News

Uranium ship sails out of local waters

A ship anchors in Stuart Channel, northwest of Chemainus, as officials decide how to deal with an on-board uranium spill. - Matt Peterson
A ship anchors in Stuart Channel, northwest of Chemainus, as officials decide how to deal with an on-board uranium spill.
— image credit: Matt Peterson

The uranium-loaded MCP Altona seems to have left Chemainus behind and appeared bound for Vancouver at press time yesterday.

According to a ship-tracking website, the vessel carrying uranium concentrate, appeared headed under the Lions’ Gate Bridge at about 2 p.m. Thursday.

Prior to its departure, the presence of the large vessel needing a uranium clean-up effort was drawing a mixed reaction.

The China-bound Altona anchored in Stuart Channel between Ladysmith and Chemainus Sunday, after rough waters in the middle of the Pacific caused a uranium spill in its cargo hold.

Chemainus resident Kathy Wachs could see the ship outside her bedroom window. She said while details are still not clear about the cleanup effort, she saw no reason to fret.

“If you believe the news reports, there’s nothing to be concerned about. I don’t see any reason for panicking at the moment,” said Wachs.

Wachs said she would like to hear more information on the ship and admits it makes her think about what kind of ships are coming through the Strait of Georgia on a regular basis.

But she added she is not concerned the Altona will set a precedent for other ships to be brought to the area.

However, Dan Tyrrell, also a resident of Chemainus, says the situation raises some serious questions for him.

“My one question would be why would a boat, if it was no danger ... halfway to China turn around and come back to, particularly, Chemainus?

“It indicates to me they are trying to hide something or if there is a danger, they don’t want to go ... to Vancouver.”

Tyrrell said he used to work in the Ministry of Energy in Ontario and remembered the people in the nuclear department treated uranium very seriously inside five-foot concrete walls.

“And not in a little metal boat tied off the shore,” he concluded.

North Cowichan Councillor Ruth Hartmann said council was not informed of the decision to bring the vessel into area waters.

“We don’t have any rights on the ocean and nobody from Chemainus has called me,” said Hartmann.

Rob Gereghty, a spokesperson for Cameco, the company that produced and is shipping the uranium, said Tuesday a clean-up plan was expected to be in place Wednesday. He was not available for further comment by press time Thursday, but was confident it could be cleaned up without incident. Gereghty said from five metres away, the radiation is no higher than everyday background radiation.

The News Leader Pictorial was still awaiting a response from Transport Canada and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission at press time. Look for updates on cowichannewsleader.com.

— Matthew Peterson

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