Nuclear Contamination in Canada

Historic waste consists of soil contaminated with uranium and radium, at sites located in the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario.

This waste was originally managed in a way that is no longer considered acceptable, but for which the current owner cannot be reasonably held responsible.

The government of Canada has accepted responsibility for the long-term management of this waste, which is currently managed by the Low-level Radioactive Waste Management Office (LLRWMO), run by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Ltd.

Radioactive waste has been produced in Canada since the early 1930s, when the first radium and uranium mine began operating at Port Radium, Northwest Territories.

Pitchblende ore was transported from the Northwest Territories through the Northern Transportation Route to Port Hope, Ontario.

The ore was refined to produce radium for medical purposes. Later on, the uranium was destined for nuclear fuel and military applications.


The bulk of Canada’s historic waste is located in the Ontario communities of Port Hope and Clarington Ontario Canada.

This waste and contaminated soils amount to roughly 2 million cubic metres, and relate to the historic operations of a radium and uranium refinery in the municipality of Port Hope, dating back to the 1930s.

While the low-level radioactivity of naturally occurring radioactive materials do not pose a risk to human health and the environment, there is general consensus in the local community, as well as in professional and regulatory communities, that the management of the waste onsite does not represent a suitable long-term solution.

Historic low-level radioactive waste is present within the Ontario municipalities of Port Hope and Clarington. The waste, which is no longer produced, resulted from radium and uranium refining by a former federal Crown corporation (Eldorado Nuclear) and its private-sector predecessors from the 1930s to 1980s.

CNL’s Low Level Radioactive Waste Management Office (LLRWMO) currently supports the PHAI MO through its interim waste management program, and will continue to do so until waste management activities are completed. The LLRWMO currently operates the Pine Street Extension Temporary Storage Site, which is a low-level radioactive waste management facility licensed to receive historic radioactive waste from construction activities within the municipality. The waste at this site will eventually be transferred into the new Long-Term Waste Management Facility that is being constructed for the Port Hope Project.

From the early 1930s to the 1950s, uranium ore was transported over 2,200 km by the Northern Transportation Route (NTR) from Port Radium (on Great Bear Lake, Northwest Territories) to the railhead at Waterways (now Fort McMurray, Alberta).

In the 1990s, AECL’s Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Office (LLRWMO) identified sites impacted by uranium ore along the NTR. The contamination was located primarily in docks and boat launches.

Radiological surveys conducted in 2004, 2005 and 2006 determined the volume of the waste to be approximately 10,000 cubic metres. Following these surveys the LLRWMO removed and consolidated most of the higher-density, uranium-impacted soil from the identified locations.

CNL’s LLRWMO is in charge of continuing to address the historic nuclear waste in Canada’s north.

Sealed containers of nuclear fuel waste await long-term disposal at Ontario Power Generation’s Western.

The $24-billion cost of a deep repository—to be paid by the producers (hence ultimately their customers) out of a fund that now stands at less than $3 billion—sounds like a lot for the existing quantity of nuclear-fuel waste in the country. NWMO spokesman Mike Krizanc visualizes Canada’s 48,000-tonne waste pile as “enough to cover six NHL-sized hockey rinks to the top of the boards.”

In 2002, Ottawa passed the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act, which obliged key Canadian atomic energy producers, such as Bruce Power and Ontario Power Generation, to create the Nuclear Waste Management Organization and develop a permanent waste disposal strategy.

The NWMO, founded that same year, takes pains to equate itself with openness, honesty and the public interest—ideals assertively declared on its website. But it is at heart an industry body, not a public one: Eight of the nine members of its board come straight from nuclear production companies.