Anti-nuclear activists have been circulating false information about the uranium mining industry in northern Saskatchewan for a number of years. In fact, Saskatchewan's uranium mines are safe for people and the environment and that is confirmed through diligent regulation by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and provincial authorities. Uranium mining has an overwhelmingly positive impact on northern Saskatchewan and is supported by the majority of northern residents. If you are concerned by these false statements, please read the true information below.
Environment and Safety Topics
FALSE: "Traditional country foods in the north are no longer safe to eat."
All country foods gathered in areas downstream or downwind from uranium operations are safe to eat. Testing of samples collected as part of the provincial Eastern Athabasca Regional Monitoring Program (EARMP) shows no difference between these country foods and those harvested from reference lakes and streams not in the same watershed as uranium mines. Results from this program have shown that country foods including berries, fish, moose and caribou are safe to eat and contribute to a healthy lifestyle.
Continuous monitoring by Cameco shows that the applicable environmental limits are being met. Further, country foods studies, as well as regional monitoring by the province, have provided further evidence that no one living in northern Saskatchewan is at risk from contamination of traditional country foods.
What independent monitoring and regulators say:
The most recent studies which support these conclusions were conducted by EARMP, part of the provincial government's Boreal initiative:
"The EARMP community sampling program included testing water, berries, fish, moose and barren-ground caribou collected independently by, or with the aid of, community members...The evaluation of the country foods data shows that most chemical concentrations are below available guidelines and similar to concentrations expected for the region..."
"Overall, the results indicate that traditional harvesting of country foods does not present health risks to Athabasca Basin residents." - EARMP monitoring reports
Following the October 2013 Cameco relicensing hearings at La Ronge, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) reported that:
"Some intervenors . . . expressed concern that radiation exposure to members of the public comes from the contamination of country foods including fish, wildlife and berries. Cameco representatives and CNSC staff indicated that studies conducted in support of the human health risk assessments have shown that country foods taken from or near the mine site have been shown to be free of contamination and that country foods are as safe as supermarket foods." - 2013 Key Lake record of decision
FALSE: "Uranium mining is destroying our traditional lands."
The developed surface areas of our operations are small. The developed footprint of McArthur River, for example, is less than 1.75 km2 (which remains relatively constant for the life of mine) and that's for an operation that produces enough uranium yearly to provide emissions-free energy to 40 million households. The total disturbance associated with all of Cameco's northern Saskatchewan operations is less than 22 km2. By comparison, disturbances associated with individual oil sands developments are known to be as large as 220 km2. Recent estimates have shown that the total area of the land actively being mined for oil sands use is approximately 715 km2.
All of our mining operations in Saskatchewan are located on Crown land leased to Cameco and we have an obligation under our lease agreements to restore the land as close as possible to its original state once mining ends. Our decommissioning plans reflect this requirement and Cameco has set aside the necessary funds to carry out these plans.
Cameco recognizes the rights of traditional users and rights-bearing communities related to our provincial Crown leases and we engage regularly with individuals and First Nations communities about our operations and reclamation plans.
What the regulator says:
"The final stage for a mine or mill is its shutdown, decommissioning and end-state environmental monitoring. The CNSC requires a licensee to have a financial guarantee in place during all phases of the facility's lifecycle to cover the cost of decommissioning. This ensures that decommissioning is included in planning at all stages in a facility's lifecycle. Decommissioning and reclamation plans for mines and mills must be assessed and approved by the CNSC before work can proceed." - The Facts on a Well-Regulated Industry
FALSE: "Uranium mining is poisoning northern waters."
Monitoring completed by Cameco and regulators show that the treated water from Cameco's northern mining operations does not impact the streams and lakes within the receiving environment.
Cameco's environmental management programs are International Standards Organization (ISO) 14001 certified. Cameco's environmental performance and our releases to the environment are carefully tracked, monitored and reported to regulators. We also post our performance to our website.
