Coxworth is a board member and research adviser at the Saskatchewan Environmental Society. Along with all the enthusiasm about the benefits the mining industry has brought to Saskatchewan (Mining: Great for Saskatchewan, SP, May 25), we need to also remember the multimillion-dollar costs that are our province’s inheritance from past mining activities.
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission recently reviewed plans for continuing management of some of the contaminated sites in northern Saskatchewan – relics of uranium mining activities that took place during the 1960s and 1970s.
The cost of remediating surface waters to levels compatible with Saskatchewan surface water quality objectives is so overwhelming that we know it will never happen.
Because the companies that caused the pollution are no longer in existence, these costs now fall to the federal and provincial taxpayers. The goal of industry and regulators now is simply to prevent the contamination from getting any worse.
One such contaminated region is the Beaverlodge area. Beaverlodge Lake, just north of Lake Athabasca and east of Uranium City, is linked to Lake Athabasca through a series of small lakes and rivers. It is beautiful, and is home to an abundance of fish.
Beaverlodge Lake, however, is contaminated with the poorly managed wastes from uranium mining operations that closed down in the early 1980s. Eldorado Nuclear was a federal crown corporation that mined and milled uranium close to the northeast corner of Beaver-lodge Lake.
For much of their operating lifetime, the mines and mills were poorly regulated. In 1985 the sites were decommissioned to Atomic Energy Control Board standards of the day, leaving a mess of scattered uncovered tailings, waste rock piles, small lakes that had been used as tailings dump sites, and contaminated water-sheds leading into Beaver-lodge Lake with unacceptably high levels of uranium, radium and selenium.
Eldorado no longer exists. The federal government created a new body, Canada Eldor Inc., to be responsible for liabilities remaining from Eldorado’s operations.
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