SASKATOON – Years after the Gunnar uranium mine shut down, the cost to remediate the toxic waste left behind has risen dramatically. Now a Saskatchewan environmental group wants the federal government to pay a larger share.
“Really without the government of Canada’s involvement this mine probably would not have opened, and we really think that it shouldn’t just be up to provincial taxpayers to cover more than 90 per cent of the clean up costs,” said Peter Prebble, director of environmental policy for the Saskatchewan Environmental Society.
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The site now sits silent, but the legacy of pollution remains. When the mine was shuttered in the early 60s, regulations were lax, and the science not nearly as advanced. For decades, the land has been unusable by the local population.
The traditional activities of hunting, fishing and trapping can no longer take place on nearly 60 hectares of contaminated land. Luckily, the tailings are localized, but the radiation will be around for centuries to come.
“They sealed the mine shaft, and that was really it. They walked off the site with the buildings and everything there,” said Joe Muldoon, vice-president of the environment division at the Saskatchewan Research Council, the organization tasked with overseeing the remediation. Muldoon added that it was common during that era to close mines in that matter, without what we would consider today to be proper remediation.
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After decades of abandonment, only recently has a clean up effort begun. It’s a process that will take several years to complete. Plans are being made to cover the tailings with sand, rock and soil, forming a natural barrier to keep the contaminants in. But it doesn’t come cheaply.
Back in 2006, the province and federal government agreed to split the cost down the middle, then estimated to be $25 million. But nearly ten years later, the price tag has risen to $220 million, yet the federal government has not changed its commitment.
“The Government of Canada has agreed to provide up to $12.3 million of funding for the Gunnar mine site remediation project,” wrote Cathy Khory, media spokesperson for Natural Resources Canada, in an email to Global News.
“$1.13 million in funding for Phase 1 of the project was provided in 2007. Funding of up to $11.17 million will be made available after approvals from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and the Saskatchewan Ministry of the Environment are provided, allowing the project to move into the implementation phase of the remediation.”
Global News asked if the federal government’s share of the cost would be going up to due to increased price of the entire project, but they did not comment on that matter.
Meanwhile, the province says it will be engaging in talks with the new federal government in the coming months about this issue.
“We believe there’s a clear obligation on the part of the federal government to continue to be involved in the project and we continue to have those discussions with them,” said Laurie Pushor, Saskatchewan’s deputy minister of the economy.