cursor over or tap buildings in the image to see the name, or the names of some people who once lived in the houses
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Thanks to Pat (Croft) McMillan and Brian Jantzi
1955. Looking east towards the belly of the beast. This conversion plant, which never should have been located near any human habitation, was placed across a narrow street from a long-established community. All the land west of John Street in this picture, and more, has been taken over by the reckless nuclear industry.
Properties had been appropriated one at a time for years, but in the 1980s, under threat of eminent domain, all the properties south of the railway tracks on John, Smith, Choate and Marsh Streets were expropriated at once and the houses demolished so that a soon to be privatised Eldorado would have room to grow monstrously fat and rich under a new name. In 1956 the old Mathews Conveyer factory to the south had been taken over when Mathews moved to a new plant on Peter Street.
Eminent domain was meant to allow a government to take private property for public use. I don't think the intention was to make legal a crown corporation's confiscation of the property of private owners so the government could hand it over to a private company.
People in general are not represented by government while corporations are catered to. Profit over people is the rule. A company that can increase quarterly profits by poisoning a township and a lake is cherished in Port Hope as a 'good corporate citizen.'
The Evening Guide July 30, 1932
ELDORADO STARTS PLANT TO REFINE RADIUM HERE
By the simple signing of a lease, Port Hope has acquired new
standing in the scheme of things as the centre of an industry destined to bring incalculable benefit to suffering humanity.
Following months of careful
investigation of various locations, officials of Eldorado Gold Mines, Ltd. have taken over the plant on John Street formerly occupied by the Morrow Seed Company and are
gathering equipment for installation of the first commercial-scale radium extraction plant in Canada, Gilbert LaBine, managing director, announced Friday.
The plant, situated on the harbour, includes a two-storey building of steel and brick construction, warehouse, heating plant and garage, and bins suitable for the storage
of ore and chemicals.
Railway sidings connect with the main lines of both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific and good harbour and dockage facilities are
Brian Jantzi, former Senior Development Chemist at Eldorado Nuclear (mid-1980s)
A VIEW FROM THE INSIDE
People lived across the f'ng
street from the plant, which was built to support the Manhattan Project in World War II. Before
World War II the plant refined radium for watch dials. Some of the uranium that went to Hiroshima and Nagasaki came out of the waste tailings from the radium days.
The tailings had been dumped in the harbour in the 30s.
The federal government decided to build a new UO3 plant in Blind River and then (screwballs),
put (zikes!!) the more hazardous UF6 plant in downtown Port Hope where those houses were.
The building across the water used to be the Crane Factory where
ceramic toilets were made. By '82 Crane had moved out and the building housed 100,000 drums of low level radioactive refinery waste. Problem was the drums weren't
labelled. I was put in charge of technical production at the UO3 plant, to use up the remaining life of the old UO3 plant in recovering the uranium from those 100,000
unlabelled drums. Each drum contained different stuff and higher level waste was mixed in—frightening. My biggest fear was that any of those drums contained any
organic chemistry. Hitting it with concentrated nitric acid would mean kaboom.
The plant dripped nitric acid from chemical reactor vessels which
were glass-lined wooden tubs, it was truly the gates of hell in there.
I designed and installed the environmental air monitoring systems in the new UF6
plant. Some of my hydrogen fluoride stack monitoring equipment plugged up and I investigated. Discovered they were pumping a shitload of uranium fluoride dust out
over Port Hope. I told them and was told that no one had asked me for that information. I was laid off shortly after that. (Not the first job I lost coincidentally
after blowing the whistle on what a company was puking into the local environment.)
I spent my lunch hours reading the 27 volumes on the shelf—The
Chemistry of the Manhattan Project.
Dancing with Mr. D: Canada's dirty little secrets... off this picture to the south was a plant that took depleted UF4
from US, British, French and Soviet gas centrifuges, mixed it with Magnesium Oxide, and induction melted-created depleted uranium metal for munitions. The molten
uranium was poured under nitrogen into molds for tank shells, and Exocet missles, and peaceful uses such as cobalt cameras for radiation treatment, counterweights
for ailerons, and radiation shielding for dentists offices.
Canada helped maintain the arms race at status quo by selling uranium to both the Americans
and the Soviets—when mutually assured nuclear destruction was the leading peace plan in the world.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (of the UN) kept
a balance sheet to reduce the risk of weapons proliferation. (One of my jobs there was QA on that balance sheet). Nonetheless, India got Uranium from Canada
under the guise of peaceful uses, and the rest is history. Eldorado was sold off to Saskatchewan and private interests in 1988 and became CAMECO. The UO2 at
the Hitachi-GE plant on Lansdowne comes from CAMECO (in Blind River). The export UF6 for non-Canadian reactors is made in Port Hope.
Northumberland Today Wednesday, April 27, 2016
CAMECO A GOOD CORPORATE CITIZEN SAYS MAYORby
September Cameco Corp. (with its headquarters in Saskatchewan), will face Revenue Canada in a Toronto courtroom over allegations it owes about $2-billion in taxes.
Cameco Corp. is the mother uranium mining and processing company that includes Cameco Fuel Manufacturing plants in Cobourg and Port Hope, as well as
the Port Hope Conversion facility at Eldorado Place in Port Hope and offices on Peter Street. Among products produced locally are fuel rods that power nuclear
reactors. It employs over 600 full-time employees in this area.
When asked about the upcoming court case, Port Hope Mayor Bob Sanderson said he doesn't
know anything about the "federal tax" situation that Cameco is facing but he knows "absolutely" that it pays its municipal taxes.
In addition, Sanderson called
Cameco a good corporate citizen
as it also relates to any of the municipal services it uses, and discussions are timely when required, he said.
are very much in touch with us and work co-operatively."
Last year, Cameco paid $1.2-million in municipal taxes, Cameco spokesperson Doug Prendergast said
in an interview Tuesday. He confirmed that the company, with its operations in Port Hope and Cobourg, employs 640 people and pays millions in salaries and benefits.
It also supports the local community with grants and sponsorships.
Asked about the upcoming court case with Revenue Canada concerning allegations of evading
taxes, Prendergast said he could not comment because it is before the courts. But he said: "Cameco is confident it will be successful in our case… and we are in
compliance with all of the rules in place regarding taxation."
, the president of the Canadian Coalition
for Nuclear Responsibility, an environmental group in Montreal, said that contamination of the lake had been assumed, given the plant's age, history and location. "There's a long
history of contamination at Port Hope," he said. "The whole siting of this refinery is absurd. It's right in the centre of town, it's on a flood plain and right on the lakefront."
: 'Nuclear energy is unnecessary, uninsurable, uneconomic, unevacuable and most importantly, unsafe. The fact that it continues to exist at all is
a result of a ferocious lobby, enlisting the autocratic power of government, that will not admit that its product is unfit for use in the modern world.'Harvey
: 'As the reactor industry's lethal isotopes gut our ecosystems, from bottom to top, our tolerance for these 'safe doses' falls to zero. We may not fall over dead
from them immediately, but the larger biospheric clock is ticking.'Dr John Gofman
, former chief medical officer of the US Atomic Energy Commission, said that
nuclear power is an instrument of 'premeditated mass murder.'
from Blind Faith
In 1976 a Peterborough surgeon wrote to the provincial Ministry of Health to tell them that it was his clinical impression that the incidence of malignancies in the Port Hope area was disproportionately high. In reply he was told he was not a statistician and shouldn't get involved in such matters.
Dr. Alan Levy is a well-known chest surgeon in Peterborough, a small city some thirty miles north of Port Hope. His practice draws on the many small towns and villages in the area, as well as Peterborough itself. His suspicion that a disproportionately high number of his patients were coming from Port Hope increased when he organized a search of medical records in the area. What he found led him to believe that the number of cancer cases in the town might be high. He suspected that years of exposure to radioactive wastes was the cause.
On this basis he wrote to the Ministry enclosing his figures. But Dr. Jan Muller, a radiation specialist with the Ministry of Labour, discounted his research and produced figures in contradiction, which showed that Port Hope actually had somewhat fewer cancer deaths in a thirteen-year period than might be expected.
Later, Dr. Levy was quoted as saying he was "given the old flim-flam. They blinded me with figures." But he counterattacked, arguing that the ministry's figures were inaccurate because they were based simply on cancer deaths and did not include people who had been diagnosed as having cancer but had recovered from it. At the same time he suggested his own figures might have erred by being too low: they did not include cancer cases which had been referred to doctors in Toronto, Kingston, or Oshawa, or less serious cases that were treated in Port Hope.
Dr. Levy is a person who is familiar to many Port Hopers. For several he has been a final resort in times of personal crisis. Beatrice Hills and May Coker both remember him with respect and affection: both are widows whose husbands died of cancer. Bea Hills remembers his anger when her husband Ron was sent back to his former job in the oldest part of the Eldorado plant after Ron's lung cancer had been diagnosed, and how he wrote to the management saying Ron would have to have an outside job.
Mrs. Coker, sixty-eight years old in 1980, and her husband Albert lived beside the plant for thirty-three years. Then they were bought out by Eldorado in 1976, when the company said it needed a bigger parking lot. Albert Coker died three years later. The cancer "rampaged through his system like wildfire" his widow said. His side of the family had never had cancer before, she said.
