MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada: Cameco & Sierra Club face off over uranium licences

Published by MAC on 2013-10-07
Source: The Canadian Press, statements

Cameco, Sierra Club face off over uranium licences

The Canadian Press

4 October 2013 

An environmental group is raising pollution concerns about Cameco's uranium mining in northern Saskatchewan to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

But Cameco says the Sierra Club's allegations that it massively exceeded regulatory limits are false.

3 days of hearings

The commission heard from both sides during public hearings that ran Tuesday to Thursday on Cameco's application to renew its mine and mill licences for its Key Lake, McArthur River and Rabbit Lake facilities.

"The most disturbing thing we discovered in the process of preparing the submission were huge, very huge numbers, in terms of pollution that's coming from the plant and getting into the environment," John Bennett, executive director of Sierra Club Canada, said Monday.

"Every kind of pollutant that comes out of them, their numbers are way over the limits and no one's been enforcing it."

The Sierra Club says that as of 2010, water releases from the Deilmann tailings facility in cadmium exceed the Saskatchewan standard by 5,782 per cent.

It says the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment allows Cameco to release water from tailings ponds directly into the environment at Horsefly Lake.

The organization also says at the McArthur River site, concentrations of arsenic, selenium, and uranium in water effluent have exceeded the standards by 54 per cent for arsenic, 700 per cent for selenium and 1,230 per cent for uranium. It says blueberries and fish are contaminated with uranium.

The Sierra Club says the pollution is increasing the risk to human health and local eco-systems.

"We think that before any kind of change, any kind of renewal of the licence, there needs to be an environmental impact study - which there hasn't been yet," Bennett said in an interview from Ottawa.

Cameco denies Sierra Club allegations

But Cameco spokesman Gord Struthers says the Sierra Club's numbers don't add up.


"The thing to bear in mind here is all the information, everything that they suggest in that submission, it comes from environmental studies and reports and monitoring data that's generated by us and reported to our regulatory authorities," said Struthers.

"So where the unreported emissions come from, I really don't know because all the information that they've relied on came from us."

Cameco says water is not released from the Deilmann tailings management facility and that the numbers cited by the Sierra Club are from tests done on water before it's treated.

The company also says monitoring has shown that blueberry plants and fish sampled near the McArthur River mine do not pose a risk.

"Their submission, it creates a completely false impression of our environmental performance," said Struthers.

"There are no massive exceedences of our licence limits. In fact, we meet all of our licence limits."

Some of world's biggest uranium projects under review

Cameco wants to renew its licences for its Key Lake, McArthur River and Rabbit Lake facilities for 10 years.

Key Lake, located 570 kilometres north of Saskatoon, opened in 1983 and is the world's largest high-grade uranium mill, according to Cameco's website. The mill processes ore from the McArthur River mine, about 80 kilometres northeast of the site.

The company says the Key Lake and McArthur River operations together employ about 900 Cameco staff and almost 750 long-term contractor employees.

Cameco describes Rabbit Lake as the longest operating uranium production facility in Saskatchewan. It opened in 1975 and is the second largest uranium mill in the world.

Rabbit Lake has more 300 Cameco staff and an equal number of long-term contractor employees.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission hearings were held in La Ronge and were webcast on

Radioactive Uranium Mines Should Not Be Expanded

Sierra Club Canada Media Release

1 October 2013

(Saskatoon) Today Sierra Club Canada is demanding an explanation from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), Saskatchewan and federal officials of why Cameco is allowed to exceed the limits for the release of radioactive uranium and heavy metals, including mercury into the air and water.

Government and company records contain reports of releases of radioactive uranium over 1000% of the allowable limits, cadmium levels over 5000% and radium increases of 3000%. There are examples where no limits exist at all such as limits to uranium levels in groundwater and where there are standards, but no testing is done at all such as mercury releases to air.

"An entire ecosystem is being systematically polluted while all levels of government are looking the other way. They have failed to enforce even the most basic environmental regulation," John Bennett, Executive Director Sierra Club Canada.

