The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is recommending that Cameco be issued licences for it’s Key Lake McArthur River and Rabbit Lake operations in northern Saskatchewan. The Commission is conducting public hearings in Saskatoon Wednesday and Thursday.

The Commission suggests a 20-year licence  for Key Lake and McArthur River and a 15-year licence for Rabbit Lake. Technicians within the Commission said that there is operational uncertainty with Rabbit Lake as it is currently under care and maintenance, since 2016 and is expected to stay within that status for the near future.

Cameco wanted an indefinite time licence, but backed off that position, after First Nations and community groups expressed concern with oversight and monitoring of activities. “No new activities are proposed with our 20-year licence term. The current activities are well understood and we will continue to operate within the licencing basis,” said Liam Mooney, Vice President, Safety, Health, Environment & Quality and Regulatory Relations with Cameco.

Cameco is reciving broad support from the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, Ile a la Crosse, and Beauval. “The company has developed strong relationships in northern Saskatchewan, which is reflected in their ongoing work with northern people, communities, and businesses. Cameco is an experienced and qualified operator; I am pleased to provide this letter of support for Cameco’s application to renew the uranium mine licenses for the McArthur River, Key Lake and Rabbit Lake operations for a 20-year term,” said Beauval Mayor Nick Daigneault in a written submission.

“Cameco has over 30 years uranium mining and milling experience in northern Saskatchewan. During this time, Cameco and LLRIB have built a long-standing relationship and I am pleased to provide this letter of support regarding the 20-year relicensing request for the Key Lake, McArthur River, and Rabbit Lake operations. We have been well informed and believe Cameco to be an experienced and qualified operator. Cameco continues to be a vital part of northern Saskatchewan and makes a positive impact as a major employer, strong community partner and a very respected company in the region by members and leadership of the LLRIB,” explained a letter from Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson.

Yet, there is push back from environmental groups. The Ya’ Thi Nene Land and Resource Office is recommending a 10-year licence for Key Lake and McArthur River and 5-year licence for Rabbit Lake. The group claims it conducted focus groups in Uranium City, Fond du Lac, Black Lake and Hatchet Lake, asserting that no wants what they call a generational licence of 20-years. The group alleges they were not consulted by Cameco and are concerned that the mining operations could impact Treaty Rights and restrictions on hunting and gathering and wild game food security.

Mooney said Cameco has local monitoring programs in place to ensure that traditional foods are not contaminated and water is safe for consumption. He said Cameco is mindful of Indigenous on-the-land activities and concerns regarding the environment.

“Their uranium mining operations have been disrupting the Dene hunting and gathering activities for decades now. The traditional land-users have been and continue to be increasingly concerned with the heavy foot-print that Cameco is leaving on the environment both here and the places their product is used. The disruption and years of contamination are extolling a heavy price on the wildlife, fish, plants and medicines,” said Candyce Paul, a member of the English River First Nation.

While the CNSC based its recommending decision on Cameco’s future plans, Commission member Dr. Timothy Berube acknowledged that this recommendation is based on technical advice of operations and safety, he questioned how this continued mining operations would impact locals, who actually use the land.

Cameco defended its record saying that its environmental stewardship and collaboration in the North is excellent.

The CNSC noted that there were reported spills and leaks at Key Lake, McArthur River and Rabbit Lake over the past 10 years, but that most were very minor and cleaned or addressed immediately.

The Commission recommended that Cameco issue a comprehensive operational report, including Indigenous engagement at the half-way point of each licence.