Ronnie Hills was fifty when he died. He was brought up in that same area, three short blocks of houses, now flattened, directly across from the Eldorado plant. The younger man and the older are only two of several cancer deaths, occurring at about the same time, from that area.
The affection and respect that many Port Hopers like the Hills and the Cokers have for Dr. Levy is now not returned—at least not to the town of Port Hope as a whole. In October of 1979, Dr. Levy—who had never made his figures public—was attacked by the Port Hope town council, which asked the College of Physicians and Surgeons to review his actions. The council accused Dr. Levy of making unprofessional statements which were damaging to the community of Port Hope.
The charge was rejected as having no merit and Dr. Levy was completely exonerated. But in mid-1980 Dr. Levy was still being advised by his lawyer not to speak publicly about the matter. His own bitterness was undisguised. During the whole episode, he said, he had had support from only a handful of Port Hope residents, including one doctor. The affair had cost him heartache and financial loss.
The issue of individual and public health flared up in Port Hope during the late summer and fall of 1979. There had been weeks of hot, humid weather during which noxious fumes from the Eldorado smokestacks were caught in a temperature inversion over the town, causing distress to many townspeople. Two people were hospitalized, briefly, with bronchial trouble; it was a result, their doctor said, of the fumes. But attempts to persuade the company to scale down its emissions failed. It was not until one of those who were suffering went deliberately to radio, TV, and the press that they won action. And in the resulting outcry about Eldorado's record in Port Hope, the need for a health study of its inhabitants was raised publicly for the first time. It was three years after Dr. Levy had first tried to alert the provincial health ministry about his suspicions and four years after the first trouble with radon gas in the town. The $6 million clean-up was reaching an end, but thousands of tons of radioactive and chemically contaminated waste still lay about the town, with no prospect of it being disposed of safely.
An editorial in the Toronto Globe and Mail
, whose reporter Kirk Makin had investigated and exposed many of the townspeople's concerns, was incredulous:
Who would have suspected that in the infancy of our experience with the potential threat of radioactive wastes a close watch would not be kept on a community of 10,000 whose main industry, Eldorado Nuclear Limited, had been dumping the stuff nearby since the 1940s?... It is nothing less than appalling to find that the health checks have not been done... If ordinary human concern for the well-being of the residents of Port Hope was not enough to prompt monitoring, one would have thought that the sketchy nature of our understanding of long-term low-level radiation would have prompted some action
The Port Hope Evening Guide
, however, took another view of the renewed public interest in the town. In an editorial entitled "Too Long at the Pillory Post," it complained of "pea-brained attacks" and "scare articles" by the Toronto-based media. "We have had five years of scrutiny, of ever-breaking new issues regarding ENL's operation, and the time has come to stop." But it asked for help of "national stature and scope," in coping with the crisis.
Finally there was a response from Eldorado. Senior vice-president Dr. R.G. Dakers wrote to the Globe and Mail
and to the Evening Guide
to say that the reasons advanced for a full-scale health study were doubtful. His company was "deeply aware of its responsibilities in the area of health and safety" and was in fact conducting its own health study of present and past employees.
In his reports, Kirk Makin had cited fifteen cancer cases in Port Hope and the nearby area that, he implied, were at least likely to have been caused by Eldorado. Mr. Dakers denied the company's responsibility for eleven of these on the grounds that they were cases of leukemia, thyroid cancer, and other unspecified cancers, and that the only cancer proved to have been caused by radon gas was lung cancer. He also said that the four remaining cancer deaths, which were of people who had lived close to the Eldorado plant or dump sites, were not alarming because the provincial health ministry figures had shown that cancer deaths in Port Hope were below those statistically predicted for a similar size community.
On the same grounds he rejected Dr. Levy's allegation and asked that the doctor make his figures public. "Any health risk that may have existed in Port Hope has been small," Mr. Dakers concluded. "The removal of contaminated material since 1975 should reduce the risk even further."
The trouble was that much of the contaminated material hadn't been removed at all: it had been simply shifted around to different parts of the town. But this fact slipped by unnoticed in the general outcry and alarm. For the second time in four years Port Hopers were in the national spotlight, and were about to be exposed again to all the allegations, denials, and confusion they had already experienced when radon gas was first discovered in their town.
After a meeting of public health officials who had been fortified with Dr. Muller's cancer-mortality figures showing Port Hope deaths from cancer to be within normal limits, the existence of unsafe levels of radiation in Port Hope was denied. Dr. Donald Mikel, medical officer of health for the area, was quoted as saying that the town had been cleaned up. To add to the confusion, he next said that a health study was needed to discover whether or not current cancer cases were caused by radiation.
But a day later, in an Evening Guide
interview, Dr. Fred Knelman, the Montreal nuclear critic and author, said:
Muller and the nuclear industry are putting the burden of proof on the people of Port Hope, who are the victims, and giving the benefit of the doubt to the corporations. It should be the other way around. The benefit of the doubt should go to those least able to defend themselves
"There is no scientifically safe level of radiation," he declared. He said that going by AECB's ALARA standard—"as low as can be reasonably achieved"—was the same as talking about a "permissible risk."
"Who is to say what radiation level is reasonable or permissible?" he asked. He said that the nuclear industry set "safe" levels without adequate concern for the potential victims, and that safety standards were set by an elite and not by the people who would be first affected.
And a few days later Professor Douglas Andrews, the University of Toronto nuclear engineer who had battled for years to get Port Hope cleaned up, warned the town that Dr. Muller's figures could be "the calm before the storm." He explained that because many people who had been living in Port Hope since the late 1950s were just then reaching the end of the twenty-year latency period for cancer, it would be foolish to base cancer predictions on past statistics. A proper scientific investigation carried out over an entire generation was needed; further procrastination would be dangerous.
"We'll all be happy if no unusual increase in cancer occurs," Professor Andrews said. "But we have to be prepared in case it does." He was quoted as saying that it was possible that lifelong residents of the town "might have their death certificates delivered with their old age pensions."
Within a week both Professor Andrews and Dr. Levy had been publicly castigated by the council for making "unsubstantiated" and "unprofessional" statements that were damaging to the community. The town council was clinging fast to a new study of Port Hope death rates (released in October by the federal Department of Health and Welfare) that showed that there were fewer lung cancer deaths among males than might be expected in the period from 1966 to 1977. It asked that the two men's statements be referred to their professional associations—the Association of Professional Engineers and the College of Physicians and Surgeons. The motion was passed unanimously.
"I'd like to see people like Professor Andrews and Dr. Levy in Peterborough come up with the facts. We have been constantly vigilant in this town and we have been given a clean bill of health," Councillor Roger Carr, a co-sponsor of the resolution said. The mayor, Bill Wyatt, said the council would have to fight harder to win public favour against what he described as born-again anti-nuclear activists. Councillor Carr added that the record of past and present councils showed that they had been responsible in taking actions to counteract adverse publicity.
Professor Andrews, who had been trying for thirteen years to alert the town, the industry, and its workers to the dangers that were being spewed out among them, told a reporter that he would welcome a chance to appear before the council to justify his statements. He explained:
I'm not an anti-nuke. If I were I wouldn't have been in nuclear engineering for the past thirty years. But I do know that nuclear programmes can be run safely and that bad management can reflect on the totality of the nuclear programme as well as having grave human consequences
He was never asked to appear before the council. And the Association of Professional Engineers threw out the town of Port Hope's complaint against him, as the College of Physicians and Surgeons dismissed its complaint against Dr. Levy.
But by late 1979, Dr. Levy's concerns about the health of the people of Port Hope were lost in the welter of personal charges and countercharges that once again swirled around the town. Were too many Port Hope people dying of cancer or were they not? In the absence of any other figures most people clung to the comforting but hurriedly provided death statistics provided by provincial and federal health departments.
Called by many a health study, the province of Ontario's figures were really a rough set of mortality figures covering the period 1960 to 1973 in Port Hope. They were first produced two years earlier by Dr. Jan Muller when he was appearing at the Port Granby hearings for the provincial labour ministry; at that time he cautioned against regarding them as a study. They accounted for the causes of death in Port Hope and showed that there were 195 deaths among men and women from all types of cancer in the thirteen-year period. The estimated average Ontario figure for cancer deaths in a similar-sized community was 204, so Port Hope's deaths were fewer—not more—than might have been expected. Broken down into types of cancer, however, the figures showed that for leukemia and cancers of the lung, bronchus and trachea, the Port Hope death rate was higher than the estimated average rate by over 10 percent.
But Dr. Muller warned against taking these latter figures seriously. The numbers were so small (they varied between four and twenty-eight deaths) that the difference between them and average figures was not significant. In fact he said that his department's figures, as a whole, were not significant enough to identify a cause-effect relationship in Port Hope. He refused to call them a study. But he said that although no significance was being attributed now to the Port Hope figures, that did not mean that there was no significant difference.
We feel that the data in twenty or thirty years' time might perhaps be able to find some difference somewhere... all I'm saying is that from the data we cannot conclude the measure or effect. I would never dream of saying that we have proved that there is none
It was all very muddling to anyone who hoped for a quick concrete answer. And the muddle only increased when the federal Department of Health and Welfare rushed out its set of mortality figures on Port Hope. These compared Port Hope deaths with averages in the rest of Canada and also to those in thirteen Eastern Ontario communities comparable in size, during the period from 1966 to 1977. It showed there was a lower rate of deaths from cancers among men and women in Port Hope compared both to the whole of Canada and the thirteen communities.
