The existence of a nuclear-processing plant at Dupont and Lansdowne came as news to many in the surrounding community. And at a town-hall meeting on Saturday, they let local politicians and plant officials know exactly how they felt about it.
The New Horizons senior-citizens home might seem like an unlikely breeding ground for feelings of anger and fear, but the emotions were out in full force on Saturday as 250 people filled its auditorium for a community consultation on the nearby GE-Hitachi nuclear-processing plant.
Since 1965, a non-descript, four-storey building at Dupont and Lansdowne has manufactured nuclear-fuel pellets, which are wrapped in a ceramic shell and transported to Peterborough for use. This was news to most people in the community, which has historically been low-income and high-immigrant, but has changed with incoming condos and densification.
For the past 47 years, the GE site has operated without incident and complied with government filings, although it has been criticized for neglecting to do more thorough community consultations in the past.
This lack of communication led to the community meeting on Saturday, which was marked by a sense of unease. Organized by local MP Andrew Cash and paneled by environmentalists, scientists, and GE representatives, it was more a forum to raise questions than deliver answers. Some residents wondered if sicknesses in local children could have been caused by radioactive emissions. Others asked whether they could trust GE’s safety-compliance record when their community outreach was sub-standard. One woman felt the nuclear plant at Darlington was too close to home, let alone the one around the corner.
In response, GE representative Kim Warburton asserted that the level of radiation emitted annually by the plant is a very low 13 grams a year (regulations state it must be under 700 grams). Radiation also naturally occurs in the environment, and is emitted by all sorts of everyday objects, from bananas to airplanes.
These points, while true, were not the words the audience was primed to hear. One attendee shouted, “you’re murderers!” at the scientists and industry representatives, while several others stated that the only safe level of radiation is no radiation. (To this end, one woman put up signs before the meeting requesting that everyone turn off their cellphones.)
But the meeting was about more than energy sources or NIMBYism. It was a flashpoint in a changing community, one in which a gentrifying neighbourhood confronted its history as an industrial area with palpable and genuine fear.
After more than two hours of questions, one woman timidly stood up to speak. In broken English, she shared that she unknowingly lived across from the GE plant for the previous five years, and just recently moved a block away before learning about the plant. And then she couldn’t speak anymore. With all the pressure surrounding her—the waiting audience, the watching panel—she broke down in tears, and was given a moment. With her head bowed and eyes clenched she tried to continue, but couldn’t. After all, there were no words or safety regulations or scientific rationale that could diminish the idea that her home was not the place she thought it was.