Evaluation of the Gunnar Mine Site Rehabilitation Project

Table of Contents

Executive Summary

This report presents the findings of an evaluation of the ongoing, long-term “Gunnar and Lorado”Footnote 1 project under sub-activity 2.2.4 “Radioactive Waste Management” of NRCan’s 2011-12 Program Activity Architecture. The evaluation covers the period 2006-07 to 2010-11 and federal expenditures of $1.13 million.

Background

The Gunnar Mine operated from 1955 to 1963. All of the mine’s uranium production was purchased by the Crown corporation Eldorado Mining and Refining Ltd., and its ‘yellowcake’ was shipped to Port Hope, Ontario for further processing. When the Gunnar mine ceased operation, approximately four million tonnes of tailings had been discharged, some of which eventually entered Lake Athabasca. There was little environmental remediation apart from flooding the mined-out open pit. In 1990, Crown mining and surface rights leases for Gunnar lapsed from the owners and the property reverted to Saskatchewan. In 2000, uranium tailings sites not previously licensed by the Atomic Energy Control Act became subject to licensing under the subsequent Nuclear Safety and Control Act, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) requested that Saskatchewan bring forward a license application.

In 2005, the federal government established the Shared-Responsibility Contaminated Sites Policy Framework, under which the government may provide funding for the remediation of contamination on non-federal lands if the contamination relates to federal government activities or operations in meeting Government of Canada national security efforts. Due to the importance placed on uranium as a strategic commodity during the Cold War, the policy decision was made in 2006 that the Gunnar Mine site fell into the domain of the Shared-Responsibility Contaminated Sites Policy Framework.

In 2006, Saskatchewan and NRCan signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to share the cost of remediating the abandoned Gunnar mine:

  • As the property owner, Saskatchewan has primary operational and legal responsibility for the project. Saskatchewan hired the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC), a provincial Crown corporation, to manage the project on its behalf and to act as the proponent with the CNSC.
  • NRCan has a dual role in the project. As a signatory to the MOA, it is responsible for providing oversight on the expenditure of federal funds. In addition, NRCan’s provision of funding to the project triggers the role of responsible authority (RA). As an RA, NRCan has an obligation to apply its technical expertise to ensure that the environmental assessment (EA) that Saskatchewan conducts is in accordance with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

Project costs were estimated at $24.6 million over 17 years. The MOA reflects the intent for the costs to be shared equally between Saskatchewan and NRCan. However, it also recognizes that certain costs would be borne 100 percent by one of the parties. For instance, NRCan was not to share in the building demolition costs since these costs did not meet eligibility criteria under the Shared-Responsibility Contaminated Sites Policy Framework.

In 2007, NRCan made a $1.1 million payment to Saskatchewan for its share of the first phase, the consultation, environmental assessment and licensing phase. In accordance with the MOA, further payments by NRCan totalling $11.2 million are not due until after the CNSC has issued a licence which will allow Saskatchewan to move to phase 2, the implementation and operational phase, and phase 3, the post-closure monitoring phase.

The objectives of the evaluation were to assess the relevance and performance of the activities and expenditures arising from the Memorandum of Agreement for cost sharing between the Government of Canada and the Government of Saskatchewan relating to the remediation of the legacy uranium mining and milling facilities at Gunnar in northern Saskatchewan. This evaluation is required pursuant to section 42.1 of the Financial Administration Act.

Key Findings

1. Relevance

Findings indicate that there is a need for the Gunnar Project, both environmentally and from a human health standpoint. Based on regulators’ assessment and stakeholders’ indications, the risks were important enough to warrant remediation and bring the site in line with current environmental practice. For instance, attempts to restrict access to the site have not been effective and casual visitors to the site can receive low levels of exposure to gamma radiation and various radionuclides. There are also ongoing risks associated with the consumption of fish and wildlife from the immediate area that must be minimized.

The Gunnar Project is aligned with government priorities and NRCan strategic outcomes, specifically “Canada is a world leader on environmental responsibility in the development and use of natural resources.” This alignment is consistent with the federal government’s decision to enter into the MOA with Saskatchewan.

