This public notice, posted recently on the SSI website, is eerily reminiscent of a similar event several years ago in Pembroke when SRB Technologies Inc. discovered a 10-fold underestimation of its tritium emissions that had been ongoing for many years:
(From the Website of Shield Source Incorporated on April 8, 2012)
“PUBLIC NOTICE – APRIL 2012
On March 28, 2012, we suspended operations to investigate potential errors in calculated HT emission data. HT is tritium gas that is emitted in small quantities from our exhaust stack during our production process. The CNSC was notified of this decision on the same day.
After consultation with independent consultants and the CNSC, we have decided to hire a third party consultant to install a parallel monitoring system to verify emission data during a limited production three day test scheduled to commence on April 3rd. Based on the values under consideration, this is not considered a threat to the public. Verified independent environmental sampling of air, water, and vegetation remains at historically safe levels. Additional information will be posted on this website as soon as it’s available.”
Note that SSI refers to “small quantities of tritium gas” being emitted from its exhaust stack. In fact, the tritium light factories, SSI in Peterborough, Ontario and SRB Technologies in Pembroke, Ontario are the two largest point sources for tritium gas emissions in the world, as far as we are aware.
Director General of the French nuclear regulator, Autorite de Surete Nucleaire, Jean-Christophe Niel, calls on nuclear operators to control their tritium emissions in this article from Le Monde dated July 8, 2010.
The risks of tritium on health could be underestimated
The risks of tritium – the radioactive form of hydrogen – could be undervalued because it could be bound into the DNA of cells, according to experts who participated in a White Paper published on Thursday July 8 by the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN). Read more…
SRB Technologies has applied to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) for a new five-year license to process tritium at its manufacturing facility in Pembroke Ontario, site of the worst environmental tritium contamination in Canada owing to the SRB’s past activities.
CNSC staff recommends that the Commission grant SRB a licence to discharge tritium in amounts up to 448 trillion becquerels per year through its stacks and 200 billion becquerels per year into the municipal sewer system.
At a one-day public hearing on May 19th intervenors included Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County, The First Six Years, the International Institute of Concern for Public Health, Prevent Cancer Now, and the Council of Canadians. Many concerns and problems were highlighted, for example: serious groundwater pollution, proximity to residential neighbourhoods, radioactive waste disposal issues and funding for decommissioning.
If CNSC follows its usual pattern, a decision to approve this license application will be announced in the late afternoon on June 30th, the day that SRB’s current licence expires, and the day before the Canada Day holiday.
The Sierra Club of Canada has released a new report on tritium in Canadian drinking water. The report is entitled “Tritium on Tap”. It documents the massive quantities of radioactive tritium released into drinking water sources by the nuclear industry in Canada on a routine basis.
A copy of the report is available for downloading in the documents section of this website and at the Sierra Club of Canada site.
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”?
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.
Tritium-laced plants found near town’s glow-in-the-dark sign factory
MARTIN MITTELSTAEDT Environment Reporter, The Globe and Mail
Tuesday, September 28, 1999
Radioactive rhubarb has been found growing in Pembroke, Ont., near a factory that makes glow-in-the-dark signs from nuclear waste.
The rhubarb, apparently thriving downwind of the sign factory owned by SRB Technologies (Canada) Inc., contained about 1,000 times the radioactive tritium found either in rain water in Ottawa or in a rhubarb sample taken from a garden about 45 kilometres away.
“It was unusually large rhubarb, but I don’t think it was mutant or anything like that,” said Ole Hendrickson, a resident of the Ottawa Valley community who helped collect the samples. Read more…
MARTIN MITTELSTAEDT, ENVIRONMENT REPORTER, The Globe and Mail
November 12, 1999
Radioactive matter shows up in rink ice, cucumbers, and woman’s urine
High levels of radioactive tritium are being found throughout Pembroke, the site of a plant that recycles the waste material to make glow-in-the-dark signs. Tritium has been discovered in the ice of a local hockey rink, in cucumbers and in the urine of one of the residents of the Ottawa River Valley city.
Although the tritium levels that were found were up to 1,500 times higher than the concentrations in rainwater, the Atomic Energy Control Board says they pose negligible risk of causing cancer. Read more…