One size doesn’t fit all

Published on: May 2018

Saskatchewan Research Council cleans up abandoned uranium mines

Operations at the Gunnar uranium mine in northern Saskatchewan stopped abruptly in 1964 with little to no decommissioning. The miners simply stopped work and walked away. Over the previous decade, the open pit and underground workings yielded tonnes of uranium ore that was refined on site and shipped to the United States. When the workers abandoned the site, they left behind an open pit over 100 metres deep, the mill, two acid plants and uranium processing buildings, and over six million tonnes of tailings and waste rock, as well as dozens of portals to underground workings.

Fifty years later, the Saskatchewan Ministry of the Economy launched Project CLEANS (Cleanup of Abandoned Northern Sites) to remediate the Gunnar mine and mill, along with the nearby Lorado mill, which processed uranium from surrounding sites, and 35 smaller satellite mine sites without tailings. The project is cofunded by the provincial and federal governments, which in 2006 hired the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) to manage it. One challenge has been finding cost-effective and logistically feasible methods for locating and closing off access to the underground workings, the results of which could become the model for many other such reclamation projects in Canada.

Read the full story in the Environment section of CIM Magazine.