Urgent Action: Mining companies to end support for community-based laboratory analysis of uranium tailings in the Serpent River

Rio Algom, a subsidiary of BHP-Billiton, and Denison Mines Limited have awarded a contract for laboratory analytical work to monitor 14 decommissioned uranium mines and 130 million tonnes of residual radioactive tailings in the Serpent River basin area to a large commercial laboratory in Peterborough, Ontario.

This move is likely to force a closure of the Elliot Lake Field Research Station (ELFRS) that was set up in 1996 by a diverse group of stakeholders to ensure that the local community was involved in monitoring the environmental effects of the closed mines. ELFRS grew out of a panel recommendation in 1993 that said “The tailings of the Elliot Lake uranium mines present a perpetual environmental hazard…community involvement is a fundamental part of the perpetual care system”. Its website is www.elrfs.org.

Dr. Dougal McCreath, a former member of the Kirkwood Panel (which made the recommendation) and volunteer Director of ELFRS, has written a strongly worded letter to the Mayor and Council of Elliot Lake, setting out the facts and expressing his dismay at the mining companies’ decision. Says McCreath, “The panel knew that direct community-based involvement was an essential component of the effective monitoring system that would ensure that the people living around the uranium tailings would be genuinely knowledgeable, vigilant and ultimately comfortable with the work being done”.

The ELFRS stakeholders included the mining companies, the City of Elliot Lake, provincial and federal government agencies and Laurentian University. Only the mining companies were involved in the decision to remove the analytical work from the community.

In 2001, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Denison Mines, Denison Environmental Services (DES), was awarded a five year contract to provide comprehensive services to monitor, treat and report on the closed uranium properties of Rio Algom on behalf of Rio Algom parent BHP-Billiton. DES already provides these services for Denison. Until now, DES samples have been analyzed by ELFRS in the community of Elliot Lake.

The mining companies had set up a competitive bidding process to determine the award of the laboratory services contract. The tender pitted the small community-based – but accredited – lab, against large commercial laboratories outside the region.

The ELFRS bid was for a total amount of $135,000/year. Assuming the bid from SGS Lakefield was 10-15% less, the savings to the companies would be in the order of $20,000/year. McCreath estimates this cost at 15 cents per thousand tonnes of tailings. Although ELFRS undertakes work for other clients, it is unlikely it can survive without the mining company funds.

Please write a letter to the mining companies (with a copy to Dougal McCreath) asking them to continue to support community-based laboratory, and keep the Elliot Lake Field Research Centre open.

Patrick James, President & CEO
Rio Algom Ltd
120 Adelaide Street West, Suite 2600
Toronto, ON M5H 1W5
Tel: (416) 367-4000
Fax: (416) 365-6870

Peter Farmer, President & CEO
Denison Mines Inc.
595 Bay Street, Suite 402
Toronto, ON M5G 2C2
Tel: (416) 979-1991
Fax: (416) 979-5893
email: [email protected]

Dougal R. McCreath PhD, PEng, FEIC.
Laurentian University, School of Engineering
Ramsey Lake Road, Sudbury, ON P3E 2C6
Fax: (705) 462-8550

Dr. McCreath’s letter is attached for background on the issue.