Tritium is a serious hazard in Canada, requiring urgent action by the public and legislators alike. On this website you will find scientific documents, media reports, personal stories and fact sheets. You can also meet our advisory board in the “About TAP” section and download tools for taking action such as a municipal resolution aimed at stopping the release of tritium into drinking water supplies and a petition on phasing out tritium exit signs.
We welcome your questions and comments.
Ontario Power Generation (OPG) runs the Darlington Tritium Removal Facility to reduce the tritium content of heavy water used to moderate CANDU reactors, protecting workers and the environment. This facility produces and stores 1-2 kilograms of pure tritium gas each year. OPG ships around 100 grams of tritium annually to the Chalk River Tritium Laboratory (part of the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, formerly AECL) whose primary function is to dispense tritium for OPG’s commercial tritium customers. SRB is the main customer, processing 85 grams of tritium in 2013. While 85 grams of tritium sounds like a tiny amount, David Albright and Theodore B. Taylor (“Making Warheads: A Little Tritium Goes a Long Way”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Jan. 1988) explain that only 2-3 grams of tritium are needed to boost the yield of a nuclear bomb several-fold. SRB processes enough tritium each year to supply 20-30 nuclear weapons.
CNSC is proposing to remove licence conditions for safeguards and non-proliferation from SRB’s licence. No reason is given for the proposal.
TAP finds this proposal bizarre and maintains that Canada must uphold its obligation under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons “to accept safeguards… with a view to preventing diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”
A research study led by the CNSC’s own scientists, published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal in 2015, found unexpectedly high levels of organically-bound tritium (OBT) in soils and vegetation near SRB. A cucumber sampled 4.8 km from SRB contained 117 Bq/L OBT, 15.4 times the tritium in the cucumber’s water. Soil sampled 400 meters from SRB contained 1010 Bq/L OBT, 9.9 times the tritium in soil water. OBT in soil or living organisms, including humans, can have very long residence times and is therefore even more hazardous than tritium in water. OBT is generally not included in routine vegetation sampling. CNSC documents for the May 13th hearing make no mention of these findings of high OBT near SRB, raising concerns about CNSC’s integrity and impartiality.
SRBT discharges tritium-contaminated water into Pembroke’s sanitary sewer system. Annual discharges during the 2010-2014 period ranged from 7-13 GigaBecquerels (a GigaBecquerel (GBq) is the amount of a radioactive substance that produces one billion radioactive disintegrations every second). CNSC sets a 200 GBq limit for SRBT’s liquid discharges.
The City of Pembroke’s sewage treatment plant receives SRBT’s liquid discharges of tritium. Some of the tritium becomes incorporated in sewage sludge, while the remainder is discharged to the Ottawa River. A recently published study, Measurements and Dose Consequences of Tritium in Municipal Sewage Sludge, found that Pembroke had the highest levels of tritium contamination in sewage sludge of any city studied, at 34 Bq/kg of HTO, and 400 Bq/kg of OBT, or 1800 Bq/kg dry weight (CNSC 2015c). According to this study, “A 38 percent increase was observed in the measured OBT concentration of the 2014 sample compared to the one obtained in 2013.”
The study does not examine the potential for tritium contamination of soil and crop plants if Pembroke sewage sludge were to be spread as biosolids on agricultural land. It says that sewage sludge from Pembroke’s sewage treatment plant “is currently disposed of at the Ottawa Valley Waste Recovery Centre” (CNSC 2015c).
A two-day hearing is scheduled for May 13 and 14th in Pembroke, Ontario where the Commission will hear arguments for and against a 10 year license for SRBT.
The public is invited to submit written comments and/or make an oral presentation at the hearing. Deadline for submissions is April 13, 2015. More info here.
TAP says a 10-year license is not appropriate given the history of license violations and environmental tritium contamination at this facility.
Sr. Rosalie Bertell, GNSH, Ph. D, an internationally recognized environmental epidemiologist, cancer researcher and public health advocate, died June 14, 2012, at age 83 in Saint Mary Medical Center, Langhorne, PA, in the 54th year of her religious life.
Dr. Bertell entered the field of cancer research at Roswell Park Memorial Institute, Buffalo in the 1970s. What started there grew into a lifetime devoted to research, writing, public speaking andadvocacy work on the effects of low-level radiation on human health.
Prior to founding the International Institute of Concern for Public Health in Toronto, Canada in 1984, she was an Energy/Public Health specialist at the Jesuit Centre for Social Faith and Justice in Toronto for four years. Sister traveled the globe, researching and advising ways of dealing with the chemical and nuclear hazards which endanger the environment and erode the health of people worldwide until shortly before her death.
Dear Friends and Colleagues of Rosalie Bertell,
It is with sadness that I’m writing to inform you that our dear Sister Rosalie died early this morning, June 14, 2012, after a week or so in the hospital with severe respiratory distress due to advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Despite her illness, she remained in good spirits and most interested in all of the works of justice she strove to support throughout her life right to the end. She died very peacefully.
Her funeral Mass will be here at our Motherhouse Chapel on Monday, June 17th at 10 a.m.
We will be remembering all of you as well as Sister Rosalie in our prayers that day, along with all the people who were victims of nuclear disasters and the many other societal ills that were the concerns of her heart and her life’s work at the International Institute of Concern for Public Health.
Sister Julia C. Lanigan, GNSH, President, Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart
The transcript of the January 2011 mid-term review by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission of the operating license for Shield Source Incorporated (SSI) contains interesting verbal exchanges on the subject of tritium in apples from trees near SSI. According to the transcript, crabapples in a tree located 220 meters northeast from SSI question tested in 2010 contained over 2500 Becquerels per liter of tritium, compared to a normal background level of around 2 Becquerels per liter. Also of serious concern, apples 4.45 km north of SSI on Brealey Drive in Peterborough have consistently shown over 200 Becquerels per liter of tritium.
These findings are a warning sign that tritium contamination is widespread around SSI. However, CNSC staff do not see it that way. They state, for the record, that something unusual about apples causes them to concentrate tritium more than other types of vegetation. To quote from the transcript:
“We did observe as well that apples have this unique characteristic of having fairly high tritium concentrations even far away from some facilities and this is a subject of — will be the subject of some future research efforts to look at how apples are behaving this way. “
The CNSC is mandated to protect Canadians from radioactive pollution. Yet, CNSC staff repeatedly fall short in this regard. They seem unable to understand that tritium gas, which SSI releases from its stack, is readily oxidized to radioactive water, spreads throughout the environment and is incorporated into all organisms living nearby – including humans. Please see the tritium primer on this website for more on this.