The roles of Saskatchewan and NRCan in the project, as outlined in the MOA, are appropriate. The Government of Saskatchewan is the project manager and has responsibility under the MOA for delivering the project in a timely and cost-efficient fashion. This role recognizes that, as the property owner, it has primary operational and legal responsibility for the project. NRCan’s role of overseeing federal expenditures is consistent with the intent of the Shared-Responsibility Contaminated Sites Policy Framework, the source of funding for the project. It allows the federal government to acknowledge that the contamination relates to national security efforts, without assuming a legal liability for remediation of the site. In addition, NRCan’s technical expertise and its experience in funding other nuclear waste projects position it well to exercise the federal role of Responsible Authority for the project.

2. Performance

The environmental assessment/planning phase is approximately three years behind schedule. The MOA indicates that it was to be complete by 2008. A key milestone in the regulatory process, the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), has not yet been approved. In addition, Saskatchewan has spent approximately $37 million, significantly more than the originally estimated total overall cost for the project of $24.6 million. On the other hand, federal funding obligations for Phase 1 under the MOA are limited to the $1.1 million initial payment.

Six major reasons for the delay in the project were identified. These also inhibited the economy and efficiency of the project.

Governance Structure

The complex governance structure involving Saskatchewan, the SRC, NRCan, in addition to the CNSC as the regulator responsible for licensing the project and several other provincial, federal, and community organizations, was necessary in order for the project to meet requirements of the provincial and federal regulatory processes and its social and economic outcomes. However, as the project progressed, the lack of clarity about the roles of each organization led to issues when the appropriate parties were not included in communications and decision-making.

Staff Turnover

The SRC had six project managers and four vice presidents between the signing of the MOA in 2006 and summer 2011. In addition, staff turnover in other organizations may have impacted the progress of the project. None of the officials originally involved in the project from either Saskatchewan or NRCan were still involved, resulting in little “corporate memory” in either organization.

Lack of Experience With the Federal Regulatory Process

While the SRC had the scientific knowledge and capacity, it had no experience in uranium mine decommissioning or with the CNSC regulatory process for uranium mines. This may have led it to make inexact planning assumptions which contributed to project inefficiencies.

The July 2010 Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission Safety Order for Building Demolition

The CNSC order required the SRC to take down all buildings on the site that posed a physical risk to the public. The CNSC put in place the order because it felt that the risks of the site were sufficiently high to justify immediate action and it was not satisfied with the progress on the project. The order had the positive effect of allowing the elimination of the Gunnar site’s highest risks, i.e. abandoned buildings. It also had a negative impact on the schedule and costs since the contracted proponent, the SRC, was required to conduct work it had not anticipated doing during the planning stage. Since the work was unexpected and urgent, it delayed the project by approximately 5 months and increased costs by over $20 million. The increased costs were wholly borne by Saskatchewan since the next federal payment was not due until the licence was issued, and the building demolition costs were not eligible for federal funding under the Shared-Responsibility Contaminated Sites Policy Framework and the MOA.

Lack of Agreement on Options in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)

In January 2011, the SRC submitted the Environmental Impact Statement to the CNSC. The CNSC then coordinated federal comments from the federal authorities and provided the SRC with a list of points for which clarification or more information was needed. A number of comments were made by NRCan, the CNSC and Environment Canada that needed to be addressed before the project could move forward. These included issues relating to the characterization of site conditions, waste rock, the pit and tailings, sampling techniques, standards, insufficient information about the evaluation of options, and selection of the most suitable remediation options.

Based on the federal comments, including those from NRCan, since the EIS was submitted for review in January 2011, NRCan and Saskatchewan had differing opinions about how the project should move forward. This situation, which has delayed the project by several months, was not resolved by early fall 2011 when data collection for the evaluation ended. While, the relationship between the MOA partners Saskatchewan Energy and Resources and NRCan remains positive, during this period it had at times been strained.

Complexity of the Site

According to officials, the remote northern Saskatchewan location made imposition of strict timelines difficult and expensive. All of the complexities may not have been fully considered in the initial schedules and budgets.

Because of these factors, evaluation findings indicate that project progress, efficiency and economy were not optimal. Given the scope of this evaluation and Saskatchewan’s jurisdictional responsibilities for managing the Gunnar Project, the efficiency and economy of other program delivery models was not assessed. While in theory a delivery model that involved a less complex governance structure might have been more efficient, it should be noted that the involvement of a large number of engaged stakeholders is needed in order to meet requirements of provincial and federal regulatory processes.

Findings suggest that though progress had been delayed, the appropriate stakeholders were engaged and that local training and employment opportunities were considered in project management. While the participation of private sector mining companies with experience with the regulatory process was facilitated, the use of the advice they provided was not optimized.

