Halifax Fire says a large container was being moved when the bottom released, dropping up to four canisters filled with uranium hexafluoride, the chemical used in the gas centrifuge process to enrich uranium, 20 feet to the ground.
All work on the ship stopped and fire crews were called in to test for radiation.
What they found were levels four times higher than background levels. In other words, the levels were higher than the base level humans are exposed to daily.
The call was made to evacuate the area.
A further inspection showed there was no actual leak.
But Calvin Whidden, a spokesperson for Ceres, the company that operates the terminal, said they weren't taking any chances.
“So we shut the terminal completely down and sent everybody home until the experts get here with the proper equipment to determine whether there is actually a leak or not,” he said.
Employees were tested for radiation exposure, but no one tested positive.
For now, Phil McNulty, a spokesman for Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency, says there is no risk to the public.
“The experts have told us we should have a 50-foot area around it,” he said. “So that's a very small evacuation zone.”
Members of an emergency response action team from Toronto are expected to arrive Friday morning to ensure there is no leak. They'll also figure out the best way to safely remove the material that fell.
In the meantime, no work will be done at the north-end Fairview Cove Container Terminal terminal until the area is given the all clear.
The Atlantic Companion, the ship carrying the four containers, is a Swedish-built ship owned by Atlantic Container Line ACL.