Mount Polley spurs call for uranium tailings check

Canada’s nuclear watchdog has asked the country’s uranium tailings facility operators to ensure their impoundments are safe following the massive spill at B.C.’s Mount Polley mine earlier this month.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission sent the uranium mines and mills it regulates a letter on August 14 requesting they confirm that all operations, inspections and monitoring comply with their licences.

The letter asked the seven licensees to review the causes of the tailings pond wall failure at Imperial Metals’s (TSX:III) Mount Polley copper and gold mine.

The enormous breach released 10 billion litres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of metals-laden fine sand into the wider environment, contaminating several lakes, rivers and creeks in the Cariboo region.

"The recent tailings dam breach that occurred at the Mt. Polley mine in British Columbia on August 4, 2014 has raised awareness of issues associated with tailings impoundments," the letter said.

"This is a reminder that vigilance must be maintained by ensuring that tailings dams continue to be properly designed, constructed, operated, maintained and monitored to prevent such occurrences."

The nuclear regulator gave the seven companies – AREVA (EPA:AREVA), Cameco Corporation (TSE:CCO), Rio Algom Limited, Willet Green Miller Ctr, P.J. Brugger and Associates, EWL Management Ltd. and Denison Mines Inc. (TSE:DML) – until September 15 to respond.

CNSC staff will conduct "walk down" inspections of the above-ground tailings facilities to independently verify their safety and may request further action on any issues identified, the letter said.

Canada is one of the world’s leading and lowest-cost uranium suppliers, with active operations in Saskatchewan’s Athabasca Basin and in Quebec, and a number of closed or decommissioned uranium mines.

In the wake of the Mount Polley disaster, B.C. mine minister Bill Bennett on Monday ordered an independent investigation of the circumstances of the breach and inspections of every tailings pond at all permitted mines in the province.

Information on waste from uranium mines and mills in Canada can be found here.