A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[URBAN NOTE] On my support for the nuclear fuel plant at 1025 Lansdowne Avenue, Toronto

I learned last week via the front page of the Toronto Star that there’s a nuclear fuel pellet manufacturing plant at most a dozen minutes’ walk to my west, in the General Electric plant on 1025 Lansdowne Avenue, on Lansdowne Avenue just north of my own Dupont Street.

West-end residents are looking for answers after they discovered that an unassuming building on Lansdowne Ave. is actually a nuclear facility licensed to produce nearly 2,000 tonnes of radioactive uranium dioxide pellets each year.

The General Electric-Hitachi plant has been processing natural uranium powder into centimetre-long pellets that are assembled into fuel bundles elsewhere for Canada’s nuclear reactors since 1965.

“The shocking thing is that they can be there for so long and keep things so quiet,” said area resident Dawn Withers.

GE Canada spokeswoman Kim Warburton said the plant handles only natural uranium which is “not dangerous” compared to its enriched counterpart. She said the company’s sign is clearly visible. “GE-Hitachi is a nuclear business . . . it’s on our website.”

Withers, a mother of four who lives about a five-minute drive from the facility, has helped organize a Nov. 15 community meeting to raise awareness.

She said she and others were caught completely off-guard when an anti-nuclear activist arrived in Toronto several weeks ago to warn them about the plant.

There were earlier hints, looking back, most notably Saul Chernos’ NOW Toronto article

I’ve known for a while that the four-storey grey GE building at 1025 Lansdowne harboured some process tied to our waste-oblivious nuclear industry, but it’s stayed off my radar – just as it seems to have for other enviros.

But recently I learned that an activist fresh from a drawn-out battle against a similar GE facility in Peterborough had relocated to T.O. and was starting to campaign.

I figured I’d better learn more. So one afternoon earlier this month, I joined Zach Ruiter of Safe and Green Energy Peterborough as he went door to door informing locals of something it appears they didn’t know: the GE Hitachi plant north of Dupont has been processing uranium into fuel pellets for the province’s CANDU reactors for the last 50 years.

Invariably, it hit those living across the street like a bombshell. Ruiter explained that uranium dioxide powder supplied by Cameco Corp. in Port Hope is processed in the plant into hard ceramic pellets that are then transported to GE Hitachi in Peterborough, where they’re slipped into rods and fuel bundles for reactors.

And it looks like the operation will continue for another 10 years. In early 2011, both the Lansdowne facility and the Peterborough one received a joint licence renewal following Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission hearings in Ottawa.

The fact that something radioactive is going on in the neighbourhood is greeted with astonishment and scepticism. “That sounds weird. I don’t believe it,” said a man walking a yellow lab on Brandon.

I admit I also felt seriously underwhelmed. There are no visible markers on the building and fence indicating the presence of radioactive or dangerous materials. Just signs warning about video surveillance.

[. . .]

A few days after my tour, I drop into a Dupont Improvement Group meeting and talk to member Richard Mongiat, who’s lived three blocks from the plant for a decade. It has “always been a mysterious building,” he tells me. “I knew it was attached to GE, but I’ve never really known what’s been going on there.

“There were a ton of toxic plants,” Mongiat says, referring to the area’s industrial past, and contrasting several ongoing brownfield cleanups with quiet, unobtrusive, neatly manicured 1025 Lansdowne.

Since then, the plant is going to be the subject of two public meetings, while yesterday the plant was opened to a media tour.

Two points.

1. I’m surprised by this, but I’ve no reason to be surprised. People who live in the area of the plant have far less grounds. Yes, the nature of the plant is described on the company’s own website, while a Googling reveals (via profilecanada.com) that 1025 Lansdowne Avenue hosts “GE Canada Inc., Nuclear Products”, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s site identifies a General Electric plant in Toronto as one of five pellet manufacturers in Canada, even if it doesn’t locate the plant at a specific address within Toronto. Anyone who was curious about what was going on at that plant had only to enter its address into an Internet search engine to find out.

2. Not only am I fine with the safety procedures at the plant, I’d suggest that making the plant move will only contribute to the deindustrialization of downtown Toronto and the consequent displacement of well-paying jobs from the downtown core. This is not a process that should be encouraged in any urban setting, least not one like Toronto that has fared relatively well compared to many of its North American peers.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 16, 2012 at 1:58 am

3 Responses

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  1. Randy, well argued, and especially your point about deindustrializing the downtown. Leaving aside the fact that the plant is not only utterly harmless but hugely beneficial in that it provides the clean fuel that powers Toronto, the issue of co-locating people with their jobs has received too little attention. It is very good to see high-paid jobs accessible with clean urban mass transit. We should see more of this, not less. And the GEH plant shouldn’t close, it should stay where it is and increase production.

    Steve Aplin

    November 16, 2012 at 1:40 pm

  2. I quote the blog above: “There are no visible markers on the building and fence indicating the presence of radioactive or dangerous materials.” There are no dangerous materials there. There is only natural, un-enriched uranium. Very mildly radioactive.

    Eric L. Hanson

    November 16, 2012 at 2:56 pm

  3. […] For those who have observed the similar fight in Toronto over the GE-Hitachi CANDU fuel-pellet plant at Lansdown and Dupont, the Vermont Yankee fight might provide examples on how to use intelligence and reason—faculties available to all humans—to overcome medieval superstition. I am happy to note that at least one writer, a Toronto blogger named Randy McDonald who publishes A bit more detail, has reviewed, in person, the GEH opponents’ case, and has found it unconvincing. […]

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