After failed attempts to press the issue, officials in the province of Saskatchewan started motion on a lawsuit last week to force the federal government to “contribute equally” to the $280-million cost of cleaning up the abandoned Gunnar uranium mine.
The provincial government has to date spent more than $125 million on the cleanup of the Gunnar site — which by 1956 had become the world’s largest uranium mine developed to stock nuclear programs — as well as 35 satellite sites. The mine, located on the shores of Lake Athabasca, closed in 1964.
To date, the province claims that the federal government has provided just $1.13 million towards the remediation, ignoring the Memorandum of Agreement signed with Saskatchewan in 2006 as a commitment to share costs. At that time, however, the cleanup was pegged at just $25 million. It now sits at more than 11 times that figure.
“After repeated requests to the federal government to honour its joint obligations to the North, to northern and First Nations communities and to the environment, we are left with no choice,” Energy and Resources Minister Bronwyn Eyre said in a statement to media upon filing Saskatchewan’s statement of claim. “We implore the federal government to pay its fair share of continuing remediation work,” she added.
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Last week, a spokesperson for Natural Resources Canada told The Canadian Press in a statement that the department will be paying $13 million in funding for “the remaining two phases after Saskatchewan obtains all the necessary approvals required to proceed with remediation.”
As the only federally-regulated provincial natural resource, and an industry that existed exclusively due to the decisions and priorities of the federal government, Minister Eyre said Ottawa must provide its equal share of funding for the project. The statement of claim argues the mine would never have been developed if not for federal policies to mine and export uranium to Canada’s allies.
Video: The Gunnar remediation project
The Gunnar remediation includes the demolition and burial of 84 downed structures, including a large uranium mill; two acid plants; a large headframe (pictured); uranium processing buildings; and a small community that included an indoor mall and residences for 800 people.
In total, the province says more than 100,000 m3 of debris material will be safely buried on-site. During operations, some 4.4 million tonnes of uranium tailings were deposited in several areas totaling 91 hectares. An estimated 368 m3 of sulfur and over 300 drums of hazardous material were collected throughout the site.
Provincial officials estimate that 918,000 m3 of waste rock will be used to cover the tailings, a project more than half finished already. Additionally, over 720,000 m3 of fill material will also be used as cover, prior to re-vegetation, and remaining waste rock and landfill areas will be covered and re-vegetated.