The Sierra Club Canada demand is contained in its submission to the CNSC hearing on the relicensing of the Cameco Uranium mines and mills in Northern Saskatchewan. It calls upon the CNSC to postpone a decision until after an environmental assessment of the impact of the facilities on the local and arctic environments.

The mines are located just south of the Canadian Arctic Circle and are a known source in the transboundary transport of pollution to the arctic and beyond. "The Canadian government has committed to conduct environmental impact assessment and to reduce transboundary pollution such as mercury, cadmium and lead and yet has permitted uranium mining to proceed without regard to these commitments," says Christine Elwell international environmental lawyer and author of the report.

"As the new chair of the Arctic Council, Canada ought to be showing leadership, not providing uranium companies with an unfair subsidy to the nuclear power industry by the failure to regulate", says Ms. Elwell.

The 60 page submission exposes decades of official neglect that has allowed highly toxic materials to be released into the air and water. Fish have become inedible and it is highly likely area residents have developed related health problems that have transgenerational effects.

"We were looking at the pollution reports to support our assertion that an environmental impact assessment should be done before miming is expanded. What we have found is a record of environmental horror and strong grounds for cleaning up the damage first by establishing and enforcing protective standards "said Benny Cheng Science Advisor to the report."it is unacceptable for Cameco to emit releases far above the standards, where they exist", continued Mr. Cheng.

The submission is available below.

"It's no wonder the company has attempted to silence local communities," said Mr. Bennett.

John Bennett, Executive Director
Sierra Club Canada
412-1 Nicholas Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 7B7

Sierra Club Canada Reply to Cameco

Sierra Club Canada statement

1 October 2013

Sierra Club Canada continues to oppose the relicensing of Cameco's application to the CNSC to expand by 33% three mines in Northern Saskatchewan. Cameco released a response to the Club's detailed submissions but failed to establish its claim that it is in full compliance with federal and provincial law regulating uranium mining.

Aside from the generalizations that it is in compliance with the law, no new evidence was presented to substantiate that claim.

Cameco does not dispute that there are no environmental protection standards for air and water emissions of radioactive materials. Nor that there are huge gaps between the test results of Cameco's emission levels compared to what standards exist. In other words, Cameco does not provide any evidence to show that there are not huge exceedences in emission from their operations.

Even where no standards exist, as in the case of uranium contaimination of groundwater, Cameco does not dispute that thee are no relevant standards.

Importantly too, Cameco does not dispute that it is not required by either level of government to report mercury or cadmium air emission levels.

Despite the Club's assertion otherwise, Cameco does not provide any evidence to support its conclusion that uranium levels in sediment and in Lichen at Rabbit Lake is declining. Sierra Club shows, based on Cameo's own data, that the uranium concentrations in sediment at Hidden Bay increased 9, 233 percent between 1992 and 2007 and in Lichen by 3,400 percent.

Contrary to Canadian obligations both to the Arctic region and to the Global community, Cameo does not dispute that it fails to report mercury and cadmium releases from the Yellowcake drying stacks at Key Lake. Despite repeated disclosure requests, the Club has not been provided with the mist recent stack reports from Cameo's drying equipment at Rabbit Lake.

And despite repeated requests, the CNSC has failed to produce the environmental impact assessment of Cameo's application to expand production at that mine an mill even though the hearings at La Rouge is the public's opportunity to assess the impact on the environment and public heath of the company's expansion request.

Cameo says it is in full compliance with the law but does not dispute that current Canadian regulations do not provide a limit to the release of radiation to the air and to the water. What Canadian water effluent standards that exist, do not set limits to waterborne mercury, uranium and cadmium, these contaminates are merely describes as effluent characterizes, they are not limited.

It is easy to say one is in compliance with the law when thee are no standards as in the case of the failure of the Canadian or Saskatchewan regulation.

Further and finally Cameo say its operation are not a pathway of pollution to the north or the south. Sierra Club has filed ample evidence to the contrary. The Arctic Monitoring Program as well the United Nations Environmental Program continue to advise that uranium mining is the second largest mercury source in arctic counties and the first major source of arsenic and cadmium.

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