Taxpayers Left Cleaning up Uranium Mess

On March 1st the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission will hold a hearing in Ottawa to review a request from Orano Canada (aka AREVA/COGEMA) to hand over responsibility for management of the contaminated Cluff Lake Uranium mine and mill site to the province.

In the 1960s, at the Gunnar and Laredo uranium mine sites near Uranium City, “unconfined tailings” were left behind on the surface and open to wind and water. The clean-up costs have ballooned to $220 million and rising -  paid for by Saskatchewan taxpayers. That work is not complete and, after 60 years of neglect, several river systems downstream are polluted to a serious level, well above the Saskatchewan drinking water standard.


At Cluff Lake uranium mine, from 1980 to 2002, the radioactive tailings were deposited in a shallow lowland, covered with a meter or so of till (2004-6).  There is no confining barrier between the waste and the environment;  an old dam separates this area from a lake. Obviously the tailings are “unconfined” in any real sense of the word.  Water flows through them into the groundwater, eventually reaching the wider ecosystem.  

And our Sask. Party government is going to let Orano get away with this. 

Not only that, the government projects that Orano will leave behind only $1.1 -1.2 million for future monitoring.  Note that a radioactive pollutant such as Radium-226 has a half-life of 1,600 years!  So much more money will be required for monitoring.  And, tragically, the Energy and Resources department are only asking Orano to leave us about $390,000 total as  (1) financial assurance and (2) for dealing with “future unforeseen events”.  

Don’t forget the $220,000,000 it has cost us (so far) for just a few sites at Uranium City (ore grade less than 1% uranium oxide).  At Cluff Lake the ore grade reached 6%.  

Orano, a French multinational corporation, must be laughing all the way to the bank.

Val Drummond

Prince Albert

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