Whereas in the whole country, a town of Port Hope's size might expect 209 cancers, and the average for the thirteen communities was 212, Port Hope's figure was 193. Deaths among men from lung cancer were also lower, coming to twenty-four in the eleven-year period in Port Hope, compared to twenty-eight in Canada and thirty-two in the thirteen communities. Male leukemia deaths were also lower in Port Hope, but less markedly, this study reported.
Surprisingly, deaths from lung cancer and leukemia were slightly higher among Port Hope women than in the rest of the country and the thirteen towns. They amounted to nine lung cancer deaths in the period observed, as compared to seven in both the thirteen communities and Canada, and five leukemia deaths compared to four in the comparison groupings.
The significance of these small numbers was downplayed by the epidemiological experts who issued them. Others emphasized that, without correlating them to individual radiation exposures, they were not meaningful. And soon after they were released an assistant deputy-minister in the Department of Health and Welfare was quoted as saying it was too general a set of figures to take seriously. Dr. Alex Morrison said that an in-depth study would be needed before any conclusions could be drawn about the effects of radiation on Port Hope residents. Neither the provincial nor federal figures included people who had had cancer but were cured, those who were presently suffering from cancer, or those who had died elsewhere.
Nevertheless, both sets of statistics were seized upon by the company and the town council as proof that Port Hopers were not under any particular risk. They had been published just in time: by November 1979 the sod was being turned for the new uranium hexafluoride plant in Hope township. Such unpleasant things as lung cancer or the company's waste-disposal problems were brushed aside by the town's visions of the new $100-million plant and the beaming faces of visiting Eldorado top brass.
The company took advantage of the moment to reach out to ordinary Port Hopers, too. In an unusual public relations gesture it hosted a not very open house tour of its John Street plant, taking out full-page ads in the Evening Guide
to invite citizens:
"Drop in and visit with us," the ad urged. "See our new facilities... special displays describing the processing spectrum... a photo presentation of the nuclear fuel cycle and Eldorado's role in this vital energy-producing process. We'll be on hand to answer your questions..." Children were welcome and refreshments offered.
But in all the surface jollity and the underlying tension about which figures meant what to Port Hope, one fact remained buried. Crude as they were, both the provincial and federal statistics showed that Port Hope had a high number of deaths from all causes—particularly from circulatory diseases such as heart attack and stroke—compared to what might be expected in the rest of Canada.
The provincial figures showed 354 deaths from circulatory disease among males in its thirteen-year study period, compared to an expected 326. Among women, though, the Port Hope figure was lower than expected. The national Health and Welfare figures showed a substantially higher number of circulatory deaths for both men and women—340 and 326, respectively—compared to 271 and 287 in the rest of Canada. (In relation to the thirteen communities, these figures were just about average.)
Age was not a contributory factor to these high figures, although Port Hope is a favourite town for retirement, because they were adjusted for the town's age distribution.
Some, especially people who lived far away from Port Hope, wondered if there might be significance in these elevated figures. Dr. Lester Van Middlesworth, a professor of medicine, physiology, and biophysics at the University of Tennessee, said in an interview that radiation could change the whole chemistry of the body, making it more susceptible to other diseases. Counting up cancer deaths was not enough to determine the effects of low-level radiation, he believed. Sister Rosalie Bertell had already warned publicly, during the Port Granby hearings on Eldorado's application to build its new uranium hexafluoride plant, that low-level radiation had a generally aging effect on the body. Closer to home, in Toronto, the health and safety director of the United Steelworkers of America, the union at the Eldorado plant, had questioned the diagnosis of disease in Port Hope. Paul Falkowski suspected that medical knowledge about radiation was still at such an early stage that many Port Hope diseases and deaths may have been attributed to the wrong causes.
Did this mean that Port Hope's "excess" number of deaths from cardiovascular and circulatory illness could be traced to the deleterious effects of low-level radiation? The question hinged first on whether in fact the number was excessive, or statistically significant, and second on whether low-level radiation could be a factor in this sort of disease. Only a full-scale health study could begin to provide this long-needed information.
Meanwhile, of course, some of the people in Port Hope continued to get sick and to die. Were the numbers unduly high? The town's own doctors were undecided.
Dr. Paul Hazell, chief of staff at the Port Hope hospital, said they had received a lot of contradictory information. There were ten doctors in town and probably ten different opinions, he said. "All we can do is look into our own practices and surmise. You can do a head count... but you also have to look into a person's background, his job, and so forth. It hasn't ever struck me that I see a lot of cancer or lung cancer here," he concluded.
But another doctor thought differently. Dr. Geoffrey Harrison was the only medical man in town to have openly heeded Dr. Levy's concern about Port Hope's health. He had written to the federal minister of health saying that although he was aware the evidence of one doctor's practice was not statistically significant, he was concerned about the effect of radioactive waste on the town. He urged the minister to initiate a full-scale health study. Some of Dr. Harrison's patients had lived in the blighted area next door to the plant. About thirty families there had been bought out by Eldorado in 1976 when high levels of radon gas were found on some of their properties. The community, especially during the 1940s and 1950s, was regularly swept over by clouds of chemical and radioactive fumes. One former resident counted up four deaths from cancer, including his wife, among people who lived on those streets in the 1970s.
Dr. Harrison was upset that the people there had been exposed, without their knowledge, to unknown levels of radiation that might be dangerous. "I certainly wouldn't choose to live across the road from Eldorado," he commented.
Michael Terbenche, who used to live in the blighted area, was outspoken: "You can't buck the government," he charged, in an interview with Kirk Makin of the Globe and Mail. "No one's going to stick their neck out. They've got everything sealed and bottled-up here." Mr. Terbenche worked for Eldorado in the late 1930s, until his doctor told him the only way to restore his health was to quit. He did, but he continued living next door to the plant until the company bought him out.
Others didn't quit in time. Just ten days before he died, in January 1978, Frank Hendricks was told by the Workmen's Compensation Board of Ontario that he would receive compensation from the company for the lung cancer that was killing him. Mr. Hendricks used to clean out an industrial oven in the old Eldorado extraction process and later handled the dust bags from the ventilation system.
He told the Globe and Mail
that during the first ten years of his employment he had never seen anyone doing tests for dust concentrations, although in the 1950s and 1960s "the nitric acid fumes from the process were unbearable and the uranium dust in the air was terrible."
"We just took it for granted," he said. He was sixty-three years old when he died, and had worked almost half his life at Eldorado.
Two weeks after Mr. Hendricks' death, Ron Hills, at the age of fifty, died of lung cancer after an eighteen-month struggle. He had worked for more than twenty years at Eldorado. Dr. Levy removed a tumor from the lower lobe of his right lung in late 1976 and he went back to work at his old job for a time, despite the surgeon's request that he be transferred to somewhere less dangerous. The cancer spread. In the spring of 1977, at the Princess Margaret hospital in Toronto (which specializes in cancer), Ron Hills was told that there was nothing more that could be done.
"There's no way I could be bitter," said his widow Beatrice. Since her husband's death, she has worked as a cook in the Port Hope hospital. She cites the summer jobs her children have had at Eldorado. Her youngest child, Pam, graduated in 1980 from Queen's University as a teacher and was about to go back to work at the plant for the summer. Two years after Ron's death both mother and daughter were restrained and philosophical about it. Unlike Mrs. Hendricks, who had moved to work at the Eldorado office in Ottawa after her husband died, the Hills would not leave Port Hope. It was where they had always lived and where Ron had been raised—in the polluted neighbourhood across the street from Eldorado.
"I try not to talk too much about it. I try not to think," Bea Hills explains. "But people stop me at work and say 'Bea, they didn't do right by you.'"
"They" is both the company and the Workmen's Compensation Board, which did not award Ron Hills compensation. He had not, it was claimed, been exposed to enough radiation for long enough. Although Ron Hills' urinalysis showed a higher uranium content than Frank Hendricks' and although Hills smoked a good deal less than Hendricks, the claim was rejected both initially and on appeal.
It was a long, tough fight, according to Paul Falkowski, health and safety director for the United Steel Workers of America. He took both cases to the WCB at the same time. The decision in favour of awarding compensation to Hendricks was precedent-setting; it was the first time the link had been recognized between cancer and the sort of above-ground low-level radiation found in the refinery. But knowing the level of radiation to which a worker had been exposed was essential, according to the board, to determine whether his cancer was caused by radiation or by other factors for which the company could not be held responsible. And information about past working conditions in the plant, which was the only way the degree of radiation exposure could be judged, was hard to come by. There had been no widespread monitoring of working conditions for health and safety by the AECB until the first fuel processing facility operating licence was issued in 1976.
The union had taken both the Hills and Hendricks cases to the board in July 1977, a year after Ron Hills got sick and six months after Hendricks' cancer was diagnosed. By October nothing had happened; the men's files were almost empty in the board offices, according to Falkowski. A board doctor said at the time that they were waiting for information from Eldorado about plant processes and radiation levels. "We are dependent on these people for information," he explained.
Meanwhile the union issued studies showing the connection between lung cancer and low-level radiation, and it met with the members of its Port Hope local to try to explain them. An article appeared in The Miners' Voice
, a union publication, criticizing federal radiation-exposure standards and questioning safety procedures at the Port Hope plant. But it immediately ran into trouble. Vern Elliott, a past president of the local, described it as "a lot of bullshit." Plant manager Gord Colborne denied he ever said that a few workers sometimes got more than their allotted maximum of 5 rems annual exposure.
