer claimed its first victim in Deline. They didn't know what it was because there had never been cancer there before. Over the next few years, most of an entire generation of men in the community died as a result of their exposure to the radioactive material. So many men died that Deline has become known as 'The Village of Widows.'
Cindy Kenny-Gilday from Deline wrote:
"Deline is practically a village of widows, most of the men who worked as labourers have died of some form of cancer. The widows, who are traditional women were left to raise their families with no breadwinners, supporters. They were left to depend on welfare and other young men for their traditional food source. This village of young men are the first generation of men in the history of Dene on this lake to grow up without guidance from their grandfathers, fathers and uncles. This cultural, economic, spiritual, emotional deprivation impact on the community is a threat to the survival of the one and only tribe on Great Bear Lake. It's the most vicious example of cultural genocide I have ever seen and its in my own home."
The people of Deline did not know what was causing it. They contacted the Canadian Government for help. The Canadian Government did nothing despite illness rates twice as high as any other First Nations community in Canada. The Canadian Government waited until 1998 to inform Deline that it was their exposure to radiation that was killing them. They did not make this admission until after the people of Deline had identified the cause through their own research. Andy Orkin, an Ontario lawyer who worked on behalf of the Deline First Nations people said it best:
"We left them to die and hoped they would never ask any questions."
Deline was the first community in Canada that tried to find out what was causing unusual illnesses and premature deaths in their community. They were very isolated and did not have the expertise to hold the government accountable for the harm caused by their exposure to the nuclear fuel cycle. They have been fighting for justice for the past 47 years.
Refer to: Cindy Kenny-Gilday's paper: 'The Village of Widows'
Andrew Nikiforuk's Calgary Herald article titled: 'Echoes of the Atomic Age.'
Port Hope Refinery
Radium was extracted from the uranium ore in the middle of Port Hope Ontario starting in 1932. Several thousand tons of uranium ore would have to be processed in the refinery to retrieve one gram of radium. The large volume of radioactive waste uranium ore was dumped in the harbour, in ravines and was given to anyone who wanted it as fill material. This practice continued until 1966.
Dr. Marcel Pochon, the first manager of the Port Hope Refinery issued the first warning in Port Hope in 1933 when he told a reporter that:
"Radium is highly dangerous, the slightest fraction of a milligram taken into the system leads to cancer, anemia and disease of the hip bones. Not a doctor on Earth can save the unfortunate person who is affected." (Port Hope Evening Guide)
The Canadian Government did not warn the people working at the facility, the people who took the waste uranium ore nor municipal officials of its dangers. The Port Hope Refinery was closed in 1940.
Refer to: Blind Faith by Penny Sanger, 1978
Eldorado Nuclear was created by the Canadian Government in 1942 to supply uranium to the United States to develop the first atomic bombs. They expropriated/bought the Port Radium Mine and the Port Hope Refinery from Gilbert Labine. The company was always shrouded in secrecy because of its war-time mandate.
In 1988, Eldorado Nuclear and the Saskatchewan Mining Company (owned by the Saskatchewan Government) merged and were privatized as Cameco Corporation. Cameco is the largest supplier of uranium to the global market; Canada supplies 40% of all uranium used on the planet.
Refer to: Eldorado by Robert Bothwell, Professor, University of Toronto
The Canadian Government joined the United States and Great Britain to develop the first atomic bomb in a secret endeavour called the Manhattan Project. Ore from the Port Radium Mine was not readily available, so the authorities recovered waste uranium ore that was dumped all over Port Hope between 1932-1940. It's a sad irony that the first radioactive waste cleanup in Port Hope supplied the uranium for the first atomic bomb that killed 140,000 people in Hiroshima.
The American Government repeatedly warned Canadian officials of the dangers of radiation as evidenced by documents released in the United States. Unfortunately, the Canadian Government never passed this warning along to its citizens.
Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC)
The Canadian Government enacted the Nuclear Control Act in 1946. They created the Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB) the same year to administer the act.
In 1997, the Nuclear Control Act was replaced with the Nuclear Safety and Control Act. The primary mandate of the new act was to ensure the safety of Canadians from exposure to the nuclear industry. The Atomic Energy Control Board was also replaced in 1997 by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. The safety of Canadians was supposed to be its primary responsibility. However, as you'll see in this book, rather than being the watchdog of the nuclear industry, it became its lapdog.
There are two parts to the CNSC. The CNSC is headed by a president appointed by Ottawa who oversees a staff of about 500 people in a variety of disciplines. They handle all the day to day activities including collecting information and writing reports. The second part is the CNSC Commission comprised of six members of the public who are referred to as Commissioners. The president of the CNSC is also chairperson of the Commissioners.
Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL)
AECL was created in 1952 to develop and promote nuclear reactors on behalf of the Government of Canada. They were also given the responsibility of dealing with the radioactive waste created by Canada's nuclear program. This put AECL in a conflict-of-interest position. It has never been in their best interest to divulge the true severity and costs of nuclear waste when they are trying to promote the sale of reactors.
