VANCOUVER — A toxic spill from a British Columbia mine has prompted the country’s nuclear watchdog to request a series of checks at uranium facilities. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission will discuss the failure of the tailings pond at the Mount Polley gold and copper mine during a meeting Wednesday.
In the interim, the commission has asked the uranium mining and milling operations it oversees to ensure that all necessary inspections and monitoring are in compliance with licence conditions.
“The recent tailings dam breach that occurred at the Mount Polley mine in British Columbia on Aug. 4, 2014, has raised awareness of issues associated with tailings impoundments,” said a letter sent to Areva Resources, Cameco Corp. , Rio Algom, Willet Green Miller, P.J. Brugger and Associates, EWL Management Ltd. and Denison Mines Inc.
“This is a reminder that vigilance must be maintained by ensuring that tailings dams continue to be properly designed, constructed, operated, maintained and monitored to prevent such occurrences.”
The companies were asked to confirm that mitigation measures are in place in the event of a tailings breach. They’re also asked to confirm the safety of tailings facilities and report any identified gaps to the commission by Sept. 15.
Canada — once the world’s largest producer of uranium — has four active uranium mine sites, all in Saskatchewan. There are also several closed or decommissioned uranium mines in Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories and Ontario.
Gord Struthers, spokesman for Cameco, said all active uranium operations store tailings in mined-out pits. They’re below ground level and do not require dams to contain the slurry.
There are decommissioned operations that did use above-ground tailings storage, but those tailings are dry so there is no volume of water that could leak, he said.
“There’s not possibility of that type of accident. None whatsoever,” Struthers said. “That’s not to say we’re complacent about it.”
Cameco will have no difficulty meeting the requests of the federal regulator, he said, adding that uranium mining has justifiably rigorous oversight.
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