Finally, the local union executive went to the WCB with Paul Falkowski to argue with its chest specialist Dr. Charles Stewart on behalf of Ron Hills and Frank Hendricks. According to Paul Falkowski they were told, first, that the two men's cancers were caused by smoking, and second, that two cases alone were not "significant."
"I said to him, 'You're telling me we need to show more bodies from Port Hope?'" Falkowski recalled. "The Port Hope people were really shocked—it was then they began to fight."
They used the statistics then available from Elliot Lake and Sudbury, which showed that among miners exposed to radon gas in the mines there had been twice the number of deaths from lung cancer as those expected in non-exposed populations. Eventually, with union sick benefits running out for Hills and Hendricks, Falkowski took the story to politicians and to the press. Questions were raised by Stephen Lewis, then leader of the New Democratic Party, in the Ontario legislature, and there was extensive coverage of the issue in the Globe and Mail
, including pictures and an interview with Frank Hendricks.
After that, according to Paul Falkowski, things began to happen. Charged by the union with deliberately dragging its feet, the board was urged by its chairman to speed up its investigation. Dr. Stewart maintained that it was impossible to hurry because the board was having to set new guidelines and rules. Data was needed to establish the cause-effect relationship, but it was hard to find.
Who would have such data? Past working conditions at the plant were still the key. The company, which was responsible for paying compensation in all claims upheld by the WCB, was not likely to search its collective memory with great time and effort in such a cause. The provincial Ministry of Health said it had had health hazards in the plant brought to its attention in the past but, because Eldorado was a crown corporation, it had had no legislative authority to monitor it. The Ontario Ministry of Labour explained that it was responsible for safety but not for health. And the AECB said that, although it had radiological responsibility, it had no records because no licences had been issued until recently.
Nevertheless, three days after Christmas in 1977, a WCB official journeyed to Port Hope to tell Frank Hendricks that his claim had been granted. On that same trip he visited Ron Hills to tell him that his claim had been turned down. Before the end of the following month both men were dead. The union immediately determined to appeal the Ron Hills case.
Dr. Stewart had said that because so little data was available the workers would be given the benefit of the doubt in the assumptions that would have to be made. But his words sounded a little hollow in the hearing rooms of the WCB, when, for the Hills appeal case, Eldorado came in with a battery of lawyers and doctors flown in from Chalk River, Ontario, and Europe. They argued, successfully in the opinion of the WCB, that Ron Hills' exposure to radioactive substances was not enough to cause lung cancer. Specifically, it was claimed that his cumulative exposure was 10.8 working level months, and experts were quoted to prove that the threshold of danger to health was 12 working level months. (This was not consistent with the Ham Commission findings which postulated a "threshold" of below 10 WLM). How Ron Hills' exposure level was determined was never made clear publicly. Paul Falkowski, who had the right to search Hills' WCB file, said he met with obstruction and empty files, and for a long time he never saw the supporting material. When he finally did, some of the flimsily identified readings taken of radioactivity in the plant during the years 1952 to 1956 showed concentrations of up to 1,600 picocuries per litre.
There is no evidence of exactly where these readings were taken, so their significance is difficult to judge. As evidence in the Ron Hills case, therefore, they were not strong. But it is worth noting two important facts about them; they were taken during the period when the company was changing over to the solvent-extraction process and the old smelting process equipment was being discarded. It was also the time when Bill Young, a design engineer, was working in the plant.
Eldorado has consistently denied any responsibility in the sudden death of this man from an acute form of cancer four years after he started work at the plant and two years after he was allegedly exposed to large quantities of alpha radiation. According to his account at the time, he tried to stop a plumber from throwing to the ground old ventilating ducts, which he knew to be contaminated, thus sending up clouds of dangerous alpha-laden dust particles. While doing this Bill Young breathed in some of the dust. Two years later he died from reticulum cell sarcoma, which had spread rapidly throughout his body in four months.
Most medical authorities believe it is impossible to develop cancer in two years. But Paul Falkowski, who has also worked on Bill Young's case on behalf of his widow, claims that the young engineer's symptoms were remarkably like those described in published accounts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims who died of radiation within two to eight years after the blast. And there is company evidence that even before the ventilating duct incident Mr. Young had been exposed to high gamma and radon levels—although these were within the laxer tolerance levels of the time.
Thresholds of danger in radiation exposure are highly controversial, as we have seen. In seven years the standards used in Ontario uranium mines (and often ignored, some miners charge) were tightened three times, going from 12 WLM per year to 4 WLM. Even 4 WLM is lax by most standards. The ICRP has recommended 3.6 WLM since 1959. In Sweden, where the standard of 3.6 is used, exposed workers were still found to be three times as likely as others to die of lung cancer according to labour commentators. Ontario's labour minister in 1976, Dr. Bette Stephenson, forecast additional cancers from 4 WLM and wondered publicly whether or not there is any "safe level." And the Saskatchewan government insists on a much higher standard of 1.2 WLM a year, a limit which would imply a lifetime maximum of 60 WLM, based on a 45-year working lifetime. This is also the maximum likely to be recommended by the British Columbia government's investigation into the uranium industry, the Bates commission.
Paul Falkowski has not given up on the Hills or the Young cases, but he is bitter about what he considers to be the board's prejudiced stand toward Eldorado workers. He says the board discounts the work of such experienced doctors in the field of radiation medicine as Victor Archer of the U. S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, Dr. Thomas Mancuso of the University of Pittsburgh, and cancer research specialist Sister Rosalie Bertell—all well-known names to those who are concerned about nuclear health hazards. It is his opinion that the board listens only to nuclear supporters—that it has become a victim in the increasing polarization of the nuclear debate.
"Don't bother playing the numbers game," he says. "Low-level radiation has been proven to cause lung cancer. Every worker who has been exposed to a dangerous level should therefore be compensated. What constitutes a dangerous level can be agreed upon."
His own personal conviction about Port Hope is that for decades, because of lack of medical experience, many illnesses among employees at Eldorado have been wrongly diagnosed. Deaths among long-time workers that may have been attributed to cardiovascular or circulatory disease may in fact have been caused by long-term low-level radiation exposure. This would explain Port Hope's high record of deaths from these diseases.
This still leaves us, though, with the problem of deciding what a dangerous level is and how it is to be determined. Evidence of the quality of working conditions, in years as recent as the late 1960s and early 1970s, is slipping away as workers' memories fade with passing years. It has become increasingly clear that it is going to be evidence of cancerous bodies, as Paul Falkowski predicted, that counts.
Gerry van Houten worked for Eldorado for ten years, mainly in the metals-fabrication division, working with enriched uranium. He was happy there; his attractive Cavan Street bungalow, filled with mementoes from foreign travels, attests to a good life. "It's a nice factory," he says of Eldorado, "they handle you well there."
But Gerry now knows he has 100 percent lung burden—the industry's term for lungs that are badly contaminated with radiation. He is likely to develop lung cancer. Working with enriched uranium a few years ago, when masks were flimsy and uncomfortable and the ventilation inadequate, was a risky business.
To add to his troubles Gerry turned sixty-five in 1980 and retired from the plant at the beginning of July. In the months before then, when he was no longer allowed to work because of his illness, he was fighting to get his case put on file at the Workmen's Compensation Board. If he developed cancer in his retirement he wanted to have a chance at least of being compensated.
But it was a struggle. Neither the union or the WCB wanted to have his file submitted. As he says, "the company wanted to tell me I was going out a healthy man."
Even though his case was finally accepted by the board, the latter's track record in these instances is not hopeful for Gerry van Houten. Although Eldorado's expensive new lung counter can tell him exactly what it is that is contaminating his lungs—1.3 percent enriched uranium that he undoubtedly inhaled in the dusty conditions of Eldorado's enrichment facilities—Gerry van Houten believes that the likelihood of the company paying him for his disability is small.
The union at Eldorado, local 13173 of the United Steelworkers of America, was instrumental in getting the company to buy this lung counter. Ron Jessup, an executive member, says that there has been a new awareness of workers' health since the union negotiated health and safety conditions into the contract a few years ago. But he maintains that, "the technology has only been developed recently. All we are trying to do is make damn sure they [the company] do what they can do."
There is a long way to go. The old section of the plant in Port Hope is notoriously dusty. Better masks would lessen the workers' reliance on lung counters and urine tests, methods that are useful only to measure that radiation which has already been absorbed by the body. Also helpful are personal alpha-radiation dosimeters, which record daily exposure; these are in use in some parts of the industry in France and in the province of Saskatchewan, and could be used in Port Hope.
Paul Waghorn, who has worked at Eldorado for several years, is quite satisfied with the company. He has worked in both the old and new sections of the plant as well as in shipping. Every three weeks he gets a urinalysis test to measure the amount of uranium his body has absorbed. Like all workers, he also has a personal dosimeter (a plastic badge to measure gamma radiation doses) which is sent to be read and returned every two weeks. Each year he is examined in the company's new lung counter, which measures the concentration and determines the type of material that might be trapped in his lungs. If he's worried about having been exposed to extra radiation between test dates he can request any of these tests again.