Results from monitoring of the downstream receiving environment are contained within the community and technical EARMP reports. And findings from the EARMP community program indicated that country foods harvested in the Eastern Athabasca region are safe to eat and contribute to a healthy lifestyle.
What the regulator says:
As reported by the CNSC in their annual staff report on uranium mines, Saskatchewan uranium mines were the only sector of the Canadian mining industry to be 100% compliant with the federal Metal Mines Effluent Regulations (from 2007 to 2011). - CNSC Staff Report on the Performance of Uranium Fuel Cycle and Processing Facilities: 2012
In its annual review regarding the performance of metal mines, Environment Canada reported that the uranium subsector continues to be the top performer in terms of meeting effluent limits and producing effluent that is not acutely lethal. - 2012 Summary Review of Performance of Metal Mines Subject to the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations
FALSE: "Tailings from uranium mills will be a problem for thousands of years."
The uranium industry is a leader in managing tailings. Cameco pioneered in-pit tailings management facilities that are considered a best practice. Cameco has had a multi-year research partnership with the University of Saskatchewan, led by Dr. Jim Hendry, who has studied issues such as geo-chemistry of tailings to predict what will happen to them over periods such as 10,000 years. The project is investigating how elements such as arsenic, nickel, molybdenum, selenium, radium and uranium from tailings management facilities interact with the surrounding environment. Modelling to date confirms that potential effects to the downstream environment will not be significant.
The fact that tailings are deposited during operation under a cover of water means radiological effects to the nearby environment are mitigated.
What the regulator says:
In its record for decision on the Key Lake extension project, the CNSC confirmed the findings of the human health risk assessment for Key Lake. It was demonstrated in this assessment that the potential radiological dose to a theoretical resident living near the Key Lake operation is 50 times lower than the CNSC's dose limit for members of the public - which is approximately the same dose a passenger on an airplane would receive from cosmic radiation during a routine three-hour flight.
After operations cease and the facility is decommissioned, the study modelled potential effects up to 10,000 years in the future. It calculated the potential annual dose to a member of the public at that point in time would still be one fifth of the current yearly limit for members of the public.
FALSE: "People are affected by radiation from uranium mining operations in northern Saskatchewan."
Background radiation levels in northern Saskatchewan are not affected by uranium mining. For example, radon levels monitored at the surface lease boundaries of our operations are the same as natural background levels in all cases.
What the regulator says:
"The CNSC assesses monitors and tracks licensees' environmental performance to verify that releases to the environment are not harmful and are below regulatory limits. Since 1994, an ongoing monitoring study in northern Saskatchewan has assessed the cumulative impacts of radon, radionuclides and heavy metals on the local environment. Results have shown that uranium mines have no effect on radon levels, and that uranium, radium-226, lead-210 and polonium-210 levels in fish were often below detection levels. When measurable, these levels were no different around minesites when compared to those at both nearby and remote reference sites." - The Facts on a Well-Regulated Industry
FALSE: "Uranium mines in northern Saskatchewan are making people sick with cancer."
Cameco is committed to providing a safe, healthy and rewarding workplace and our employees are constantly monitored to ensure that any exposure to radiation at our uranium operations is kept as low as reasonably achievable. Radiation exposure to workers is many magnitudes lower than the regulatory limit and Cameco's own internal guidelines. For members of the public, monitoring has confirmed there are no health risks to the public from harvesting any country foods - plants, fish or mammals - in the vicinity of our operations. Harvesting and eating traditional country foods contributes to a healthy lifestyle, and publicly available monitoring has confirmed that the traditional country foods in this region remain safe to eat.
What health experts and regulators say:
A summary of northern Saskatchewan health indicators is produced by northern medical officer, Dr. James Irvine about every seven years on behalf of the three northern health regions. The most recent Northern Saskatchewan Health Indicators Report states that cancer rates for males are in fact lower in northern Saskatchewan than for the province as a whole and the female rate is the same.
