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.
When Shield Source Incorporated (SSI), a Peterborough, Ontario-based manufacturer of tritium lights, applied to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) in 2009 for a renewal of its operating license, Dr. Ole Hendrickson of Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County pointed out the absurdity of SSI’s “derived release limit” for tritium gas (HT) in the following statement:
“CNSC has currently set the derived release limit for HT from SSI at 3.40E+19 Bq/year (3.4 x 1010 GBq/a). This is over 200 times higher than the total global natural tritium production rate, and more than ten times the total world steady state natural inventory of tritium. (emphasis added)
Each year during the past five years, in theory, SSI could have emitted more than ten times the world’s current natural tritium inventory. Had they done so, tritium levels in rainfall, and in every water body in the world, would have risen several hundred-fold, reaching levels exceeding those measured at the peak of nuclear weapons testing in 1963.
During preparations for intervention in the upcoming licensing hearing for SSI, the Peterborough-based citizen’s group SAGE has learned that soil tritium concentrations at the base of SSI’s stack exceeded 1.5 million Bq/l . This is eerily similar to what happened at SRB Technologies in Pembroke several years ago where groundwater remains contaminated as a result and the stack area is surrounded by a fence.
In the case of SSI, there is no signage or any indication of the tritium hazard. Unbelievably there is a picnic table right beside the stack. Read more in the SAGE intervention for the upcoming hearing at the CNSC on May 2, 2012.
TAP advisory board member Dr. Ian Fairlie just sent this comment about the “Tritium Studies Project Synthesis Report” , published on the CNSC website here.
“My initial perusal indicates that this another highly slanted, misleading, CNSC defence of the practice of releasing very large amounts of tritium near Canadian nuclear power facilities. It is perhaps revealing that the report (Figs 5 and 6) shows high tritium levels very near the SRB facility at Pembroke, but remains silent about the high tritium intakes by people near nuclear power facilities.
The report takes a hesitant one step forward in actually mentioning the ACES and ODWAC reports (for the first time by CNSC). But two steps backward in refraining from discussing the concerns about tritium which led to the reports.
The report has many defects and omissions but the main deficiency is that it ignores the mounting scientific evidence from radiation biology that tritium is a serious health hazard.”
Serious tritium pollution has recently come to light in the vicinity of Shield Source Incorporated, a tritium sign factory near the Peterborough airport. The company has applied for a five year extension of its existing license. The application will be considered at a public hearing at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission in Ottawa on June 10th.
Documents filed for the hearing show tritium contamination at the base of SSI’s stacks has exceeded 1,000,000 Becquerels per litre. Local apples and groundwater wells are contaminated at many times higher than background levels.
SSI’s current license permits it to release 34,000 quadrillion becquerels of tritium. This is an unbelievably large quantity. So large it’s hard to put into words. But suffice it to say that SSI’s current license permits it to release more than the current total global inventory of tritium. Read more…
As they age, tritium EXIT signs become less effective and more toxic, as the tritium gas inside them is converted to the more toxic oxide form. One sign, thrown into a landfill can create significant groundwater pollution.
Various American authorities have recently posted detailed information on the internet about responsible management of tritium EXIT signs. Authorities in the United States appear to be way ahead of their Canadian counterparts in addressing the serious problems created by use and disposal of these signs, many of which are manufactured in Canada.
In the U.S., the Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health and Environmental Protection Agency all have prohibited use of tritium signs. Here are two informative web resources created recently by American authorities.
1) Responsible Management of tritium EXIT signs - excellent on-line training module from the Environmental Protection Agency that includes information on health risks, a key to identify tritium signs, recommended alternatives, and safe procedures for disposal.
2) Bureau of Radiation Protection, State of Pennsylvania - detailed webpage with much information about the problems with tritium exit signs.
TAP asks “Where is Canada’s information on responsibly dealing with tritium exit signs”?
Ontario Power Generation sells waste tritium from CANDU reactors to two Ontario companies that manufacture tritium lights, SRB Technologies in Pembroke and Shield Source in Peterborough. These companies use the tritium to make self-luminous exit signs. TAP believes that the marketing of radioactive waste in these products should be prohibited. Safer, more effective and more energy efficient alternatives are available.
Besides being hazardous during manufacture and disposal, tritium lights and products containing them are hazardous during use. The tritium contained in a single exit sign, if fully oxidized and inhaled would constitute a lethal dose of radiation. Incidents have occurred in the United States where lights have been accidentally or intentionally broken, thus requiring expensive emergency measures including evacuations and decontamination operations.
This and other problems are described in the TAP fact sheet “Problems with tritium exit signs” available in PDF format for download in the documents section of this website.
There are many problems with tritium exit signs, as detailed in the TAP fact sheet on this topic.
Disposal of waste exit signs can seriously pollute groundwater. Tritium lights become much more hazardous to the environment as they age; the glass tubes act as sponges for tritium, converting it into its more hazardous and soluble oxidized form. Information linking high levels of tritium oxide in landfill leachate to discarded exit signs, has recently come to light in Scotland, South Africa, Italy and several states in the U.S. Regulators are grappling with the issue of how to ensure that used tritium exit signs go to monitored, radioactive waste storage facilities (1,2). Although no Canadian data are available, the situation may be worse here because regulations allow for disposal of used exit signs in ordinary landfills.
1) Study of tritium in leachate from Scottish landfill sites
2) State of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
We have just posted several archival news stories here on the TAP website, dealing with tritium pollution from SRB Technologies Inc. in Pembroke, Ontario. This story is incredible but true.
SRB was licensed by the Atomic Energy Control Board (now the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission) in 1990 to market a radioactive waste byproduct of CANDU reactors called tritium — a radioactive form of hydrogen. SRB makes self-illuminating signs — they glow in the dark because they are filled with large quantities of radioactive tritium gas.
Over the years. SRB has contaminated the environment in Pembroke with high levels of tritium. In some years, more tritium was given off into the environment by the SRB plant than by all of Canada’s nuclear power reactors combined. Meanwhile, SRB is exporting tritium contamination problems around the world because there is no effective control over the ultimate disposal of these radioactive signs.
This story is replete with patent examples of regulatory incompetence, murky questions about nuclear weapons and international security risks (because tritium is also used as a nuclear explosive material) and salt-of-the-earth folks being treated with disregard and exposed to high levels of radioactive tritium for almost 20 years with no end in sight. Please see also the “personal stories” category for more about this.
TAP feels that the marketing of radioactive wastes like tritium should be banned in Canada, and the SRB plant should be permanently shut down.
This letter was submitted to the Ottawa Citizen today by Dr. Gordon Edwards, President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.
Putting radioactive materials in people’s drinking water is not wise, no matter what current regulations say.
Medical doctors do not recommend that people “smoke in moderation”. They tell them to stop smoking altogether.
Restaurants are not asked to oversee a permissible level of second-hand smoke. They are ordered by law to disallow it altogether.
The reason is that cigarette smoke is cancer causing. There is no scientifically accepted safe level of exposure to any known carcinogen. That goes for radioactive materials as well as for non-radioactive ones.
For the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to say that deliberately dumping eighteen trillion becquerels of tritium into the Ottawa River is “of no concern” and “perfectly safe” is not only scientifically wrong, but it is contrary to that organization’s legal mandate to protect the public health and to disseminate objective scientific information.
It is deeply distressing to see how the polluter (AECL) and the regulator (CNSC) join forces to obscure the facts and to provide unscientific reassurances of safety to the public and to their elected representatives.
Gordon Edwards, Ph.D., President,
Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility