In the early 1990s, the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Office (LLRWMO) identified a number of uranium-ore contaminated sites along the Northern Transportation Route (NTR), a 2,200-km marine and land route used in the past to transport primarily uranium ore and some concentrates from the Northwest Territories to a rail connection in northern Alberta.
The NTR extends from the Port Radium mine site on Great Bear Lake, via a system of lakes (including Great Bear and Great Slave Lakes), rivers (including the Great Bear, Mackenzie, Slave and Athabasca rivers) and portages south to Fort McMurray, Alberta.
In subsequent years, the LLRWMO has completed radiation surveys at historic transfer points along the NTR, remediated contaminated sites, and consolidated the contaminated soil at interim storage facilities along the route. Remediated sites include residential and public properties in Fort Smith, Bell Rock and Tulita, Northwest Territories, and Fort Fitzgerald, Alberta, and nine different sites in Fort McMurray, Alberta. The contaminated material was placed in engineered storage mounds within their communities. The LLRWMO regularly conducts inspections of these storage facilities to verify their integrity in protecting public and environmental health and safety.
While historic remediation activities have focused on the removal of soil with higher radiological risk, further clean-ups are being considered to restore all of the NTR sites to unrestricted future land use according to the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment soil quality guidelines for uranium.
The LLRWMO achieved a major milestone by fulfilling a long standing commitment of the Federal Government to remove historic LLRW from this First Nations’ community. In January 2009, the successful conclusion to the Tulita Project occurred with the shipment of uranium-ore contaminated soil from an interim storage site in Tulita, Northwest Territories to a long-term management site in the U.S.
In 2008, 755 bulk bags containing 867 m3 of uranium-contaminated soil was removed from Tulita and transported by road and barge to a marine terminal in Hay River. From there it was transported by rail to a licensed waste treatment and disposal facility in Idaho. The final shipment of the waste was received at the U.S. facility in January, 2009.
Fort Fitzgerald, AB
In 2011, uranium-contaminated soil was removed from four sites near a historic barge landing in Fort Fitzgerald, AB. After characterization and segregation, some 370 m3 of contaminated soil (weighing approximately 450 tons) was removed from the area and transferred to a newly established interim storage site in the community.
Fort McMurray, AB
From the 1930s to the 1960s, uranium and radium ore was shipped by barge from Great Bear Lake, Northwest Territories, through a system of lakes and rivers to docking sites at Fort McMurray (formerly Waterways), Alberta. Then it was transported by rail to a refinery in Port Hope, Ontario. Contamination occurred through accidental spillage, particularly at transfer points in and around the community.
Environmental remediation of contaminated sites in Fort McMurray began in 1992, when the LLRWMO commenced the removal of mildly contaminated soil from eight riverside properties. When the Fort McMurray Waterways project was completed in 2002, about 42,500 m3 of contaminated soil had been removed and stored in a closed long-term storage mound in the community. Following remediation, the Waterways property became part of a public park and trail system.
The LLRWMO monitors the long-term storage mound and analyzes groundwater, leachate and radiation from the facility to ensure there are no impacts on the residents and the local environment. The monitoring program is conducted pursuant to an agreement between the LLRWMO and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, complying with the requirements of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).
Other NTR activities
The LLRWMO conducts regular monitoring and inspection of LLRWMO-managed interim storage sites along the NTR. Monitoring of the Fort Smith Landfill cell, the Fort Fitzgerald area, and the Fort McMurray interim waste storage facility indicates no impact on residents or the local environment.
The LLRWMO is currently participating in discussions with First Nations representatives, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC), NRCan and other stakeholders to advance the process for environmental remediation of remaining sites in the South Slave and Sahtu regions, Northwest Territories. Specific communities, in these discussions, include Fort Smith (Slave River), Sawmill Bay and Port Radium (Great Bear Lake) and several communities on the Great Bear River.