Following the 2013 relicensing hearings for Cameco's Key Lake, Rabbit Lake and McArthur River operations at La Ronge, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) reported that:
"Some intervenors, including . . . the Committee for Future Generations provided anecdotal information that cancer rates in northern Saskatchewan communities are high and that rates are attributable to the uranium mining industry.
In response to the Commission's questioning of this assertion, the Public Health Officer (Dr. James Irvine) indicated that the greatest risk to developing cancer does not come from uranium mining but from tobacco smoking and that lung cancer rates, in both men and women, are elevated in northern Saskatchewan compared to southern Saskatchewan.
During discussion of background radiation, the Public Health Officer noted that levels of background radiation vary from one locale to another and that background radiation levels in northern Saskatchewan are lower than in than in southern Saskatchewan because of the differences in soils and ground structure." - 2013 Key Lake record of decision
Cameco’s Relationships with Indigenous People
FALSE: "Northern people are opposed to uranium mining in Saskatchewan."
Northerners consistently respond to our polls and show strong support for uranium mining. The annual survey done by Fast Consulting on behalf of Cameco and Orano Canada includes people in communities and First Nations reserves within the northern administrative district. Their results are factored into an overall Saskatchewan survey.
In the most recent poll undertaken in November and December of 2022, 1,050 people province-wide were surveyed with an additional 193 northerners surveyed.
75% of northern people polled said they support the continuation of uranium mining in Saskatchewan. Further, 40% of northerners strongly support the industry.
Province-wide support for uranium mining has been consistently between 69% and 86% since polling began more than two decades ago in 2000.
In the winter of 2013-14, the University of Saskatchewan's Fedoruk Centre funded a poll on attitudes towards nuclear power and found 77% of residents polled support the continuation of uranium mining. This confirms the range of opinion that has been found in industry polls in recent years.
FALSE: "Cameco does not respect the Treaties and ignores the concerns of local people."
Cameco has been working in northern Saskatchewan for more than 30 years with the goal of providing a sustainable benefit through collaboration, employment, education and training for northern people. Cameco believes that aboriginal communities should benefit from resource development on or near their traditional lands — and they are benefitting through jobs, education, business development and community investment.
Our engagement process is robust with regular consultation and collaboration on proposed activities. The company must provide evidence of meaningful consultation on all projects to the CNSC.
FALSE: "Uranium supplied by Cameco is used in nuclear weapons"
Since 1965, Canadian uranium has been sold exclusively for the generation of clean electricity in commercial power reactors.
Before 1965, Canadian uranium was exported for military purposes, primarily to the United States. Exports of Canadian uranium to the US began in 1944 as Canada's contribution to the Manhattan project which resulted in detonation of the world's first nuclear weapon. That same year, the federal government nationalized all of Canada's uranium mining and refining assets and formed a Crown corporation that retained exclusive control over exports of uranium on behalf of the Canadian government.
Exports of uranium for military purposes were stopped by the Canadian government in 1965. Canada's policy of selling uranium only for peaceful purposes became a permanent part of Canada's international treaty obligations in 1970 when Canada ratified the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which is administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Cameco was created in 1988, which was 18 years after Canada joined the NPT. As such, all of Cameco's uranium has been traded under appropriate IAEA treaties with commercial reactor customers in nation states that have signed a treaty with the IAEA.
What the regulator says:
"The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is Canada's independent nuclear regulator. Part of our mandate is to implement measures to which Canada has agreed, concerning respecting the international control of the development, production and use of nuclear energy, including the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear explosive devices. One way we do this is through our import and export control program.
The proliferation of nuclear weapons is a serious threat to Canadian and global security. The CNSC implements a licensing process which ensures a risk-based assessment of proposed exports and imports of nuclear and nuclear-related dual-use items.
End-use controls are a part of this process, and are designed to help ensure that Canadian exporters do not contribute - either knowingly or unwittingly - to a nuclear weapons program."