The hitch, of course, is that these expensive, complex machines only measure the damage after it has been done to the body. Methods of controlling the conditions that cause this sort of damage are less reliable, although the company has apparently spent large amounts of money on dust collectors, and on lighter, more comfortable masks, as well as on other equipment designed to keep the environment cleaner. Also there are now regular inspections by the province and the Atomic Energy Control Board.
People are fallible, however. They become inattentive, impatient, clumsy—and mistakes are made. An example of this is the acid spill in Port Hope harbour that occurred early in December 1978. A pipe through which radioactive sulphuric acid was being pumped into a tanker truck broke and several hundreds of gallons of acid drained into the Port Hope harbour, less than a mile from the intake pipe for the town's water supply. The Port Hope Water Commission building and works are situated on the lakefront a little to the west of Eldorado. The new intake pipe stretches half a mile out into the lake. The spill was not reported to company authorities by the workers involved. The provincial Ministry of the Environment did not know anything about it until more than a month later when routine water tests showed a radiation level of 30 picocuries in the harbour, about ten times the provincial standard for drinking water at that time. The maximum fine was $5,000 a day. In 1979 the Ontario Ministry of the Environment charged the company under the Ontario Water Resources Act with failing to report the spill.
Company officials later said that the employees concerned thought it had been cleaned up. The case was dismissed because Eldorado is a crown corporation and therefore not subject to provincial regulations.
But by the latter half of 1980 the province was preparing to resubmit the charges. It was determined that the company, which applies regularly for provincial environment ministry approval of its air emissions and solid-waste and sewage disposal, should also adhere to provincial water regulations.
Mistakes are made in other parts of the plant, too. During the summer of 1979 Port Hope residents complained about the heavy fumes from the plant that hung in the
air over the river valley along which the town is built. For days they caused coughing, eye irritations and pneumonia-like symptoms among many citizens. The fumes
were caused by a process that boils off ammonia and by the production system using nitric acid. The two chemicals were thought to have combined in the air after
leaving the plant chimneys. A spell of humid, stagnant weather intensified their effect.
When problems with fumes from the plant had started in June, the Ministry of the Environment asked the company to conduct a study of the chemical emissions coming
out of its stacks. Eldorado was also asked to close the plant if weather conditions made the fumes objectionable to its neighbours in the town. It was to submit a
report on its study to the ministry by the end of August. Apparently, the company was also having difficulty in fulfilling its fuel contracts and was reluctant to
interrupt production. By the latter half of August the combination of almost non-stop production and a stretch of damp, windless weather made conditions practically
intolerable for some citizens.
David Wong, a lab technician who had worked in the plant for seven years, said that the company's pollution-control equipment did not always work properly. Mr. Wong
lives across the harbour and downwind from the plant; he said he had often complained about the emissions, but nothing was done.
The fumes continued to hover over the town, causing physical distress and eventually anger. And the company's failure to respond to complaints led some citizens to
take the matter to politicians and the media. The resulting furor reached a climax with Dr. Levy's public concern about cancer rates and ended only with the
subsequent government commitment to a full-scale health study of the town.
Eldorado promised to install new pollution-control equipment and to reduce the volume of some emissions by up to 90 percent by the end of the year.
"Why should we have to wait that long?" asked local teacher Suzanne Skinner at a ratepayers' meeting on August 21st. She and her family, including three young
children, lived on King Street South, a residential area badly affected by fumes. It is located directly across the harbour, a quarter-mile—and usually downwind—from
the Eldorado plant. The blue, chemical-laden haze could often be seen drifting across the water towards the homes there. Already one of the Skinner children had been
hospitalized by the effects of the fumes and all summer the family had been suffering from respiratory ailments caused, said their doctor, by the polluted atmosphere
in which they lived.
On August 16, Mrs. Skinner had sent off copies of a carefully documented list of complaints to anyone she felt could help—from the Prime Minister and the Minister of
the Environment to the local health inspector and newspaper and television offices. Her "Calendar of Problems" listed four months of illness and frustration in
dealing with the company and the Ministry of the Environment. It showed how she was patronized and soothed by Eldorado. She was assured there was no health problem
from the emissions and that it was just the summer humidity that was getting her down. The Ministry of the Environment admitted there was no way it could test the
air for the ammonium nitrates that were causing the problem.
Finally, two weeks after Mrs. Skinner sent her letter, she received a detailed reply from plant manager Gordon Colborne. He explained the emissions problems and the
steps being taken to solve them. He said her reiterated concerns had produced efforts to eliminate the smog, but the company had "apparently failed to keep her
informed of its progress to date." He noted that according to the company's information the emissions were mildly irritating, but not carcinogenic.
By then, in response to the surge of publicity elicited by Mrs. Skinner's complaints, the company had been directed by the Atomic Energy Control Board and the
government environmental agencies to stagger the start-up of its ammonia concentrator and uranium dioxide and trioxide production systems, which had been closed for
their annual maintenance period. It was also ordered to closely monitor the plant's emissions and to report on these to the regulatory agencies.
Newspaper headlines and television and radio interviews kept the subject boiling. A month later Kirk Makin, who had been covering Port Hope and its problems for the
Globe and Mail
since the radon gas story broke nearly four years earlier, wrote a full-page feature on the health of the towns' residents.
He quoted Dr. Alan Levy's concern about the incidence of cancer in the town. Another doctor who had been treating the thyroid cancer victim Stephen Saines urged that
the town's health be studied.
A direct result of this media attention, and particularly of the Globe and Mail
story, was the commitment by federal and provincial health ministers to
combine on a full-scale health study of the town.
Over Eldorado's doubts, and in spite of its assurances that it was doing its own study of the health of its workers past and present, the study was to go ahead. It
was almost exactly four years after the first problems with radon gas were revealed and it took yet another year to agree on the contracts to do the complex study.
The study was to take two years and would be both retrospective and prospective. Records of earlier times would be matched against current and future health
statistics. Medical in broad concept, it would also require statistical correlations, computer record matching, field surveys, and radiation measurements. The lack
of such records from the past would be an on-going problem. But as Kirk Makin wrote:
The town of Port Hope is packed with human guinea pigs: people who have breathed, drunk, even touched radioactive material for long periods of time... perhaps
the prospects for scientific knowledge can prevail where other concerns [about their health] have not
With the promise of a health study it looked as if Port Hope's most serious problem with Eldorado was at last being taken seriously. But for many townspeople, like
those sturdy citizens who boasted of exhaling radon gas with every breath and those who worried about the town's image, the prospect was more a threat than a
Mayor Bill Wyatt spoke about the idea grudgingly. He told a visiting reporter that real-estate sales had fallen off badly during the radon gas scare and that he
didn't think there had ever been anything detrimental to people's health in the town. Anyway, everyone had a right to look after his own health, he said.
A correspondent to the Evening Guide
, however, said in a letter that it was high time the town stopped trying to hush things up. Jack Goering, a science
teacher, warned that the town had to face the fact that Eldorado was causing problems. He agreed with the mayor that everyone had a right to look after their own
health but "some people just do not want Eldorado to be the determiner of their health style nor that of their children."
But the argument soon died out. The health-study proposal disappeared into the bureaucratic machinery of Ottawa and Toronto for more than a year. In May 1980 a
nine-page description of the study was published, but it was written for epidemiologists and had very limited circulation in Port Hope.
By then, however, there had been another string of Eldorado-related problems in the town and more were to come. As usual the citizens' attention was diverted away
from the painful issue of their own health to more immediate problems. After the outcry over the plant's nitric acid fumes, which had been five to six times the
company's own boildown-stack standard at times during the summer of 1979, Eldorado promised to cut emissions of the most irritating pollutants by Christmas. For
the people suffering from these and other chemical emissions, this four-month timetable seemed leisurely. At the end of October the company installed a new
condenser in the boildown stack of the uranium trioxide process, from which most of the nitrates were emitted. Although there were ongoing difficulties with the
new equipment, Environment Canada announced in November that the rate of nitrate emissions from the chimney had been lowered.
But by early 1980, the measurement of nitrates in the stack was still between one and three pounds per hour. [The provincial "guideline" is 2½ pounds per hour].
It was not until the fall of 1980, after substantial new work on a "total" condenser during the summer, that the company was able to make good on its promise of a
year earlier. Then the Ontario environment officials revealed that the plant's fluoride emissions had been regularly exceeding provincial criteria—in spots at
certain periods by eighteen times.
Both Environment Canada and the provincial environment ministry seemed during the fall of 1979 to have taken a sudden new interest in the town. Monitoring of
Eldorado emissions became a priority for the agencies, and citizens were encouraged to phone in their complaints if they noticed unusual smells or irritations.
Government travel budgets swelled as staff members tried to keep up with the challenge of measuring Eldorado's fumes. Meetings were held at which, reportedly,
the various odours of Eldorado were demonstrated to visiting experts.
Unknown to many townspeople, another change was quietly taking place that fall at the Eldorado plant site. With remarkably little fanfare the company built a new
$10 million uranium dioxide processing plant on the southern side of its property, to replace the old 1950s plant that had combined production facilities for
both uranium dioxide and uranium trioxide. The production of uranium dioxide, the fuel used in CANDUs, had been expanding at record levels—nearly three million
pounds in 1978—and requirements appeared to be growing. It was predicted that the new circuit would be capable of processing enough fuel annually for all Canadian
reactors until the end of the 1980s. As well, the new system would be substantially cleaner and more dust-free for employees.
