On the morning of a public meeting to discuss an area nuclear facility, officials opened the doors to the media for a tour of the processing plant at Lansdowne Avenue and Dupont Street.
Even though the General Electric-Hitachi plant has been manufacturing uranium powder pellets for Ontario’s CANada Deuterium Uranium reactors at 1025 Lansdowne Ave. since the 1960s, what actually happens within the facility just recently came to the attention of nearby residents. Without signs indicating the production of radioactive uranium, community members assumed the non-descript building made air conditioners.
Why is it that GE-Hitachi’s product is only coming to light now?
Spokesperson Christopher White says it’s a testament to the company’s 50-year track record.
“Frankly, nothing has gone wrong in 50 years,” White said during the tour of the manufacturing plant on the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 14.
“This is a very safe facility,” he said, adding GE-Hitachi produces 25 per cent of Ontario’s electricity.
Contrary to what some might think, the company did not consciously keep its business from the community.
“We’re part of the fabric of this neighbourhood,” White said of the 105-year-old building.
The amount of radiation emitted from the site each year is five times less than one dental X-ray, he said.
“Put it this way,” White said standing at the corner of Lansdowne and Brandon avenues, “if you stood here 24-hours a day, every day for an entire year, you would experience 25 times less exposure than a flight from Vancouver to Toronto,”
Soil, air and water emissions from the plant are closely monitored and reported to local and federal regulators. The GE-Hitachi plant is “close to” a zero-emissions facility, he added.
Manager of environment, health and safety Paul Desiri, who provided an overview of GE’s operations and safety procedures, said the plant currently supplies fuel to the Ontario Power Generation and Picking and Darlington reactors. Fifty-three per cent of the province’s electricity is currently derived from nuclear - “we’re about half of the fuel market,” said Desiri.
The plant produces ceramic pellets, one-third of an inch to half-inch in diameter and 1/3 to 2/3 inches in length (about twice the size of a large pencil eraser), which are then sent to GE’s Peterborough facility where they are inserted into fuel bundles for CANDU power stations.
“How we make pellets: We get drums of powder from our supplier, we pre-press it granually, compact the powder into a puck – it’s actually in the shape of a puck, we munch it up, add lubricant and blend it and then it’s ready for pressing,” explained Desiri. “Then, it goes into a tooling press, which compacts the powder from there, then it goes into an oven, through various heat zones and a day later comes out.”
The pellets need to be ground down to precision size before they are inspected for proper density and size, sorted then stacked. They are then packaged and sent to the plant in Peterborough.
“It’s a similar technology that goes into making pharmaceuticals, like Aspirin,” said Desiri.
The Canadian nuclear industry uses uranium that isn’t enriched therefore the powder that GE presses into pellets at its Lansdowne site is as safe as the uranium that comes out of the ground.
Two public meetings are scheduled. The first goes tonight (Nov. 14) at the Bloor/Gladstone Library and Thursday, Nov. 15 at the Davenport-Perth Neighbourhood and Community Health Centre. Both meetings start at 7 p.m.