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Environmental protection review report summary: Cameco Fuel Manufacturing Inc.

Environmental protection review (EPR) reports provide the findings from CNSC staff’s technical assessment of how effectively licensees are protecting human health and the environment in the communities in which they are operating. The summary that follows highlights key areas of interest from the EPR report for the Cameco Fuel Manufacturing Inc. (CFM) facility. It represents only some of the information presented in the full report.

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About the facility

The CFM facility is owned by Cameco Corporation (Cameco) and is located in Port Hope, Ontario. The facility lies within the traditional territory of the Wendat, Anishinabek Nation, and the territory covered by the Williams Treaties with the Michi Saagiig and Chippewa Nations. Under Cameco’s current operating licence, the CFM facility is authorized to manufacture nuclear fuel bundles for power reactors in Canada.

About the report

The purpose of the report is to share CNSC staff’s findings from their review of Cameco’s environmental protection measures. This includes staff’s assessment of any possible environmental releases as part of normal operations and the risks that radiological or hazardous (non-radiological) substances pose to the environment and human health. The report draws on information provided by Cameco and the CNSC’s technical assessments, including:

  • the results of Cameco’s environmental monitoring, as reported in the annual compliance monitoring and operational performance reports
  • Cameco’s 2016 Environmental Risk Assessment for the Cameco Fuel Manufacturing Facility
  • Cameco’s 2021 Review of Environmental Risk Assessment for the Cameco Fuel Manufacturing Facility
  • Cameco’s preliminary decommissioning plan
  • the results of the CNSC’s Independent Environmental Monitoring Program (IEMP)
  • the results from other environmental monitoring programs and/or health studies (such as those completed by other levels of government) conducted near the CFM facility
  • Cameco’s licence renewal application for the CFM facility
  • Cameco’s Justification for Licence Term and Production Increase for Cameco Fuel Manufacturing

Overall, CNSC staff found that Cameco continues to implement and maintain effective environmental protection measures to adequately protect the environment and the health of people living in and around Port Hope, Ontario. CNSC staff found that the potential risks to the environment from any of the releases observed between 2016 and 2020 are similar to natural background levels and that any health risk is similar to that experienced by the general public in other parts of the province.

Environmental monitoring

In the nuclear industry, any kind of contaminant emitted by a facility is called a release. This report looks at different kinds of releases and their possible impacts on the land, air and water in the area surrounding the CFM facility, as well as any potential impact on human health.

The graphic below illustrates how a release may reach the environment through what’s called exposure pathways. In the case of CFM, this graphic is a simplified representation of the facility and different types of releases – such as emissions in the air or effluent in the water – and the human and ecological receptors that may interact with the releases.

Figure 1: The different potential exposure pathways a release from the CFM facility may use to reach the environment and humans
A workflow showing how health studies, the CNSC’s Independent Environmental Monitoring Program, other environment monitoring programs, and Indigenous knowledge feed into the environmental protection review under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, followed by CNSC compliance monitoring, and which environmental protection measures licensees are responsible for under an environmental management system. The system includes effluent monitoring, environmental and groundwater monitoring, and supplementary studies and current science.

The pathways represented in the graphic may include the following components: direct gamma exposure, atmospheric release, groundwater discharge to surface water, sanitary sewer discharge, infiltration of soil deposition to groundwater, inhalation and immersion in air, wild food ingestion, groundshine, aquatic food ingestion, wildlife ingestion, and uptake by aquatic organisms.

Cameco must monitor its releases and measure them against pre-established limits. It then reports its results to the CNSC and other levels of government. The CNSC verifies this data by conducting reviews and inspections of Cameco’s environmental protection programs as well as by using mechanisms such as the IEMP.

CNSC’s monitoring

Under the IEMP, CNSC staff take samples, such as air, water, soil, sediment, vegetation, or some local food like meat or vegetables, from public areas near nuclear facilities. These areas may include parks, farmland and beaches. The samples are then tested at the CNSC’s own laboratory in Ottawa for contaminants related to each facility's operations.

CNSC staff conducted IEMP sampling around the CFM facility in 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2020.

Laboratory specialists analyzed samples in the CNSC’s laboratory. The levels of uranium in all the samples measured in 2020 were below available guidelines and were similar to the range of results from the 2014, 2015 and 2017 IEMP sampling campaigns.

