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Uranium mine reclamation : a myriad of extremes politics, perceptions and long-lived radionuclides Ross, M.; Hovdebo, Don G.
Decommissioning and reclamation of Saskatchewan uranium mines involves a number of "extremes" which range from the physical location and climatic conditions at the sites to the politics, perceptions and regulatory issues which surround the mineral itself. This paper discusses a number of these extremes and explores how each is being dealt with by operating mines, the regulatory agencies and the "impact communities". Uranium mining, because of the strategic nature of the mineral, falls under the jurisdiction of both the federal and provincial government. This results in a regime where all proposals, including decommissioning and reclamation plans, must be reviewed and approved by two separate and distinct agencies before licensing is provided. The regulatory regime is, in itself, an extreme. The tailings and waste rock piles present a second extreme in that, not only are they composed of the chemical and heavy metal components normally identified with a mining operation, but also contain a radioactive component which requires special consideration in all reclamation activities. Recently, operations have been approved which employ an in-pit pervious surround system for tailings management. This involves the use of a mined out pit which is modified to receive tailings and operated in a manner which considers the final reclamation strategy for the area. All uranium mines in Saskatchewan are located north of 57° latitude: in areas which experience short and cool growing seasons and extreme freeze-thaw cycles. This, combined with poor soils, does not allow for the implementation of traditional revegetation programs nor the easy management of tailings deposition. The physical location of the sites also presents an "extreme" when implementing monitoring programs required as follow-up to reclamation activities. Public involvement, including First Nations, in the review of monitoring and reclamation plans is being addressed in Saskatchewan by the establishment of a Northern Mines Monitoring Secretariat and regional Environmental Quality Committees. Through this means, valid impact community input will be a consideration without restricting industry's ability to make operating decisions or the ability of the regulators to do their jobs. In the Saskatchewan uranium mining industry, "Reclamation in Extreme Environments" is a given: however, the extremes are not limiting the ability of the industry to successfully achieve desired goals.
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