3. Recommendations

The recommendation below is intended to enhance future project results in a way that:.

  • Reflects the respective roles of NRCan, as Responsible Authority and funder, and Saskatchewan's jurisdictional responsibility;
  • Is consistent with the terms of the MOA;
  • Is based on the current delivery model established by Saskatchewan; and
  • Aims at resolving the current issues that prevent meeting the objectives of the program.

The recommendation is intended to allow NRCan to effectively deliver on its role of overseeing federal funding to ensure that Saskatchewan is managing the project in a timely and cost-effective manner as required by the MOA.

Recommendations and Management Response and Action Plan Table
Recommendation Management Response and Action Plans Responsible (Target Date)
NRCan should work with Saskatchewan to develop a firm timeframe in which Saskatchewan will achieve the following improvements that will strengthen the parties’ abilities to meet their obligations under the MOA in an effective and efficient manner:
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities and put in place more explicit provisions for planning, communication, decision-making and reporting.
  • Develop a revised detailed work schedule that provides a complete breakdown of future required project steps and associated expected timelines.
  • Establish a technical review committee to take advantage of private sector uranium mining firms’ knowledge and experience.
NRCan will work with Saskatchewan to ensure that firm timeframes are developed for the province to establish:
  • A Project Charter document clarifying roles and responsibilities.
  • A detailed revised work schedule.
  • A technical review committee.
ADM Energy Sector (July 1, 2012)

4. Lessons Learned

In addition to the recommendations focused at addressing the issues identified for the Gunnar Project, the evaluation found a number of more generic lessons learned that could be applied to similar projects undertaken by NRCan.

  1. When entering into an agreement to undertake a project which involves a complex governance structure, even if the respective roles of each stakeholder are generally set out in regulation, policy or an agreement, it is especially important that the details of specific responsibilities, communication protocols and decision-making processes be discussed and agreed upon in writing at the outset of the project. If personnel leave, this document allows any new stakeholders to become familiar and act in accordance with the agreed roles and processes.
  2. Project schedules and budgets should be reviewed regularly by all funders and the reasons for delays and any cost-overruns should be documented in order to provide a history of the project.
  3. When carrying out an oversight role of federal expenditures in which NRCan does not have primary responsibility for managing the project, when delays or over-expenditures occur, NRCan managers should ensure that they obtain sufficient information to understand the nature and reason for the delay and its potential impact on the project. Based on this information, if needed, NRCan managers should ensure that their concerns and the potential impact of these concerns, if not addressed, are communicated to the project lead in a timely manner.

1.0 Introduction and Background

1.1 Introduction

This report presents the findings of an evaluation of the Gunnar Mine Site Rehabilitation Project (hereafter referred to as the Gunnar Project) which was carried out from June 2011 through October 2011. The objectives of the evaluation were to assess the relevance and performance of the activities and expenditures arising from the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and the Government of Saskatchewan (Saskatchewan) to undertake planning, implementation and monitoring activities relating to the remediation of the legacy uranium mining and milling facilities at the former Gunnar mine site (Gunnar) in northern Saskatchewan.

The evaluation covers the period 2006-07 to 2010-11 and federal expenditures of $1.13 million relating to “Gunnar and Lorado” under sub-activity 2.2.4, Radioactive Waste Management of the 2011-12 Program Activity Architecture (PAA). This evaluation is required pursuant to section 42.1 of the Financial Administration Act.

1.2 Program Context

Description of the Site

The abandonedFootnote 2 Gunnar mine site is located on the north shore of Lake Athabasca. The site is remote, there is no permanent road to it, and it is usually reached by small aircraft or boat, after a flight into the airport in the nearest community of Uranium City. Several documents reviewed for the evaluation outline the history of the site and its operation. From 1955 to 1963, refined uranium ‘yellowcake’ was shipped to Port Hope, Ontario for further processing. During operation, all of the mine’s products were purchased by the Crown corporation Eldorado Nuclear Limited (then Eldorado Mining and Refining Ltd) to fulfill contracts in the United States and the United Kingdom.