AECL has received over $20 billion in direct operational subsidies from the Canadian Government since their inception. They have been given $650 million in subsidies in 2008-2009 alone. Their legacy of reactor accidents, cost overruns, premature reactor shutdowns, failed reactor designs, redundant heavy water plants, contaminated communities, radiological waste disposal and impending legal actions against them will cost taxpayers billions of dollars more.
Chalk River Nuclear Laboratory
Chalk River Laboratory opened in 1944 and was the home of the first nuclear reactor outside the United States. AECL took over operations of Chalk River from the National Research Council in 1952. From 1955 to 1976, Chalk River facilities supplied plutonium from spent reactor fuel, to the United States Department of Energy to be used in the production of nuclear weapons. Chalk River was used as a nuclear laboratory by AECL for nuclear research and the development of reactors. It is home to the NRU reactor which produces half the world's medical isotopes.
There were 12 uranium mines opened near Elliot Lake in the early 1950s to supply uranium to the American nuclear weapons program. The radioactive tailings from mining and milling were dumped into ten lakes close to the mines. The contamination killed all ten lakes and 90 kilometres of the Serpent River. The Canadian Government allowed a sulphuric acid plant to be built in the middle of the nearby First Nations community of Serpent River with no concern for its impact on the residents.
In 1974, the Ontario Government appointed Dr. James Ham to study mine safety at Elliot Lake. He concluded that "Neither the workers nor their representatives were advised about the emerging status of the problem of lung cancer." Dr. Ham, a Past president of the University of Toronto also conducted an inquiry into the actions of the Workers Compensation Board in the 1970s. The inquiry led to the reversal of over 100 compensation claims against radiation induced illnesses and death. According to nuclear professor, Dr. Andrews:
"James Ham had at that time (1976) discovered that, in spite of the assurances of the WCB and other medical experts, deaths were now coming off the assembly line." (Dr. Andrews, University of Toronto, 1996)
The balance of this section on Elliot Lake is taken directly from Lorraine Rekmans book, 'This is My Homeland.' It is an account of the degradation of their way of life caused by the uranium mines, the sulphuric acid plant and the disregard to their health shown by the Canadian government.
"The resultant contamination, destruction and degradation of hunting, fishing and gathering areas is grossly offensive and inevitably an assault on an entire way of life shared by the original people for generations. There are ten lakes lost for eternity at Elliot Lake. These lakes were used as dumping grounds for radioactive waste. There is no sanitary way to describe the incident."
"The miners at Elliot Lake lost their lives digging this rock out of the ground. The ground-waters under the tailings basins are virtual rivers of poison. The people who worked and lived around the sulphuric acid plant suffered severely."
"Good clear drinking water and fish habitat, wildlife, and plants have been destroyed for the benefit of a few people. Weapons producers, nuclear energy developers, and others have demonstrated no regard for the sanctity of an entire ecosystem. They have demonstrated total disrespect and disregard for an entire community of people who rely on this land to survive. They were privy to information about the known dangers of uranium before the mines were opened and did not share this knowledge with vulnerable and unsuspecting people."
"In essence, their accumulated wealth was at the cost of uncounted human lives. The impact and health effects, the disease, and cancer resulting from the contaminated tailings sites and the sulphuric acid plant has yet to be measured. The voices of Anishnabe people need to be heard. Their story needs to be acknowledged."
The devastating effects of nuclear industries on this remote Anishnabe community undeniably and unmistakably involve international corporations, governments and institutions. We must face the broad issues of responsibility for severe harms and dangers. The need to act is critical.
– 1963 The United Steelworkers of America discover that despite knowledge of the high risks of cancer and other
illnesses from radioactivity and chemical toxicity in the mining processes and from the waste tailings, neither
mining companies, nor the federal or provincial governments give the 10,000 workers or
residents any protection or warning.
– 1955-1978 As reported by the Rio Algom and Denison Uranium Mining companies, more than 30 uranium tailings
dam failures occur during this period, dumping radioactive isotopes and chemical toxins into the Serpent River
watershed. These dams were constructed to contain uranium tailings, the waste product from mining and milling.
– 1950s-1960s Miners' housing, built in Elliot Lake on roads made of fill mixed with uranium tailings. Fill for housing
sites consists of waste rock from mines.
– 1963, 1966, 1976 Ontario Water Resources Commission surveys and reports show high levels of radioactive and
chemical contamination in all 55 miles of the Serpent River waterway downstream from the mines and tailings
sites. The 1963 survey already shows that 'uranium milling operations had a profound effect on the biota.' No fish
are living in the watershed.
– 1969, 1976 Reports by the Ontario Workmen's Compensation Board (1969) and the Royal Commission on the
Health and Safety of Workers in Mines (1976) show high levels of lung cancers among Elliot Lake/Serpent River
– 1975 Power failure at Stanleigh Mine results in a 500,000 gallon spill of radioactive and chemically contaminated
water into McCabe Lake.
