Saskatchewan uranium mines create toxic legacy
Kyle Ashmead
August 27, 2010 · Digital Journal

The Keepers of the Water Saskatchewan hosted Keepers of the Water IV from August 19th to August 23rd, 2010. The conference took place in northern Saskatchewan, with over five hundred people including locals in attendance. Conference attendees discussed many issues affecting the north, not least among them, was uranium mining in Saskatchewan.

Uranium from northern Saskatchewan makes Canada the world's largest exporter of uranium ore. The Athabasca Sandstone, a geological formation, which spreads from northern Alberta, to northern Manitoba, contains the world's highest grade uranium. The community where the conference took place is situated in the "heartland" of uranium production in Saskatchewan. As of 2007 Canada accounted for 23% of world uranium production.

A lot of areas with uranium deposits have chosen not to develop this resource, because of health and environmental concerns involved with uranium production. British Colombia has had a uranium moratorium in place since 1977; British Colombia's moratorium was reaffirmed in 2008. Nova Scotia, Labrador and Virginia all have bans on uranium mining; other areas such as Colorado are considering a ban. Saskatchewan however continues to expand its uranium mining operations (Harding).

Cameco is a company based in Saskatoon Saskatchewan, with operations in North America and Kazakhstan. Cameco was formed through the amalgamation and privatization of two crown corporations and has become the largest publicly traded uranium company in the world, supplying more than 15% of the world's uranium. Cameco operates the world's largest high-grade uranium mine in the world and also has rights to the world's largest deposit of high grade uranium (as of yet, this site has not been developed), both of these sites are located in northern Saskatchewan.

There are many health concerns related to uranium mining, both for miners and for people living in communities where mining is occurring. The community at Wollaston Lake where the Keepers IV conference was held experienced a uranium tailings contamination of Wollaston Lake, uranium is soluble in water. Uranium emits radiation until it stabilizes as lead in 4.5 billion years. Radon gas is a by-product of uranium, the World Health Organization (WHO) names radon as the second leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking.

"Unlike most developed countries Canada has no national program to deal with contaminated sites. Abandoned mines and tailings ponds create toxic nightmares, contaminating rivers, lakes and surrounding lands. Local communities are left with the toxic legacy" (Minewatch and Sierra Canada, 2001).

There are legal levels of radiation that people may be exposed to, however scientific research has found that there are no safe levels of radiation. "Radiation contaminated fish are not accepted for commercial sale, so there is concern across northern Saskatchewan that uranium contamination from tailings sites may destroy the commercial fisheries. In addition to fish and water contamination, there is concern about displacement of Caribou through linear disturbance from mining development. The Dene and Cree people of northern Saskatchewan rely upon fish and Caribou for their survival. Some of these communities have 80% unemployment. It was resolved that the Keepers of the Water oppose harmful action transpired by industry and call upon young people and elected leaders, to embrace traditional knowledge and take action that guides us in a new direction" (Pitman).

There were many other discussions concerning industry development and lack of sustainable development of renewable resources, throughout northern BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the North West Territories. Keepers of the Water V will be held in northern Manitoba next year.

Sources

Harding, J. What's the alternative to nuclear colonialism in the North?
Minewatch & Sierra Canada, 2001. ToxiCanada.
Pitman, J. Personal communication.