A total of four million tonnes of tailings (the waste product of the uranium milling process) were discharged from the mill. Tailings are located in three deposits on the Gunnar site. Initially they were discharged to what is known as “Gunnar Main Tailings.” When this filled, the tailings then flowed from the main area to a small depression referred to as “Gunnar Central Tailings.” Once this relatively small basin was filled, the tailings continued to flow downhill, eventually entering Langley Bay, Lake Athabasca. During operations, a sufficient volume of tailings was discharged and allowed to flow into Langley Bay so as to eventually cut Langley Bay into two separate portions: one which is still connected by a narrow channel to Lake Athabasca proper and the smaller Back Bay which has intermittent connection to Langley Bay itself.

In addition to the tailings, there are approximately 2.7 million cubic metres of waste rock at the site. Waste rock is generally displaced during mining without being processed and at Gunnar includes both waste rock from mining and overburden generated from surface stripping of the open pit. The majority of the waste rock is located in two piles immediately east of the pit with some of it protruding into the water of Lake Athabasca.

Figure 1: Gunnar Mine Site Air Photo

Gunnar Mine Site Air Photo

Source: SRC, 2011. CLEANS, Gunnar. Available at: http://www.saskcleans.ca/html/mine_sites/Gunnar/index.cfm.

Text version

Figure 1 is an air photo of the former Gunnar Mine Site. The photo shows approximately 1 square kilometre of the site and key landmarks are labelled. Lake Athabasca borders the site on the south. At the south west side of the photo, the community school, mall, rink and marina are visible. The men’s dormitory and the sports field are more centrally located on the photo. The main tailings pond is in the north-west part of the photo. The operational portion of the site is on the east side of the photo with the flooded mine pit in the south surrounded by a waste rock pile, headframe, dock, tank farm, office and shop below the pit. The powerhouse, mill, haul road, acid plant and a second waste rock pile are located north of the flooded pit.

 

The site also included a uranium milling facility, an acid plant, and tailings disposal facilities as well as various support facilities such as a geology building and maintenance shops. As a result of the remote location, the Gunnar site was self-contained and provided accommodation for approximately 1,200 residents.Footnote 3 The community of Gunnar included apartments and housing, a school, a recreation centre, and a curling rink among other amenities. A small gravel airstrip was also maintained approximately three kilometres north of the mine site which was used to transport personnel and light freight to and from the site.

When the Gunnar mine ceased operation in 1963 and officially closed in 1964, there was little environmental remediation or decommissioning of facilities, since nothing was required by law at the time. Most of the mine and community buildings were left standing, and very little was done to alter waste rock piles, tailings deposits or the mine workings. However, some actions were taken to cap-off the mine shaft, and to flood the mined-out open pit.

The open pit at the Gunnar site is separated from Lake Athabasca by a narrow ridge of granite. The pit has very steep sides, and is approximately 110 metres deep.Footnote 4 Shortly after closure, a trench was blasted between the open-pit and Lake Athabasca, allowing the open-pit and underground workings to flood. Later, in 1966, this trench was filled in with waste rock.Footnote 5 In 1990, Crown mining and surface rights leases for Gunnar lapsed from the owners and the property reverted to Saskatchewan.Footnote 6

Figure 2: Photo of Gunnar Mine Site

Photo of Gunnar Mine Site

Source: SRC, 2011. CLEANS, Gunnar. Available at: http://www.saskcleans.ca/html/mine_sites/Gunnar/index.cfm.

Text version

Figure 2 is a photo of the Gunnar Mine Tailings looking south. It shows Langley Bay in the north-west corner and Back Bay in the south of the photo. Three tailings sites are labelled on the photo: Langley Bay Tailings are shown flowing northerly into Langley Bay; Gunnar Central Tailings are east of these and Gunnar Main Tailings are south of Gunnar Central Tailings and east of Back Bay. Lake Athabasca is shown in the far east distance.

 

The Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between Saskatchewan and NRCan

According to interview evidence, starting in 1998, Saskatchewan requested federal assistance in addressing the abandoned site. In 2000, tailing management sites resulting from the former operation of uranium mines not previously licensed by the Atomic Energy Control Act, became subject to licensing under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act (NSCA). As a result, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) requested that Saskatchewan bring a license application to the Commission for decision.

In 2005, the federal government established a Shared-Responsibility Contaminated Sites Policy Framework – under the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan (FCSAP). This framework indicated that the federal government would consider providing funding for the remediation of contamination on non-federal lands if the contamination relates to Government of Canada national security efforts.Footnote 7 Due to the importance placed on uranium as a strategic commodity during the Cold War, the Gunnar Mine site fell into the domain of shared responsibility under the policy framework.