– 1975 Quirke 2 Mine fractures Serpent River streambed, causing the river to flow into the mine.
"I write this mostly for my children. One day, they will have questions. One day, I might have to explain how we came to this place in time, where we have nuclear bombs, radioactive waste, spent fuel rods, genetic deformities and wastelands." (Lorraine Rekmans, This Is My Homeland)
Lorraine Rekmans' book is a series of conversations and short essays by the residents of Serpent River who were most affected by the mines. Though the mines closed in the 1980's, the damage they caused will last for tens of thousands of years. The contamination of the Serpent River watershed can never be undone. The harm they caused the people living there should never be forgotten or forgiven.
Pinawa-Whiteshell Nuclear Laboratory
AECL started building the Whiteshell Nuclear Laboratory at Pinawa Manitoba in the early 1960s. AECL started shutting down the laboratory in 1998. At its peak, 1300 people worked on site. There are currently about 300 people working on decommissioning the facility and cleaning up the site.
Pinawa was the home of the WR-1 reactor, the largest organically cooled, heavy-water-moderated reactor in the world. The Slowpoke reactor was conceived at Whiteshell in 1967 as well.
The Whiteshell Laboratory is responsible for cesium contamination in the north end of Lake Winnipeg. The problem was discovered by Dr. Lyle Lockhart of the Freshwater Institute. AECL denied they were responsible and refused to provide any further information to the public about accidents or spills at their facility.
Pinawa residents grew concerned about the amount of contamination AECL was causing at the site and whether they would be undertaking remediation. The first opportunity to voice their concerns came at the Seaborne Inquiry investigating the options for the storage of radioactive waste in Canada. A local resident (Lac du Bonnet) stated:
"An example of just how things change in nuclear waste practices in only a few decades is the burying of 2,500 drums of radioactive waste in unlined trenches at Whiteshell. According to a letter from the AECB to myself, radioactive waste in various packages, including steel barrels, had been placed in unlined earth trenches at the waste management areas from '65 until the late '70s. AECL recently revealed to the Control Board that they are unsure from a safety perspective whether to leave the barrels there or to recover them." (Dave Taylor, Seaborne Inquiry)
The Canadian Government decided to expand Eldorado's (Cameco since 1988) operation to produce Uranium Hexafluoride (UF6) in the mid 1970s. They carried out a site evaluation on 11 locations in Ontario. The Town of Port Hope was not evaluated because it was impossible to have a 1000 metre buffer zone around the UF6 facility as was required by the Atomic Energy Control Board at the time. The 1978 document prepared by Eldorado Nuclear Limited titled 'Environmental Impact Statement for a UF6 Refinery in Hope Township' states:
"A major factor in selecting specific refinery sites is the accepted industrial practice of placing a 'buffer zone' around nuclear facilities as required by the federal government's regulatory agency, the Atomic Energy Control Board."
The evaluation showed none of the 11 sites met the criteria to host the UF6 facility. Without any further assessment or justification, the Canadian Government announced the UF6 plant would be built in the middle of Port Hope. The Canadian Government broke its own laws and Port Hope has been paying the price ever since. The people of Port Hope are the buffer zone for Cameco and Zircatec.
Fuel Rods for Nuclear Reactors
Zircatec Precision Industries manufactures fuel rods for nuclear reactors in Port Hope less than 20 metres from a group home. Zircatec was licensed by the nuclear regulator to possess and process enriched uranium on the strength of a seven-page Screening Report conducted by Atomic Energy Control Board staff in 1995. There was no public input to the process and the CNSC has refused to provide the community with the documents the Screening Report was based on.
Cameco's Blind River Refinery opened in 1983. It processes yellowcake into UO3.
The Ontario Ministry of the Environment has tested for uranium-in-soil since the facility first opened in 1983. Uranium emissions from the plant have caused an increase in uranium-in-soil levels as noted in the ministry's report of Cameco's uranium spill in 1990. The report states:
"These increased uranium values were consistent with a gradual increase since the refinery began operations." (Ontario Ministry of the Environment)
The spill in question occurred on May 16 and 17, 1990. Cameco estimated that 182 kg of uranium was released to the environment. This is a large amount of uranium. For comparison purposes, Cameco claims to release only 120 kg of uranium from its UO2 and UF6 facilities in Port Hope combined for the entire year.
In reviewing documents on Cameco's Blind River facility, the concern from the facility is always based on the impact on the town of Blind River several kilometres away. No mention is ever made of the harm caused to the First Nations community located beside the uranium processing facility.
The Canadian government was repeatedly warned about the dangers from exposure to radiation from 1931 until 1976 by their own ministries and the American Government. Yet there is not a recorded instance in the 50 year period covered by this paper where the workers were warned of the danger. This is completely unacceptable behaviour from the Canadian government.
The other point to note is that First Nations people paid a much steeper price as a result of their exposure to the nuclear industry than the whites did. Deline, Serpent River and Blind River First Nations have paid a very high price to keep the lights on in Ontario.
End of Part 1