North

Cleanup starts on N.W.T.'s Port Radium

A major cleanup effort at Port Radium, one of the North's most notorious mines, is underway on the shores of Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories.

A major cleanup effort at Port Radium, one of the North's most notorious mines, is underway on the shores of Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories.

The federal government is paying close to $7 million for a second cleanup of the defunct uranium mine, raising the site to modern standards.

People in Déline, thenearest community,have lobbied Ottawa to do a better job at the mine since 1982, when it was cleaned up according to the standards of the day. Residents pointed to 12 hectares of uranium and silver tailings from the mine, as well as broken-down fences and open mine shafts.

"So we're going back in and addressing the fences," Julie Ward, a project manager with the federal government, told CBC News.

"And then some of the few remaining buildings that were left on site … we will demolish those, closing all the openings to the underground."

Port Radium produced uranium, pitchblende and silver between 1930 and 1982. It is located about 440 kilometres north of Yellowknife and 265 kilometres east of Déline.

In December, Ottawa awarded the $7-million cleanup contract to the Yellowknife-based Aboriginal Engineering Ltd. The company expects to complete the project this fall.

Most of the 35 workers who will be working on the project were hired and trained from Déline, a Sahtu Dene community with a population of 525.

Déline Chief Raymond Tutcho said his community is happy to see the cleanup begin, but is also worried that the effects of uranium mining will linger.

"We really want to get those fish samples monitored every year and plus vegetation and animals," he said. That should be ongoing."

While it was open, the mine had hired Déline residents to carry sacks of uranium ore from the mine. Relatives have long alleged that at least a dozen of those workers—many of whom worked in the 1930s and '40s — died from cancer as a result of uranium exposure. However, there have been no official studies to back up that claim.

Tutcho said his community is hoping to negotiate for some sort of compensation from Ottawa for those people.

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