This policy framework led to the federal government, represented by NRCan, and the Government of Saskatchewan entering into a memorandum of agreement in 2006 to cost-share the remediation of the legacy Gunnar and Lorado sites. It should be noted that although the NRCan Program Activity Architecture unit is titled ‘Gunnar & Lorado’, the federal government is no longer providing support for the nearby Lorado mine site. The MOA indicated that any portion of costs that were paid by a third party would be excluded. In 2008, a private company that was found to hold mineral rights on the Lorado lands made a payment to Saskatchewan. In return the Province agreed to rehabilitate the abandoned Lorado Mine site.

At the time that the MOA was signed, it was estimated that the total cost of the Gunnar project would not exceed $24.6 million. According to the MOA, the project was to be carried out by Saskatchewan in three phases over 17 years. Table 1 below summarizes the MOA cost-sharing provisions for each of the three phases. It reflects the intent for Saskatchewan and NRCan to share equally in the total costs of the project. However, under the MOA, certain costs of the project were to be borne 100 percent by one of the parties. For instance, NRCan was not to share in the building demolition costs since these costs did not meet eligibility criteria under the Shared-Responsibility Contaminated Sites Policy Framework that require the site to pose a human health and/or environment risk as a result of contaminated soil or water.Footnote 8

The MOA indicates that there will be no cost overruns. It outlines that the parties are to further discuss any other financing of the costs in the event of additional work not included in the MOA that is required by law, regulation or mandatory directive, additional contamination discovered, or circumstances not foreseen. Table 1 also shows the schedule for federal contributions to the project as specified in the MOA. The federal payment of $1.13 million for Phase 1 was made in 2007.

Table 1: MOA Cost-Sharing Provisions
  Total Cost ($000) % Federal Share % Saskatchewan Share
Phase 1 - Consultation, Environmental Assessment and Licensing (2006-2008)   50 50

$2,260

$1,130

$1,130

Phase 2 - Implementation and Operational Phase (2008-2013)
Gunnar Building Demolition 3,050 0 100
Gunnar Final Site Reclamation 1,100   100
Gunnar Tailings and Waste Reclamation 6,400 100 0
Satellite Mine Reclamation 2,250 0 100
All other implementation and operational phase costs (excluding private sector contribution for Lorado 5,870 50 50
  $18,670 $9,335 $9,335
Phase 3 - Post-Closure Monitoring (2014-2022)   50 50
$3,670 $1,835 $1,835
Total $24,600 $12,300 $12,300
First Government of Canada Payment on Signing of MOA   $1,130  
Government of Canada’s Payments After Saskatchewan has Obtained Necessary Licenses   $11,170  

1.3 Program Objectives and Priorities

The expected result of the program is that the Gunnar site is remediated to support the site’s safe future use. Specifically, the impacts of the initiative are:

  • enhanced environmental conditions for Canadians, particularly for residents of northern Saskatchewan of which over 80 percent are of aboriginal descent; and
  • demonstrated environmental stewardship by the federal and provincial governments and promotion of sustainable uranium mining practices.

The logic model presented belowFootnote 9 demonstrates the program theory, that is, the expected causal relationship between the program’s activities and intended immediate, intermediate and final outcomes.

Figure 3: Logic Model for NRCan’s Role in the Clean-up of the Legacy Gunnar and Lorado Uranium Mining and Milling Facilities

Logic Model for NRCan’s Role in the Clean-up of the Legacy Gunnar and Lorado Uranium Mining and Milling Facilities
Text version

Figure 3 is a four column table showing the logic model for NRCan’s Role in the Clean-up of the Legacy Gunnar and Lorado Uranium Mining and Milling Facilities. The left column shows the activity areas/outputs or what NRCan does with respect to the program. These include: oversight; participate in Environmental Assessment (EA); communication; and facilitation. The second column shows the immediate outcomes, also called short term results which are expected to flow directly from the activity areas. Immediate outcomes include: project implementation is monitored; EA completed on schedule and within budget; stakeholders are aware of project and of the federal government’s involvement; and private sector participation is facilitated. The third column shows the program’s intermediate outcomes, also referred to as intermediate-term results, which are expected to be achieved as a result of the immediate outcomes. These include: licences obtained to allow Saskatchewan to conduct the clean-up; issues are addressed that may arise during EA and licensing phase; federal and provincial expenditures minimized; and local training and employment opportunities are developed. The last column shows the final outcomes or the long term results, which are expected to flow from the intermediate outcomes. These include: lands remediated and ownership bestowed on Provincial Crown; public confidence in clean-up criteria; and clean-up conducted in a timely and cost effective manner. Below the four columns, the stakeholders who make up the program’s reach are listed. These include: primarily the residents of northern Saskatchewan but also the Canadian public in general; federal and provincial regulators; mining sector; and HRSDC.

