Fluoride Action Network

Port Hope: Reasons for Decision to renew Nuclear Fuel Facility Operating Licence for the Conversion Facility

Source: Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission ()CNSC) | February 26th, 2007
Industry type: Nuclear Industry

Excerpts from:
Record of Proceeding, Including Reasons for Decision

In the Matter of Cameco Corporation

Subject: Application to Renew the Class 1 B Nuclear Fuel Facility Operating Licence for the Conversion Facility Located in Port Hope, Ontario

Hearing Dates: October 4 and November 28 and 29, 2006

Date of Decision: November 29, 2006
Date of release of Reasons for Decision: February 26, 2007

2. The Port Hope Conversion Facility (hereafter called the ‘facility’) is located within the Municipality of Port Hope, Ontario, situated on the north shore of Lake Ontario, approximately 100 km east of the city of Toronto, Ontario. The facility primarily converts uranium trioide (UO3) powder produced by Cameco’s Blind River Facility to uranium dioxide (UO2), which is used in the manufacture of CANDU reactor fuel, and uranium hexafluoride (UF6), which is exported for further processing into fuel for Light Water Reactors. In addition, a Metals Plant is used to cast uranium metal into shielding and counterweights for certain types of aircraft. The facility also includes recycling and decontamination capabilities along with a stand-by plant or further UO2 production.

39. The Commission questioned the status of the issue of neutron fields emitted from UF6 produced at the facility, generated by the interaction of alpha particles with fluoride atoms present in UF6.

51. Intervenors expressed concern over the use of hydrofluoric acid (HF) at the facility and the risk to health and safety. In this regard, the Commission sought information concerning the safety with which fluorides are handled at the facility. CNSC staff noted that sufficient barriers have been implemented and are continuously reviewed to ensure that enough defence in depth is properly placed on this safety area.

52. CNSC staff further explained that all handling of HF is done within the confines of the facility in the plant. CNSC staff noted that railcars carrying HF are off-loaded inside the facility where the defence in depth mechanism can be properly used to ensure the safety of workers, the public and the environment. CNSC staff stated that it has benchmarked this type of process of dealing with HF in the uranium conversion process against other similar facilities. CNSC staff noted that the measures that Cameco has taken to ensure that the public, workers and the environment are protected exceed those that are used at comparable facilities.

53. The Commission further inquired if any incidents at the plant involving fluorides occurred during the licence period. CNSC staff responded that several incidents occurred related to releases within the containment system within the plant facility, and first-aid had been administered to individuals as a result of some incidents. CNSC staff noted that each incident is analyzed by Cameco to determine the root causes and any corrective actions and measures that need to be taken to prevent the incident from reoccurring.

54. The Commission asked Cameco to explain how it would eliminate incidents involving contact with HF. Cameco stated that its goal is to have no incidents with HF and reiterated that it maintains rigorous systems for putting in place work practices that will achieve a workplace with no contact with HF.

58. Cameco stated that the primary emissions associated with the operations of the facility are uranium and fluorides. Cameco stated that contamination and other hazards are controlled at the source by the design and operation of process systems and material handling equipment, by restricting the presence of uranium or uranium contaminated wastes to controlled areas, by monitoring the levels of airborne uranium and surface contamination and by effective dust collection and scrubber systems.

61. Cameco reported that it had reduced fluoride emissions from 138 grams of HF per hour (g Hf/h) in 2002 to 52g Hf/h in 2006, representing about a 60% decrease. Cameco stated that it accomplished this through additional process modifications to the scrubbing the fluoride recovery systems in the Facility’s UF6 plant.

63. Cameco reported that it monitors uranium and fluorides released from stacks from the facility. CNSC staff reported that the results from air emissions monitoring at the facility demonstrate that average uranium and fluoride air emissions from the facility are well below their respective licence limits. CNSC staff noted that no licence limits were exceeded during the review period.

74. CNSC staff explained that the North Municipal/Industrial Strategy for Abatement (MISA) and South MISA effluents are monitored for levels of uranium, fluorides, ammonia, nitrates and pH. CNSC staff reported that no licence limits were exceeded during the licence period.

88. CMSC staff stated that the impact of fluoride emissions on the environment is determined each autumn when samples of fluoride-sensitive vegetation are collected by the Ontario MOE and Cameco staff from locations close to the facility. CNSC staff reported that the results indicate that there is no significant adverse impact on vegetation at the fluoride emission levels which occurred during the period.

108. Cameco stated that it submitted a Significant Development Report to the CNSC on June 25, 2004 because of an incident involving a UF6 cylinder leak. Cameco reported that the root cause was identified and corrected to prevent recurrence. Cameco stated that a full report was submitted to CNSC in May 2005.

123. CNSC staff reported that during the licence period, Cameco conducted a number of emergency exercises in order to maintain its capabilities to respond to events other than fires. CNSC staff stated that this included an exercise to familiarize staff with the newly issued version of the Emergency Response Plan, a test of the Community Alert Network (CAN) system used for notifying the community of emergency situations, and a joint exercise involving a chemical leak from an anhydrous hydrogen fluoride tanker truck conducted in conjunction with members of the local Community Awareness and Emergency Response (CAER) group, including the PHFD and other staff from the Municipality of Port Hope. CNSC staff noted that the exercises were evaluated by Cameco staff and corrective acitons were taken to enhance performance.

124. Some intervenors, including members of the public, expressed concerns with the use of HF at the site and the ability for Cameco to resond to an emergency of that type. The Commission asked Cameco to explain its plan for such an accident. Cameco responded that there are systems of secondary containment, alarms and emergency ventilation in place to detect, divert and contain any release of HF. Cameco added that through involvement with the CAER organization, it has worked towards developing “shelter in place” plans, distributed brochures on shelters in place and implemented the commnity alert network telephone system, which would provide a means of early warning. Cameco added that the development of evacuation plans is something that needs to be put in place by the municipality, and Cameco is cooperating with the municipality as it evolves and works on evacuation planning and emergency measures.

169. An intervenor expressed concerns about the security of railcars containing HF being at the Cobourg train station. The Commission sought further information on this matter. CNSC staff responded that the HF railcar falls under the jurisdiction of Transport Canada, as does the transportation of all hazardous goods. CNSC staff explained that Canadian National Railway (CN) is required to inspect the car at a set frequency and implement other security measures. CNSC staff noted that CN can store full and empty cars according to its shunting requirements and those decisions are made by CN.