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Environment

Saskatchewan government sues Ottawa over cost of uranium mine cleanup

The expected cost for remediation of the remote Gunnar mine in northern Saskatchewan has swelled about 10 times and Ottawa isn't offering any more money.
An agreement was signed between Saskatchewan and federal government in 2006 committing to sharing the costs of the cleanup of Gunnar mine. Chris Hendrickson / Saskatchewan Research Council

The Saskatchewan government has filed a lawsuit against the federal government over the cleanup of a northern uranium mine.

The statement of claim, filed Nov. 27, said the federal government has not contributed equally to the cost of cleaning up the Gunnar mine, just west of Fond du Lac on Lake Athabasca.

Saskatchewan Resources Minister Bronwyn Eyre said the province has spent more than $125 million on cleaning up the abandoned mine, while the federal government has provided only $1.13 million to date.

READ MORE: Federal government won’t pay more for northern Sask. uranium mine cleanup

An agreement was signed between Saskatchewan and Ottawa in 2006 committing to sharing the costs of the cleanup. At the time of the signing, the cost of the clean up was estimated around $24 million with both parties agreeing to a 50-50 split.

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“After repeated requests to the federal government to honour its joint obligations to the north, to northern and First Nations communities and to the environment, we are left with no choice,” Eyre said in a statement.

“We implore the federal government to pay its fair share of continuing remediation work.”

Eyre added the province has been getting mixed messages from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and the funding partner, Natural Resource Canada.

“In theory the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission could order us to continue working on this sight forever under pain of fine if we don’t,” Eyre said. “On the other hand, any efforts we’ve undertaken to seek the fair share of the bargain from the federal government, those requests have gone unheeded and we’ve simply been ordered to continue to do the work.

While the cost of the cleanup was estimated at $24 million in 2006, it has since grown to $280 million.  Eyre said the scope of the project is “unbelievable.”

“I guess I can only surmise, not having been at the room or at the table, that there wasn’t a complete understanding of the scale,” Eyre said on the growing cost.

Some of the remediation work includes, demolition and burial of 84 structures including a large uranium mill and two acid plants, burying 100,000 cubic meters of debris material and removing 760,000 square feet of asbestos from demolished buildings.

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The province said uranium mining is the only federally-regulated natural resource due to the Canadian government declaring it a national interest in the 1940s.

The mine started operating in 1955 and ceased production in 1963.

READ MORE: Environmental group calls on feds to pay more for Gunnar mine cleanup

Eyre said the province takes the cleanup of the site seriously and is calling on the federals government to pay their share of the costs.

“The federal government agreed to cost-share this project equally, but has since refused to uphold its end of the agreement,” Eyre said.

“Despite the rhetoric by the current federal government about how important the environment and relations with First Nations are, its lack of action to fulfill its obligation demonstrates otherwise.”

The province anticipates spending $135 million on the cleanup by the end of the fiscal year.