The very few public references made in Port Hope to all this construction were to do with the new plant's siting—on the side of the company property facing the
lake and away from the uranium trioxide process. People who had noticed hoped this meant that the nitrates given off by the uranium trioxide production and the
ammonia from the uranium dioxide would be less likely to combine in the air over Port Hope and create obnoxious fumes and irritation. But the new uranium dioxide
circuit, although completed at the end of 1979, was still being tested ten months later, and production continued in the UO2 plant. So it was not clear whether
this separation of chimney stacks would solve the problem.
The fact that this big new facility could be built and put into production in Port Hope with so little public knowledge or consultation with town authorities gives
some idea of the isolation and impotence of townspeople in the face of Eldorado. And yet, during the very months it was being constructed, a few Port Hope citizens
were trying to set up a public committee to monitor the plant and to gain some control over their immediate environment.
The idea of a monitoring committee that would be accountable to the citizens of the town evolved out of the environmental assessment hearings at Port Granby and
at Hope township. It first came up at Port Granby, where citizens were trying to break through the reluctance of both Eldorado and the AECB to come clean with
the results of the monitoring being done around the Port Hope plant and the Port Granby waste dump. The Port Granby environmental review board suggested that there
should be a public body to receive, interpret, and disseminate this data, and to monitor any corrective measures that were needed.
At the time, Eldorado agreed only to consider
the establishment of such a committee, but after its proposal had been turned down at Port Granby, and by
the time of the Hope township hearings, it had a change of heart. It suggested that monitoring data could be regularly presented to a public forum in language
everyone could understand, and the industry's response could be explained.
By then, however, the environment review board—now considering the Hope township site—and skeptical citizens such as Elisabeth Pereira wanted more. They stressed
the need for public accountability. It was not enough, they argued, for the company to plan to give citizens monitoring data and the reasons for it. They wanted
this, but they also wanted to become the town's watchdog on radiation stands. Such a committee had to be responsible to the citizens who lived with the plant and
were exposed to its emissions and wastes.
During the summer of 1979 a small group called the Port Hope Environment Group pushed ahead with the idea. Although they were ignored at first by the town they
found some support from the AECB and from Eldorado. But there were problems regarding jurisdiction and money. Neither the federal nor the provincial environment
agencies or the AECB were willing to finance a monitoring committee, and no one other than town councillors wanted to take money from Eldorado for it. At this
time the group also felt that a monitoring committee should be independent of the town council, which had never seriously concerned itself with the pollution
problems caused by Port Hope's major employer.
When complaints about Eldorado's fumes grew louder and public attention again became focussed on the town, the plan gathered new impetus. The town council at
last showed interst. The AECB and both government environmental agencies pressed for the establishment of the committee and said that it should be under the
jurisdiction of the town council, although not financed by it. Eventually it was decided, over the objections of the environmental group, that the financing
should come from Eldorado, although the company (like the AECB) would attend meetings only as an observer.
It was eight months, however, before the monitoring committee started meeting. And by that time the town was facing yet another challenge from Eldorado: In the
summer of 1980 the company announced that it intended to lease a neighbouring ball park and beach area in order to build the long-planned uranium hexafluoride
plant on its cramped John Street site.
The first meeting of the monitoring committee tried to deal with this new challenge, and it was a disaster. Mrs. Pereira proposed that public environmental
hearings should be held on the company's proposal. The representative of the town waterworks commission exploded: "Do you want this place to become a ghost
town?" he asked. He had lived in Port Hope with Eldorado all his life, he said, and he thought no one was hurt by air emissions. He accused the monitoring
committee of being a political scare tactic.
Later meetings were calmer. By the fall of 1980 the monitoring committee had begun to represent a small but firm step forward in Port Hope's attempts to deal
with Eldorado. It had no legislative power and it could be—and was—used to paper over serious weaknesses in the town's position vis a vis the industry. Both
those bodies now boasted of it. But at last it showed that some Port Hope citizens were prepared to act officially and independently on the Eldorado issue.
By the fall of 1980, as municipal elections approached, there was a just-discernible willingness by a few politicans in the area to stand up to the company. The mayor of Newcastle and his council strongly opposed any further use by Eldorado of the Port Granby dump, which came within their jurisdiction. At least one Port Hope councillor (who subsequently retired from the race) was preparing to campaign for re-election with a platform based on opposition to current plans for the new refinery and the continuing problems of radioactive waste in Port Hope. He was joined by a few more Port Hope citizens as they raised their heads above the trenches to look at what was happening to their town.
It was not an encouraging sight. The previous year had been filled with more crises for the town—most of them related to Eldorado. Nationally, it was the most intensely political period in recent Canadian history. The short-lived Progressive Conservative government, elected in May of 1979, was defeated in the House of Commons the following December. The Liberals came back to power in February determined to entrench their hold on the country. The expansion of Eldorado into employment-starved Northern Ontario was part of the plan.
The Hope township environmental ruling that the refinery should be allowed to build its new plant in any of the three proposed sites—Hope township or the two northern Ontario communities—had been made while the Liberals were still in power. But by May, 1979 when the Progressive Conservative squeaked in with a minority victory under Prime Minister Joe Clark, there was change in the air.
Politically, the change of government had been good news for Port Hope. Allan Lawrence, the local riding MP for seven years, was a Conservative; he was made Solicitor General and Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs in the new government. More important, he fulfilled his election promise to keep the new uranium hexafluoride plant in his riding if his party came to power. In July the new cabinet approved Eldorado's choice of Hope township as the site of the proposed $130-million plant. But the new government quickly ran into trouble. By Christmas it had taken a severe pounding, mainly for its tough economic proposals, and was defeated on a non-confidence motion. On March 31, 1980, barely six weeks after the Liberal victory in the February federal election, the new Minister of Energy Mines and Resources, Marc Lalonde, halted work on Eldorado's Hope township site.
Lalonde's decision was certainly a political move as had been, at least in part, the Conservatives' previous decision to build in Hope township. Both of the northern Ontario sites chosen by Eldorado—Blind River, near the Elliot Lake uranium mines, and Dill township, near Sudbury—were in constituencies represented by Liberals in the federal House. One of these members, Dr. Maurice Foster of Blind River in Algoma riding, had campaigned hard to get the plant. The new junior Minister of Mines was a northerner, elected in what amounted to a Liberal sweep of northern Ontario.
But beyond the politics, there were other serious reasons for the decision. Northern Ontario's unemployment rate was perennially high and the Liberals were publicly committed to resource development in the area. More and more, the experts who were charged with the task of finding a permanent depository for radioactive wastes were eyeing northern Ontario's granite shield, and more and more they were being rebuffed by the unaccommodating citizenry. It seemed only reasonable that the people who mined the ore and were being asked to accept its wastes should be given some of the productive industry associated with it.
The timing of the announcement, however, was particularly hard for Port Hope. Only ten days before, the town had been hit by its worst spring flood in thirty years. Ten million dollars' damage was done when freak spring rains swelled the Ganaraska River and ice floes tore out a bridge and many downtown businesses. As it picked itself up from this blow, the town ran into the new and unwelcome prospect of losing the heavy investment and 200 to 300 jobs that the Eldorado plant was then promising.
Another steering committee, another letter-writing campaign, and rotating phone calls to Ottawa were organized. Form letters were made available in Port Hope businesses, and the chamber of commerce sped them to Ottawa. Delegations were sent to argue with the Minister, Marc Lalonde, that Port Hope's unemployment rate was even higher than northern Ontario's because of the recent flood and the work stoppage at Ontario Hydro's Wesleyville generating station.
But by the end of April the full weight of the blow fell. Eldorado was ordered to build its new uranium hexafluoride plant and refinery in Dr. Foster's constituency on the north shore of Lake Huron, at Blind River, near the big uranium mines at Elliot Lake.
Port Hopers immediately started totting up the cost. Work crews had been busy on the Hope township site for weeks, a road had been built and the land levelled. It would cost the taxpayers, they said, at least twice the $15-million loss to which Lalonde had admitted. Both Allan Lawrence—who was back as an MP for Durham-Northumberland—and a spokesman for Eldorado were quoted as putting the figure at about $34 million. In Hope township, estimates of the loss escalated to $60 million as disappointed officials added in the extra costs of building in the north, the contractors' penalty charges, inflation, and anything else they could think of.
"A stab in the back"... "blackmail"... "Port Hope, the disaster capital of the world" the Evening Guide
exclaimed. Mayor Bill Wyatt said immediately that he would apply for DREE (Department of Regional Economic Expansion) funding, the Ottawa incentive payments usually reserved for economically depressed areas—certainly not for the fat industrial heartland of southern Ontario.
But the chief response of the citizens was anger at what they perceived as the treachery of the federal Liberals. Many agreed with Allan Lawrence, who declared:
The government is telling the people of my constituency and everyone else in Canada that because they don't vote Liberal they are being punished. Now the people of the Port Hope area and the taxpayers of Canada will have to foot the exorbitant bill for this gift from the pork barrel
Wreaths lamenting the passing of Eldorado hung in store windows. Port Hopers commiserated with their fellow citizens who would have to move north to Blind River. Bill Stinson, the manager-designate of the Blind River refinery, felt compelled to write to the Evening Guide
pointing out that his new home town was not exactly the boondocks. It had sewerage and a piped water system, he pointed out, and plenty of schools and hospital facilities.