 

1.4 Governance Structure

A number of stakeholders are involved in the Gunnar Mine Site Reclamation Project. The roles of each of these are briefly described below.

The Government of Saskatchewan, in accordance with the MOA, is responsible for ensuring that the remediation is carried out in a timely and cost-effective manner. It is responsible for applying for and obtaining the necessary licenses, conducting the necessary environmental assessment(s), conducting all activities deemed necessary by federal and provincial regulators to decommission the facilities and remediate the local environment, conducting long-term monitoring of the decommissioned facilities and overseeing the institutional control process to bestow control of the remediated lands facilities to the provincial Crown.Footnote 10Saskatchewan Energy and Resources (SER) is the lead department for this role.

In addition, various other organizations within the Government of Saskatchewan – including the Department of Environment, Health and First Nations and Métis Relations, Labour Relations and Workplace Safety – are involved in ensuring that provincial regulatory requirements relating to the project are met.

The Government of Saskatchewan has contracted the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC), a provincial Crown corporation, as the project manager, and proponent for the environmental assessment and licensing with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). The SRC has, in turn, contracted out several studies conducted as part of their management of the work.

NRCan is the Government of Canada’s representative in the Gunnar Project, as outlined in the MOA. Its role is two-fold. As funder and signatory to the MOA, it is responsible for providing oversight on the expenditure of federal funds. In addition, NRCan’s provision of funding to the project triggers the role of responsible authority (RA). As an RA, NRCan has an obligation to apply its technical expertise to ensure that the environmental assessment (EA) that Saskatchewan conducts to obtain licenses, is conducted in accordance with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. In its role as RA, the Uranium and Radioactive Waste Division coordinates comments from other areas within NRCan that have expertise relevant to the project (i.e., the Geological Survey of Canada and the Mineral and Metals Sector).

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), Canada’s independent nuclear regulator, is responsible for licensing the project under subsection 24(2) of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act (NSCA). It also acts as the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act coordinator for environmental assessments relating to uranium mines, making the final recommendation to the Minister of the Environment. Licenses are required to prepare, construct, operate, decommission or abandon a nuclear site, including uranium mines and mills. When a proponent submits a license application, the CNSC determines whether an EA is required, and if required, determines the type (screening, comprehensive study or review panel). When the proponent submits an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), CNSC staff develops documents summarizing the technical reports submitted with the EIS and make recommendations to the Commission Tribunal on the likely impact of the project on the environment. Decisions on screenings are made by the Commission Tribunal. Decisions on comprehensive studies are made by the Minister of the Environment.

Figure 4: Environmental Assessment Process when CNSC is ResponsibleFootnote 11

Environmental Assessment Process when CNSC is Responsible
Text version

Figure 4 is a 10-step diagram that shows the environmental assessment process when the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is responsible for it. In step 1, the proponent submits an application and project description to the CNSC for licensing action. In step 2, the CNSC determines if an Environmental Assessment (EA) is required under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA). Step 3, in which the CNSC identifies federal and provincial authorities involved in the EA process, occurs in parallel with step 2. In step 4, the proponent plans their EA and determines how to conduct it. In step 5, the proponent conducts the technical studies, and prepares and submits the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and licensing documents. In step 6, the CNSC reviews the EIS and prepares an EA report. Licensing documents may also be reviewed at this time. Step 7 – CNSC’s decision on the EA - and step 8 – CNSC’s licensing decision - occur in parallel. In step 9, the proponent implements the required mitigation measures and follow-up program. In parallel with step 9, the CNSC monitors compliance as step 10.

 

Pursuant to the Federal Coordination Regulations under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the following federal departments/agencies also have an interest in the project related to their mandates and are participating in the review as expert federal authorities (FAs) in relation to the project:

  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO);
  • Transport Canada (TC);
  • Environment Canada (EC);
  • Health Canada (HC); and
  • Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC).

