In June, Greenpeace released a report criticizing Canada’s regulatory limit on tritium, a radioactive isotope and by-product of many nuclear power facilities. According to the report, “Canadian regulatory limits for tritium in drinking water are some of the most lax in the world.”
(pdf of the report)
Conflicting Views :
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty:
“There is no evidence the release of radioactive tritium into the Great Lakes by Ontario nuclear power plants poses a public health threat.”
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission:
“Tritium levels around the province’s nuclear plants are not a health hazard.”
Ontario Power Generation:
“I would say that our plant would not operate if we believed there was any safety threat.”
June 2007 Greenpeace Report:
The levels of tritium around the facilities are so high, children under four and pregnant women shouldn’t live within 10 kilometres of one of them. Furthermore, anything grown within five kilometres of a nuclear generating station shouldn’t be eaten. (paraphrased)
Current Legal Limits on Tritium in Drinking Water:
▪ Canada: 7,000 Bq/L (Health Canada)
▪ United States: 740 Bq/L (EPA)
▪ European Union: 100 Bq/L (CNSC)
▪ World Health Organization Guideline: 1,000 Bq/L (WHO)
(A Bq is a Becquerel, the derived unit of radioactivity.)
Whats Being Done About It:
In 1994, an Ontario government panel recommended reducing the Canadian limit to 100 Bq/L, then lowering it further to 20 Bq/L over five years. In face of a Hydro One claim that such a change would cost the company over 1 Billion Dollars, the government refused to institute the reforms, claiming that “the interim risk limit of 100 Bq/L for tritium in drinking water proposed…was inconsistent with international regulatory philosophy.”
Last September, the Toronto Board of Health urged the federal government to lower the amount of tritium to that recommended by the 1994 provincial panel but no changes were implemented.
According to a June 12th CBC article however, Ontario Environment Minister Laurel Broten has ordered the provincial Drinking Water Advisory Council to look into Ontario’s current regulatory limits and assess whether or not they should be changed. According to a source within the ODWAC, the special report on tritium regulation was originally due to the Minister’s office by February of this year but will likely now be finished by October. Upon completion, the report will be sent to the Minister’s office and be made publicly available at her discretion. While this might seem like a potentially important election issue, the convenient timing of the report’s due date will likely give the current government a de facto pass on the subject.
Considering the fact that Ontario facilities have something of a poor history regarding tritium leaks (ie. Pembroke, Pickering), the relative lack of teeth in our current regulatory policy is something that should be taken very seriously.
Unfortunately however, the federal regulations currently adopted by the Ontario government are only part of the story. According to a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission report, only Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec have actually opted in to the federal guidelines while “all other provinces do not have prescribed limits for tritium.“