Uranium Levels in Soil Samples Around GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy Inc. Toronto Facility
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission regulates the use of nuclear energy and materials to protect health, safety, security and the environment; to implement Canada’s international commitments on the peaceful use of nuclear energy; and to disseminate objective scientific, technical and regulatory information to the public.
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy Canada Inc. (GEH-C) is licensed and regulated by the CNSC. The GEH-C has owned and operated a nuclear facility located at 1025 Lansdowne Ave. in Toronto, Ontario since 1955. The facility produces uranium dioxide (UO2) pellets for use in nuclear power plants. In October 2012, residents living near the facility raised concerns regarding the concentration of uranium in soil resulting from the facility's air emissions. While GEH-C provided soil sampling reports to the public that demonstrated uranium levels are below the applicable soil quality guidelines, concern continued to mount. To address the public concern, the Ontario Ministry of Environment (MOE) undertook independent soil sampling in public areas.
MOE's soil sampling coincided with GEH-C's regularly scheduled annual sampling and each performed their own soil sample collections in June 2013. The CNSC was present and requested split samples from both sampling campaigns in order to conduct its own independent analysis to verify results.
The overall conclusion of the CNSC, based on the licensee's monitoring data and the analysis of the soil samples, is that uranium concentrations in soil around the GEH-C Toronto facility are well below the accepted standards for protection of human and environmental health. The public living near the facility and the environment are protected and safe from the facility's nuclear activities.
Naturally Occurring Uranium and Soil Quality Guidelines
Uranium is a naturally occurring, alpha-emitting radioactive element that is present at low levels in various rocks and ores, soil, water, air, plants and in animal tissue. In Ontario, natural background levels of uranium in soil are generally below 2.5 µg/g (micrograms per gram).
To protect human health and the environment, soil quality guidelines have been established by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME). The guidelines represent levels of uranium in soil below which no risk to human health is expected. For residential and parkland land use, the guideline is 23 µg/g and for commercial use, the guideline is 33 µg/g. Findings higher than these guidelines would suggest that further investigations to determine the source of the uranium in soil and the potential site-specific health risks may be required.
GEH-C Soil Samples – Facility Perimeter
GEH-C collected samples at 49 locations around the facility's perimeter; from those, the CNSC requested eight split samples. The CNSC's laboratory analysis results of the 8 samples showed that concentrations of uranium at all but three sample locations were below the Ontario background level of 2.5 µg/g. The three soil samples with elevated concentrations ranged from 4.7 to 21.2 µg/g and are consistent with results submitted annually to the CNSC in the GEH-C annual compliance report. The highest concentration was found near the railroad tracks. However, all results were lower than the applicable CCME commercial soil quality guideline for uranium of 33 µg/g.
MOE Soil Samples – Public Areas
The MOE collected samples in 24 public area locations surrounding the Toronto facility. The CNSC's laboratory analysis results of these samples showed that concentrations of uranium at 22 out of 24 sample locations were below the Ontario background level of 2.5 µg/g. At two sample locations, the concentrations of uranium were only slightly elevated, ranging from 2.53 to 2.93 µg/g. All sample locations had uranium in soil concentrations lower than the applicable CCME residential soil quality guideline for uranium of 23 µg/g.
This report also provides a summary of the routine monitoring programs at GEH-C. All releases to the environment are well below regulatory limits.
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