The CNSC’s IEMP page has more information, including detailed sampling results.

Cameco’s monitoring

Air: Atmospheric releases

Cameco controls and monitors airborne emissions that come from operations at the CFM facility. At the facility are 2 sources of airborne releases of uranium: the process stacks and the building exhaust ventilation. The facility uses a variety of pollution control equipment, including baghouses, HEPA filtration and scrubbers, to control and reduce emissions to the air.

The monitoring results (table 1) show that air emissions of uranium were consistently several orders of magnitude below release limits during the monitoring period. As a result, CNSC staff have found that Cameco continues to provide adequate protection of people and the environment.

Table 1: Total uranium discharged to the air from CFM in kilograms compared with applicable release limits (2012 to 2021)
Release limit (kg/yr)1 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Total uranium discharge through stacks (kg/year) 14 0.02 0.03 0.01 0.01 0.03 0.01 0.01 0.004 0.01 0.01
Total uranium discharge through building exhaust ventilation (kg/year) 0.57 0.48 0.40 0.45 0.70 0.57 1.25 1.09 0.92 0.89

1 The current atmospheric release limit, effective March 01, 2022, is 10.5 kg U/yr

Water: Liquid releases

Cameco routinely monitors uranium and pH in effluent released from the CFM facility. Cameco also monitors other municipal sewer by-law parameters (e.g., oil and grease) on a non-routine basis. Liquid effluent from CFM’s operations is collected and treated using an evaporator process. The condensed liquid is sampled and analyzed before it is released to the sanitary sewer in a controlled procedure. Groundwater treatment system effluent is also discharged to the sanitary sewer system upstream of the compliance monitoring location. There is no direct discharge of liquid effluent from the CFM facility to the environment.

The monitoring results (table 2) showed that water releases (treated liquid effluent) were well below release limits during the monitoring period. As a result, CNSC staff have found that Cameco’s treatment of liquid effluent is providing appropriate protection to people and the environment from effluent to the sewer.

Table 2: Total uranium discharged to the sewer from CFM in kilograms compared with applicable release limits (2012 to 2021)
2012-2022 Release limit (kg/yr) 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
475 0.95 0.83 1.58 1.24 0.85 0.64 0.84 0.39 0.34 0.29

Human health

Monitoring doses

When ionizing radiation penetrates the human body or an object, it deposits energy. The energy absorbed from exposure to radiation is called a dose. Under the Radiation Protection Regulations, the maximum dose limit to a member of the public is 1 mSv (millisievert) or 1,000 μSv per year. This is well below levels where any measurable health effect would occur.

To calculate the effective dose to people living near the site, Cameco assessed the risk to representative persons who had the potential to be the most exposed to contaminants. A total of 8 human receptor groups were identified as being the most exposed for potential radiological and hazardous contaminant exposures. The groups included onsite and offsite workers and offsite residents.

Cameco also considered how a representative person located within or near the site could be exposed to potential radiological or hazardous substances, such as through breathing the air, being on the land, drinking and swimming in surface water, or eating plants, fish and wildlife in the CFM area.  

The estimated annual radiological doses for the public near CFM from the period of 2016 to 2021 remains below the regulatory annual dose limit for the public. This indicates that radiological releases from the facility pose a negligible risk to human health (that is, potential risk to humans is similar to health outcomes in the general public).

Health studies

Reviewing and conducting health studies and reports is an important component of ensuring that the health of people living near or working in nuclear facilities is protected. CNSC staff have considered the most recent international radiation epidemiology reports, the CNSC’s own information and scientific publications, as well as various community, provincial and national-level studies and reports when evaluating the health of populations living or working near the CFM facility or similar facilities.

Workers and the public are protected against radiation exposures from the CFM facility. The population and community health studies and reports indicate that common causes of death among the surrounding populations include circulatory diseases, cancers, respiratory diseases and dementia. Major health risk factors such as smoking, excess body weight, alcohol consumption and poor diet may account for the occurrence of these diseases.

Based on the assessed exposure and health data, CNSC staff have not observed and do not expect to observe any adverse health outcomes attributable to the CFM facility.

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