It is the largest environmental remediation effort and the first of its kind in Canada. A massive clean-up and restoration is underway an hour and a half east of Toronto along the shore of Lake Ontario in the community of Port Hope.
During the depression, there was a high demand for uranium ore. It meant money and jobs. The community of Port Hope was selected as the location to refine the ore that was shipped in from the North West Territories. The rock was mined primarily for its usefulness in the field of medicine, for X-rays and cancer treatments. However, the knowledge about radium, chemical contamination and environmental impacts wasn’t well known in the 1930s.
“Knowledge was different back then,” says Glenn Case, senior technical advisor with the Port Hope Area Initiative (PHAI). “The depression was on and there was a thirst for radium. Now there are radioactive elements in the soil and chemical contamination associated with the old ore from 1932-1954.”
From his home in Port Hope, Case talks frankly about the problems caused by the ore refining process during the Great Depression. He knows the project well, because his involvement with the Port Hope Area Initiative (PHAI) began almost 40 years ago, after his graduation.
In 1976, Case was hired to work in Port Hope on a two-month assignment addressing the situation of low-level waste found in properties in the area, fragments of uranium left in the soil. He has been part of the team responsible for developing a solution to removing the contamination.
Well known to the energy industry, the President at Women in Nuclear-Canada and a senior program manager for Bruce Power, Heather Kleb has spent 20 years working on environmental assessments and she was the lead for the PHAI environmental assessment.
“The PHAI is a big project with big expectations, 600,000 cubic meters of soil to be properly disposed of it took almost a decade to complete the regulatory approvals,” says Kleb.
“We needed to do comprehensive studies. We have knowledgeable communities because industry is here and there are ongoing consultations,” says Kleb. “Because it’s a nuclear project you also have to get approvals from the CNSC following the environmental assessment.”
Today the project is fully underway with an expected completion date sometime in 2022. For the community of Port Hope the harbor and ravines once cleaned up will be able to be enjoyed by the community. Development constraints will also be lifted and a new green space will mark the past as Port Hope looks to the future.