Uranium & Nuclear

Uranium mining has been a significant industry in Saskatchewan since the 1950s, when the major demand for the product was for the manufacturing of nuclear weapons. More recently, Saskatchewan’s uranium is primarily used for fuelling nuclear power reactors in Canada, the United States, and overseas. Uranium ore is mined in northern Saskatchewan and milled there to create yellowcake before being shipped to Ontario for refining and further processing into fuel bundles. Past mining operations, some abandoned without proper decommissioning, have left extensive watersheds seriously contaminated with radioactive and chemical wastes.

The Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES) has taken positions calling for the phase-out of uranium mining, opposing nuclear power development in Saskatchewan, and opposing disposal of used nuclear fuel in Saskatchewan. Concerns include the historic, unremediated contamination of northern watersheds with radioactive tailings from the milling process, current management of mining wastes, lack of safe methods for long-term management of used nuclear fuel, and the unavoidable link between nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Fortunately, Saskatchewan is no longer being considered a potential location for a permanent used fuel disposal site.

SES has participated in a number of federal and provincial environmental assessment and licensing processes related to new and continuing mining operations and to remediation planning for abandoned mining sites and those engaged in decommissioning. Our long-term involvement with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is largely focused on decision-making about uranium mine sites in the province. This includes licensing of new mines, decommissioning of closed mine sites, management of mine/mill wastes, and various regulatory review processes. Most recently, SES submitted to the CNSC a review of NexGen Energy’s Environmental Impact Statement regarding a proposed new uranium mine, Rook 1, that would be located in the headwater region of the Clearwater River, a designated heritage river.

SES has also been a long-time observer of the management and regulation of the Cluff Lake uranium mine and mill site. Over the years, we have participated in the CNSC’s public review processes, toured the site, met with individuals who are close to the site, and in 2020, we undertook a detailed critical review of the decommissioning of the Tailings Management Area (TMA) with support from Orano Canada Inc. This report identifies 22 concerns about the TMA that have been raised by intervenors, examines the nature of those concerns, and describes how they have been responded to. A public hearing regarding Orano’s request to transfer responsibility of this site to the Saskatchewan Institutional Control Program took place in early 2023.

The Saskatchewan government is currently engaged in a decision-making process about the possibility of introducing Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs) into the SaskPower grid. Potential locations have been identified in the Estevan and Elbow regions, and a decision is expected in 2029. See SES’s comments on this expensive and untested technology here.