Soil samples for beryllium near BWXT Peterborough show no impact on environment: study

Click to play video 'Testing shows safe levels of beryllium in Peterborough soil' Testing shows safe levels of beryllium in Peterborough soil
BWXT officials announced the results Tuesday of beryllium levels in soil found near the plant on Monaghan Road. The report shows there's no threat to environmental or human health. But a local group, advocating against BWXT productions, is skeptical of the findings.

Beryllium used at BWXT Nuclear Energy Canada in Peterborough has not impacted soil near the facility and poses no risk to the public, an independent study concludes.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission ordered that soil samples be taken as part of the company’s licence renewal process following a hearing in the spring. During the hearing, the commission heard multiple concerns about beryllium emissions and evidence of “increasing” beryllium concentrations in properties near the facility on Monaghan Road, in particular at Prince of Wales Elementary School.

The lightweight metal can be hazardous if not used properly, the company says, and BWXT uses “small amounts” to join portions of fuel bundles.

Read more: Protesters gather as BWXT licence renewal hearing gets underway in Peterborough

The company is seeking to renew its Class IB fuel facility operating licence for 10 years at both its Peterborough and Toronto facilities since its current licence expires on Dec. 31. The company currently ships uranium pellets from its Toronto facility and zirconium alloy tubes manufactured at its Arnprior, Ont., site to Peterborough, where they are assembled into fuel bundles.

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However, the company came under public scrutiny when it also requested permission to process uranium dioxide pellets at the Peterborough plant — a process currently only permitted at the company’s Toronto plant — if the need ever arises.

Beryllium is not used in the pelleting process, the company notes.

According to the soil study conducted by independent Trinity Consultations Ontario in July, samples were taken at eight sites in the city, including at Prince of Wales Elementary School (nine samples) and at various parks. Those samples were compared to several samples from the ground at the Omemee-Emily Community Centre (20 kilometres west of the city) in the City of Kawartha Lakes. The study’s results were authorized and verified by independent AGAT Laboratories.

The study, found here, concluded that beryllium content in every sample collected in Peterborough was “well below the most stringent Ontario typical background concentrations of 2.5 µg/g (microgram/gram)” or 2.5 mg/kg (milligrams/kilogram).

“Based on the results of this sampling program, there is no evidence that beryllium used at the BWXT facility has had any impact on Peterborough soils, and no risk has been identified to the public,” the study concluded.

According to the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment’s guidelines, the average beryllium soil in Canada ranges from 0.25 mg/kg to 16 mg/kg and averages 0.75 mg/kg. Levels for environmental health are 4 mg/kg and for human health 75 mg/kg.

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Read more: Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission orders soil resampling near BWXT Peterborough facility

Samples for BWXT did not exceed 0.52 mg/kg, the study showed.

“These test results that are all significantly lower than the level regarded as safe by the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks confirm that our controls are effective and that our operations do not negatively impact the public or the environment,” stated John MacQuarrie, president of BWXT Nuclear Energy Canada Inc.

“BWXT is proud that our nuclear fuel production in Peterborough safely contributes to the fight against climate change by supporting the production of clean electricity that does not create greenhouse gases.”

— More to come.