Public hearing set for McClean Lake nuclear facility

Orano plans to expand its tailings pond at McClean Lake

Canada’s nuclear regulator is holding a one-part public hearing to consider an application from Orano Canada to amend its uranium mine operating licence to expand its tailings ponds at McClean Lake.

The McClean Lake mine site — where uranium from Cameco’s Cigar Lake mine is milled — operates within 50 kilometres by air from the Hatchet Lake First Nation and Wollaston Post in northern Saskatchewan.

Tailings are the waste produced by grinding the ore and the chemical concentration of uranium. When dried, tailings have the consistency of fine sand. Tailings are stored in dam and dyke facilities called a tailings pond or “tailings management facility” (JEB TMF).

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is the federal regulator of nuclear power and materials in Canada that licences the uranium industry.

Orano’s current 10-year licence, which expires in 2027, allows the company to operate its uranium ore mine and mill, produce uranium concentrates and operate the tailings pond — but the company says it needs more space to store the waste.

Orano said in its application that as processing of ore from the Cigar Lake mine has progressed, the tailings produced from milling Cigar Lake ore used “significantly more capacity than initially expected.”

“In order for Orano to secure future mining plans, adequate tailings capacity must be available,” the company wrote in its application. 

“Current mining and milling plans indicate that the existing approved JEB TMF will reach the currently licensed full capacity in approximately 2027, requiring additional capacity to be available in advance to prevent disruptions in production and allow for timely Orano and partners’ economic development decisions.”

Orano wants to expand the tailings pond elevation of 462 metres above sea level in order to “ensure that there is adequate tailings capacity in the future.” 

The expansion would mean continuing construction of an embankment and placing a crushed waste rock liner at the tailings pond.

The licence amendment signed by nuclear cycle and facilities regulation director Kavita Murthy lists several First Nations, Métis groups and organizations that are being kept informed of CNSC activities around their traditional and treaty territories.

“To date, CNSC staff have not been made aware of any specific concerns about Orano’s application for a licence amendment for the McClean Lake JEB TMF expansion on Indigenous peoples’ potential or established Indigenous and/or treaty rights pursuant to section 35 of the Constitution,” the document reads.

“CNSC staff are committed to continuing to address concerns and provide information pertaining to the project. Follow-up activities will be conducted with Indigenous groups who express any remaining concerns about the facility following the Commission hearing, where necessary”

The English River First Nation, the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan, and the Athabasca Joint Engagement and Environmental Subcommittee will be present at the hearing.

There will also be presentations by Orano, Cameco Corporation and the CNSC along with written submissions from Denison Mines Corp. and the Unifor worker’s union.

Orano’s licence amendment application is posted on its website. Orano’s submission and CNSC recommendations to be considered at the hearing are also available on the CNSC website.

Hearings are set for October 4 and are available via live webcast due to COVID-19. To watch the live webcast of the public commission hearing you can visit nuclearsaftey.gc.ca.

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