Sure a resident of Port Hope for 25 years, like myself, would have much preferred to see the plant in Hope township. But Port Hope should welcome, not attack this later member of the "nuclear communities club
He was not the only Eldorado executive who did not look forward to the move to Blind River. In Ottawa the lobbying and scurrying to and fro between the corporation and its government masters reached a fever pitch. Besides the money loss, Eldorado officials argued, the switch to Blind River meant the duplication of many operations that could have been combined in Hope township with the Port Hope operation, which would have been only three miles away. As well, there would be the added danger from tankers hauling hydrofluoric acid for the uranium hexafluoride conversion an extra 250 miles from the chemical plant in Amherstburg, Ontario, to Blind River. And what about the jobs that Lalonde had promised would be made up to Port Hope?
The only solution was an industrial one, which would also win political acceptance. Looking after both its economic and political interests, Eldorado announced in early June that it would divide the new plant's operations. The uranium hexafluoride conversion plant, a largely chemical operation, would be built in Port Hope; the uranium trioxide refinery—and eventually its Port Hope counterpart—would go to Blind River.
With the dirtier refining operation slated for faraway Blind River and a spanking new uranium hexafluoride plant in Port Hope—exactly where it wasn't at first revealed—it seemed to many townspeople that Eldorado had finally hit the jackpot.
Town officials were jubilant. The new $100-million plant would give the town an increase in its annual grant-in-lieu-of-taxes from the company. By 1985 the troublesome uranium trioxide refinery would be gone. And most important, the 570 jobs that Eldorado currently maintained would be secure, as the new uranium hexafluoride plant would absorb the lost trioxide jobs. With such an investment in their town, Port Hopers were sure they no longer needed to worry about the entire plant moving north.
No one seemed to be asking too many questions about exactly where the new plant would be built. It was summertime, and many people were away on holiday. Perhaps the others were thoroughly tired of trying to keep up with the Eldorado melodrama. Many citizens vaguely assumed that the plant would go back to Hope township.
But the see-saw pattern of events continued. In July 1980 the company revealed its preliminary plans for the new Port Hope uranium hexafluoride plant. It would be built in the current company parking lot, a block from the lake on John Street South. The first plans required that the town lease to Eldorado a ball park, beach house, and the access to its beachfront.
At a town council meeting held to discuss the plans, councillors and members of the harbour, waterworks, and parks commissions—who had in private meetings with the company already agreed in principle to co-operate—tried to explain their actions to the townspeople. Eldorado had promised to help establish a new beach and playground further west, the mayor said. The company argued that to locate the conversion plant in Hope township, as originally planned, would now be too expensive. Gordon Colborne, the company's Port Hope manager, reminded listeners that the new plant would be subject to Atomic Energy Control Board approval.
One objector asked about a buffer zone. The plans for the plant showed it to be scarcely two blocks away, across the railway tracks, from the nearest residential area and just over half a mile from the town's main shopping area. The question of buffer zones had been emphasized at both the previous public hearings. They were necessary, industry spokesmen had indicated, to protect people and vegetation from harmful emissions—particularly the hydrogen fluoride from the uranium hexafluoride process, which in sufficient concentrations could inhibit the growth of grains and cause disease in animals and people.
But now Colborne pointed out that the board nowhere lays down a specific measurement for a buffer zone. There was no permanent dwelling in the immediate area of the new plant; the company would meet the criteria for low-level radiation at its boundaries, he said. A buffer zone, it now seemed, was unnecessary.
"A person would be able to stand stark naked [there] 365 days of the year without exceeding the permissible level," Colborne assured the meeting. The skeptics in the audience remembered an earlier manager's assurance that the waste the company was dumping at the Port Granby site was good enough to eat—although he hastily declined when a farmer brought him a sample on a plate. For them, Gordon Colborne's image was not a particularly convincing one.
But there was little outspoken opposition to Eldorado's plan. A week later, an Evening Guide
editorial protested that the council had been too hasty in agreeing to lease the beachfront property.
"Where does the big give-away end?" it asked. "Lakefront given away today is beach gone forever." Without objecting in principle to the company expansion, it argued that Eldorado should not be given approval to build on the basis of one public meeting. More information was needed by the citizens, the writer claimed.
Not until the company's further designs on the lakefront became known did a nucleus of opposition begin to build up.
The immediate issue was a strip of land jutting out into the lake from the mouth of the Ganaraska River, which runs through the middle of Port Hope. It formed the central pier of the town's harbour in the old days, and had once been the site of the R. Crane Company ceramics plant. Eldorado had it on lease from the town until 2005, using it as a dumping ground and storage area.
But Port Hope's planning board, in an effort to reclaim and beautify the waterfront, wanted to change the zoning of the property and eventually open up the central pier for recreational use. It was an imaginative and overdue plan that fitted in with the town's efforts to increase its tourist trade. Lake Ontario's growing band of sailing enthusiasts were already objecting to the way Port Hope's excellent harbour facilities were overshadowed by the Eldorado plant on one side, with its unpleasant smells, and the piles of rusting scrap metal on the other. If the town was ever to regain control over the waterfront, this was an obvious place to start.
But the central pier's inclusion in the planning board's broad re-zoning proposals was held up in October 1980 and seemed to have been killed by Eldorado. The company said it needed the property "in the light of its present plans to expand the uranium hexafluoride operation in Port Hope," and could not agree to rezoning. Privately, a town councillor later reported, a company vice president threatened that the uranium hexafluoride plan would not go ahead unless the central pier was retained as an industrial zone.
The matter died as a public issue almost as soon as it had flared up. The prospect of losing the plant brought the town council, as always, to heel and the central pier rezoning was dropped from the amendment. Later, in November, the beach property was sold by the town to Eldorado for $432,000. But for a few citizens Eldorado was beginning to go too far.
There had been no explanation of why, suddenly, a new uranium hexafluoride plant could be accommodated on a few acres of their beachfront with no buffer zone. Why had there been no public environmental hearings? They had not been asked if they were willing to give up their ball park or beach. Now it was rumoured that Eldorado wanted to retain the central pier even beyond the lease expiry date of 2005. The Evening Guide
In all honesty, do ENL officials really believe their track record is one that gives the average Joe a whole lot of confidence in any future projects they may propose? We are still trying to sort out the disastrous effects of past operations... All the conflicts of ideology in the world will not erase the facts as they exist in Port Hope's history
The paper argued strongly that public environmental hearings must be held on the proposed new plant.
Along with the loss of their beach park and the central pier plan, along with the polluted piles of wastes that were becoming part of the permanent landscape, Port Hopers that summer had taken a much more personal blow from the crown corporation.
On July 24, a few days after the beach expansion plans were announced, Ron Dakers, the company's senior vice-president, arrived in town to conduct personally the largest mass firing of management employees that the town had ever witnessed. About thirty of Eldorado's senior and middle-management staff—including some, like general manager Gordon Colborne, with more than a quarter-century's service to the company—were summarily dismissed.
The news stunned the town. The first announcement, sharing the front page of the Evening Guide
with an article on the adequacy of school erasers, gave a simple account of the company's reasons for the firings: the new production arrangments required a different, more centralized, management. But as further details emerged the speculation widened. The men had been called in individually by Mr. Dakers, told they were fired, informed of the terms of their settlements, given half an hour to pick up their belongings, and then asked to leave. According to some, as this story raced around the town, they were accompanied by security guards to their offices and then to the front gate of the plant. They were told they could come back under supervision the following Saturday to collect the rest of their belongings.
The brutal manner of these dismissals was almost unbelievable to Port Hopers. People who had enacted Ottawa's policies, who had for years absorbed and deflected the reaction of their fellow citizens to them, people who were largely responsible for the town's remarkable record of acceptance of Eldorado's mistakes, and who were widely known and respected in the community, were suddenly being treated almost as petty criminals. Even those most opposed to the company felt a twinge of sympathy for its ex-leaders.
"Any intelligent appraisal of it showed the company was on a disaster course," one of the victims said after the bloody event. The balance-sheet explanation was convincing. Profits in 1979 had declined dramatically from over $17 million in 1978 to under $400,000. The June quarterly report was equally gloomy. Uranium sales were down, the company was tied to long-term contracts signed when prices were lower, and production costs continued to rise. Even finding people to mine the uranium was becoming difficult. The company had spent millions on automated equipment and had had to go to Europe for miners. It had spent $16 million on a Boeing 737 aircraft to replace the DC-3's and DC-4's used on its runs to its growing operation at Beaver Lodge, Saskatchewan.
Were these the real reasons for mass firings of senior executives? Some thought so, but others put the blame on a potentially serious explosion that happened in July in the plant's uranium trioxide refinery.
The accident had occurred when workers were under heavy pressure to fulfil production targets, as indeed they had been throughout the year. There were no injuries (the accident happened during a shift change), but mildly radioactive uranium and chemicals spewed onto the walls and ceiling after a twelve-foot-high vessel containing uranyl nitrate burst open. As a result, the entire uranium trioxide circuit was closed down almost two weeks for repairs.
It was the final straw, according to Ken Ashton, the union local's vice-president. He was quoted as saying that a management change was due after all the trouble there had been at the plant, and the accident put the cap on it. "It just came to a head faster than anyone expected."
