Plan for cleaning up uranium tailings ready for approval – by Alex MacPherson (Saskatoon StarPhoenix – September 28, 2015)

The cleanup of a derelict northern Saskatchewan uranium mine could move one step closer this week.

The Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) — which is overseeing the multi-million-dollar Gunnar Remediation Project on behalf of the provincial government — will present its plan to cover the site’s three tailings deposits at a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) hearing in Ottawa on Wednesday.

Canada’s nuclear watchdog will consider evidence presented by all interested parties, including the SRC and northern First Nations, before making its decision, which is expected in about six weeks, a CNSC spokesman said Monday.

The Gunnar mine site is located near Uranium City on the northern shore of Lake Athabasca, about 800 kilometres north of Saskatoon. The deposit was discovered in 1952 and mining commenced three years later.

When it was operational, the site featured an open pit mine, an underground mine, two acid plants, a uranium mill, and various ancillary buildings. Three tailings deposits totalling some 4.4 million tonnes and a large waste rock pile eventually accumulated on the site.

After Gunnar ceased production in 1963, the open pit and underground works were flooded with water from Lake Athabasca. The mine was abandoned the following year with little other decommissioning work.

“There was no Department of Environment when those mines were abandoned,” said Ann Coxworth, a nuclear chemist and member of the Saskatchewan Environmental Society board. “At the time, there was, I would say, rather limited understanding of the hazards of leaving those tailings in an unmanaged condition.”

The absence of baseline studies and the insidious effects of radioactive contamination make assessing the Gunnar site’s environmental impact difficult, but it’s clear the work needed to be done, Coxworth said.

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