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Programs & Projects - Historic LLRW

Surrey, British Columbia

At the end of March 2000, removal of low-level radioactive waste was completed at two industrial sites in Surrey, B.C. The project required the cooperation and approval of the community, governments at all levels, and regulatory authorities in Canada and the United States.

People cleaning things up in Surrey.
Staff of NRCan, the Surrey Project Public Affairs Office (SPPAO) and the LLRWMO meet with the property owner at the Anvil Way site as the storage bunker cap is being removed.

"This initiative resolves a long-standing environmental concern in Surrey. Its success is owed in large part to the active involvement of the public in finding promising solutions."
The Honourable Ralph Goodale, former Minister of Natural Resources Canada

The history began with niobium ore imported during the 1970s. The ore contained naturally radioactive thorium, which remained after smelting the slag. Some of the slag was inadvertently mixed with sand and gravel and used as fill on the Anvil Way site, and a small volume of the contaminated material was moved to what is now part of Canadian National Railway's Thornton Yard site, also in Surrey.

In 1984, the federal government took responsibility for the removal and disposal of this historic waste in a memorandum of understanding with British Columbia. At the same time, the LLRWMO signed an agreement with the owner of the site covering removal and interim storage of the contaminated material. A year later the LLRWMO moved most of the waste to a storage bunker at the Anvil Way site. In 1986, CN built a similar storage bunker for the Thornton Yard waste.

The search for a disposal solution took a new direction in 1989, when the federal Minister of Energy Mines and Resources (Natural Resources Canada (NRCan)) appointed the Surrey Siting Task Force (SSTF), an independent group. The SSTF, chaired by Dr. David Boyes with Mr.Douglas MacKay as the second member, followed a cooperative sitting process guided by the principle of voluntary community participation in the decision-making process. First, B.C. communities were contacted, but no appropriate B.C. site was offered. Later a proposal from a commercial disposal site in Alberta was selected, but the facility eventually declined. The SSTF then widened its search to the United States and successfully negotiated to dispose of the Anvil Way waste at a commercial facility in Oregon.

People cleaning things up in Surrey.
Thorton Yard waste canisters are stacked in the LLRWMO storage building at CRL.

The best interim option for the waste was to condition, package and remove it to the LLRWMO's licensed storage facility at Atomic Energy of Canada Limited's Chalk River Laboratories site in Ontario.

After public consultation and an environmental assessment, NRCan concluded that the potential environmental impacts of excavation, consolidation, transportation and disposal were not significant or were mitigable with known technology. The Minister of Natural Resources decided the waste should be removed from the Anvil Way site. After its recommendation was accepted by NRCan's Minister, the SSTF, its mandate fulfilled, ceased operation in November 1999.

"The project clearly demonstrates the federal government's commitment to a public participation process. We are grateful that it has been completed without adverse impacts to public health and safety."
Dr. David A. Boyes, Chairman Surrey Siting Task Force

Once the project was decided upon, the LLRWMO undertook the work promptly. Between November 1999 and March 2000 about 5 000 cubic metres of thorium contaminated soil and slag were removed from Anvil Way for disposal at the Oregon facility. The LLRWMO shipped the wastes, which were not considered radioactive under federal Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations, in 350 securely covered truckloads, to the Oregon facility.

The waste in the Thornton Yard was not compatible with the Oregon site. By December 1999, CN had removed the contaminated slag that had been stored in barrels at the bunker at Thornton Yard. CN conditioned and packaged the waste, which was considered radioactive under federal Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations, in 83 one-cublic metre metal boxes. These boxes were placed in six containers for rail shipment to Toronto. The containers were then trucked to the LLRWMO's licensed storage facilities at AECL's Chalk River Laboratories.

A truckload of contaminated soil from Anvil Way.
A truckload of contaminated soil from Anvil Way arrives at the disposal site.

NRCan conducted extensive public consultation and an environmental assessment, assisted by the LLRWMO and the Surrey Project Public Affairs Office (SPPAO).  During the clean-up, the SPPAO maintained communications with the property owner, neighbouring industries, U.S. border officials, the federal and provincial governments, local citizens and local Members of Parliament. The SPPAO also conducted ongoing media relations, including monitoring news coverage in British Columbia and Oregon.

After the Anvil Way waste was removed, gamma radiation readings and soil samples were taken to ensure that project criteria were met. The site was backfilled and the excavated areas were restored. Gamma radiation readings were also taken at the Thornton Yard site. Radiation levels at both sites are typical of those found in the region and pose no heath risk. The project received the cooperation of the B.C Ministry of Health and the B.C. Ministry of Environment, Land and Parks.

Please see the following links to the NRCan Press Release (#2000/21) and the Press Release Backgrounder (#2000/21(a)).

 

 

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