Perhaps he was right, although none of those fired worked in the uranium dioxide/trioxide plant. The company's precarious financial state helped sharpen the sword. But the style of management personified by Gordon Colborne and some of his colleagues was another reason for the clean-out. As Eldorado grew bigger and bigger, competing internationally in a continually expanding technology, the Port Hope refinery—the crucial link in the enterprise—threatened to become a bottleneck. The plant itself was old and had been added onto here and there in a topsy-like way to keep up with the expansion. According to some critics, its management techniques matched its physical layout.
Gordon Colborne knew each facet of the Port Hope refinery inside out, and liked to keep tabs on everything. He was, some said, a benevolent dictator. Although he had been subject to harsh action and criticism from unionists and environmentalists for policies that he did not set, he remained, most people said, "just too nice."
"Gordon was at all times a gentleman," one of his colleagues explained. "He was not tough enough. He tried to encompass the whole operation and maybe he lacked business discipline. He was too nice a guy really, out of sync with Ottawa."
"A nice guy, out of sync with Ottawa"—the phrase crystallized one view of the company that started life producing a cancer cure and that had become a critical link in Canada's large nuclear energy establishment. The nice-guy approach had served it well over the years, with a judicious admixture of secrecy as the company tried to stave off any display of public discontent. But Eldorado had outgrown this approach, and bigger conflicts lay ahead, between the ordinary needs of the Port Hope townspeople—for jobs, for clean air and water, for agricultural and recreational land—and the demands of an expanding nuclear industry.
Port Hope is on the eastern edge of Canada's biggest concentration of nuclear power. Eldorado Nuclear supplies all the fuel that produces over 2,000 megawatts of electrical power from Ontario Hydro's nuclear generating plant at Pickering, some forty miles away. The refinery's output grew 60 percent in the latter half of the 1970s and it will continue to grow, if the eight new reactors Ontario Hydro plans for Pickering and the new plant at neighbouring Darlington come into operation. In ten years' time, the utility predicts, half of Ontario's electricity will be nuclear-generated.
But the fuel for Ontario Hydro's CANDU reactors at present represents only 20 percent of Eldorado's production. The other 80 percent is uranium hexafluoride, which goes abroad for enrichment into the fuel used by foreign light-water reactors. The processing of this uranium hexafluoride, Eldorado claims, enables the cost of the CANDU fuel to be kept low, since the preliminary refining stage to uranium trioxide is the same for both fuels.
So the building of a new uranium hexafluoride plant in Port Hope will not only increase valuable export sales for the financially troubled company; it will also help provide the people of Ontario with relatively cheap electrical energy, Eldorado says.
But is this what Canadians need? And what will it do to the people of Port Hope and Port Granby?
To answer the last question first, a new uranium hexafluoride plant will ensure the continuance and growth of the radioactive waste problem in these two little lakeshore towns. There is nowhere to put the low-level wastes now. Even the criteria to regulate a disposal site, supposing one could be found, have not been formulated.
The only place to dump wastes from the new plant and the thousands of tons still lying poorly fenced and signposted in Port Hope's ravines is in the Lakeshore Site at Port Granby. But as some members of the Ontario Select Committee on Hydro Affairs discovered in October 1980, there are already about 500,000 tons of wastes, and 1,000 curies of radiation in this leaky dump. The wastes lie in unlined trenches with about three feet of soil cover over them. In late 1980 the AECB estimated that there were only three acres of usable space left in the dump, and that this will be used up by current and future operations of Eldorado by the end of 1984. What will happen then?
Both industry and government spokesmen who are faced with this dilemma assure their questioners that it is only temporary. The wastes will be moved, they claim, the problem will be solved. But the radioactivity in these dumps is not temporary. It will last for thousands of years wherever it is put. And in the absence of plans for scouring out the ravines and dumps and moving these massive amounts of contaminated waste, the citizens of Port Hope and Port Granby have to assume that it will remain where it is for many years to come.
Since no one knows how these wastes will be finally disposed of or at what cost, these essential expenses are not being added to the processing costs of Eldorado's product. So, the Canadian taxpayers who must pay for whatever waste-disposal research is going on in the country, and whatever disposal methods there will be, are in effect subsidizing the cost of uranium hexafluoride fuel to American and other foreign buyers. And Port Hopers are living with the consequences.
As a final twist, the people of Port Hope learned from the Ontario Select Committee on Hydro Affairs hearings that the AECB, having spent nearly $7 million in a clean-up of their town, could not afford to fence properly or to signpost the ravines where remnants of past Eldorado operations still lie, some still highly radioactive. Old bits of crocks and other material which clean-up crews handle only with tongs were readily accessible—in one case lying, for a while, completely unfenced and unsignposted in wasteland, and in others shielded only by standard 3½- to 4-foot fencing. When the Select Committee asked why 10-foot-high chain-link fencing was not installed around the waste sites, Dr. Roger Eaton—chief of the radioactivity remedial action group of the AECB—said that in his opinion the extra cost (of a few thousand dollars) was not worth the additional security that such a fence would give. It would be as easy to penetrate the more expensive fence as those that had been erected, he believed.
Children pass by these ravines daily. Brewery Pond, where in December 1980 radioactive material emitting an estimated 5 to 10 millirems an hour (which is five to ten times the AECB standard) lay loose on the ground, is a few minutes' walk from the local high school. Other contaminated ravines are within a few yards of residential streets. Yet no special warning was being issued to children, at school or by the police, about the dangers of the material they might find in these ravines.
Investigation into the special dangers of low-level radioactive wastes continues. Some experts such as Dr. David Bates who headed the British Columbia Royal Commission into Uranium Mining and Dr. Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility believe that AECB standards are far too lax. Recent figures show, Edwards claims, that people living at the AECB limit would be much more likely than previously estimated to contract lung cancer. Research by Dr. Victor Archer, an acknowledged expert in radon-induced cancer, seems to bear out this claim. What is there to prevent a Port Hope child from innocently picking up a piece of this radioactive material and exposing himself to this health risk?
The only possible excuse for this situation is that the continued economic health of Eldorado, or the benefits of nuclear energy, are so important that they are worth the dangerous health risks with which the people of Port Hope are living. The problems and benefits of nuclear energy have been exhaustively analyzed and fought over. Its proponents say it is clean and will give Canadians the standard of living they seek; its enemies say it is expensive and potentially dangerous. This account of what it has meant to the people of one small town gives a human aspect to the debate.
It has meant jobs, lower taxes, and notoriety. It has meant the loss of its lakeshore and recreational land, currently low real-estate values, and a divided and worried population. It has shown how impotent ordinary citizens and their elected municipal leaders can be in the face of an expanding complex and bureaucratic technology.
The company's proponents argue that most of Port Hope's troubles—the radon gas, the contaminated shoreline at Port Granby, the thousands of tons of low-level radioactive wastes that remain in the town—have nothing to do with the nuclear age. Technically they are right: the worst wastes are a legacy from the time when the company processed radium, not uranium. But the company's failure to clean up these wastes when they were known to be damaging the environment of the community, and its continued reliance on the leaky lakeshore dump at Port Granby, lower its credibility. Now its present failure to submit to standard environmental practices—by planning a buffer zone around the proposed new uranium hexafluoride plant and by taking part in public environmental hearings—shows its apparent determination to ride roughshod over the community that has supported it.
Eldorado spokesmen argue that there is no need for these measures. There have already been detailed hearings on the uranium hexafluoride plant in the area, they say, and new methods of controlling the potentially dangerous hydrogen fluoride emissions from it make a buffer zone unnecessary. The calcium fluoride wastes from the new plant will still be dumped at Port Granby, they admit, but this dump will be properly controlled; moreover, the company is working on ways to recycle these wastes in other industrial processes, notably in the processing of steel.
Port Hopers may be forgiven their skepticism. So many times in the past they and their neighbours in the countryside have been reassured or bought off, only to find that the contaminated waste that they complained about was just as damaging as they feared, or worse. The regularity with which the old stories of polluted farmland, poisoned cattle, and broken fences come up is not because these people live in the past or enjoy dredging up bad memories. It is a sign of the uncertainty they feel about the future. "We complained then, we told you about our troubles and you assured us it was going to be all right," they are saying. "Then look what happened. Will it all happen again? How can we trust your assurances?"
Anyone who haunts the Ottawa offices of Eldorado Nuclear or the Atomic Energy Control Board soon becomes familiar with one particular poster that employees of both these establishments seem to like. It is in pseudo-Edwardian style, complete with stylized curlicues and an elegant profile with a drooping moustache. A pointing finger warns: "This room is equipped with Edison Electric Light. Do not attempt to light with a match. Simply turn the key..."
The analogy to nuclear power is glib and doubtless amusing to many of the people in the office. And Port Hopers are no more anxious than they to go back to candles and oil lamps or milking by hand. But the issues for them are much more personal.
They have watched toxic and radioactive waste pile up in their town and countryside and have been told it is not harmful. They have had their houses dug up, a school closed, their recreation areas fenced off because of that waste—and been told there is nothing to worry about. They have seen land values stagnate. They have seen wilderness and agricultural land disappearing into company ownership. They have feared that if they protested the company might leave town. They know of community pressure against citizens who planned to speak out against the company and of business lost by others who did. Above all, some of them now wonder, what will happen in the future?
Until 1939, uranium was an unwanted waste product from radium mining. There were tons of it lying around Port Hope, Ontario, since a refinery had operated there in
the 1930s to extract radium from ores from Great Bear Lake.
Fill from past Port Hope refinery operations, used around buildings in the town, caused excessive
radon gas buildup.