Local communities including First Nations communities, also have an interest in the project. A Project Review Committee has been established with representation from Uranium City, Camsell Portage, Fond du Lac, Stony Rapids, Black Lake, Hatchet Lake, the Prince Albert Grand Council, and the Métis Nation – Saskatchewan.

Bilateral Relationships Within the Governance Structure

While all of the above organizations are involved in the Gunnar project, only four of them (SER, NRCan, the SRC, and the CNSC) are directly involved in governing it – putting processes in place related to performance expectations, communication, reporting, project and program management, decision making, quality assurance, and financial oversight. However, because of their respective roles in the project, decision-making is not coordinated jointly by all four, but through “bilateral” relationships that by nature or necessity, exclude other parties. These relationships are shown in Figure 5 below. They include:

  • SRC and Saskatchewan Energy and Resources who are responsible for managing the project;
  • Saskatchewan Energy and Resources and NRCan as the parties to the MOA;
  • CNSC and NRCan as the federal responsibility authorities; and
  • SRC as the proponent and licensee of the project and the CNSC as the owner of the regulatory process.

Figure 5: Gunnar Project Roles and Responsibilities for the Environmental Assessment Process

Gunnar Project Roles and Responsibilities for the Environmental Assessment Process
Text version

Figure 5 is a diagram showing the roles and responsibilities for the Environmental Assessment Process in the Gunnar project. The two key parties in the Gunnar project are Saskatchewan Energy and Resources (SER) and NRCan as the parties to the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) and funders of the project. The SRC has contracted Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) as the proponent for the process and therefore SER oversees SRC’s work. The SRC is responsible for generating the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and selecting options. They also will deliver the project with the help of a number of subcontracted consultants who provide specialized technical expertise. In addition, the SRC, as the proponent, consults directly with, and inputs to, provincial agencies and their expert authorities under the Saskatchewan Environmental Assessment process. As the proponent, the SRC also interacts with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) who acts as the responsible authority under the federal Environmental Assessment process. The CNSC is responsible for coordinating input from federal agencies such as Environment Canada, Health Canada, Transport Canada, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) and their expert authorities who act as Federal Authorities and provide comments. It is noted that, in addition to being a party to the MOA with Saskatchewan and a funder, NRCan is also a federal responsible authority. The CNSC recommends approval of the decision to the Minister of the Environment, who is responsible for the final approval decision with respect to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA).

 

2.0 Evaluation Scope and Methodology

2.1 Evaluation Scope and Objectives

The evaluation covers NRCan’s direct program spending during the period 2006-07 to 2010-11 relating to “Gunnar and Lorado” under sub-activity 2.2.4, Radioactive Waste Management of the 2011-12 PAA.

It assesses issues related to:

  • relevance, which focuses on alignment with government priorities and NRCan strategic objectives, continued need, and alignment with federal roles and responsibilities; and
  • performance, which focuses on the achievement of expected outcomes (i.e., effectiveness), as well as the demonstration of efficiency and economy.

Given that the licensing phase of the project is not yet complete, the evaluation is formative in nature concentrating on the activities of NRCan and the outcomes relating to the process followed by Saskatchewan to obtain licenses.

As the PAA unit includes a contribution, this evaluation is required pursuant to section 42.1 of the Financial Administration Act. Recommendations are directed at NRCan management to assist them in making decisions about their oversight activities relating to the project. It could also help inform Government of Canada involvement in future projects of this nature.

2.2 Evaluation Issues

The evaluation addresses the following issues and questions:

Relevance

  1. Is there an ongoing need for the Program?
  2. Is the Program consistent with government priorities and NRCan strategic objectives?
  3. Is there a legitimate, appropriate and necessary role for the federal government in the Program? Is NRCan’s role appropriate in the context of the role of others?

Performance (effectiveness, efficiency and economy)

  1. To what extent have intended outcomes been achieved as a result of the Program?
    1. has the EA been completed on schedule and within budget?
    2. have appropriate stakeholders been engaged?
    3. were local training and employment opportunities considered in project management?
    4. has private sector participation in the project been facilitated?
  2. Have there been unintended (positive or negative) outcomes?
  3. What are the factors (both internal and external) that have facilitated or hindered the achievement of expected results?
  4. Is the Program the most economic and efficient means of making progress towards intended outcomes?

2.3 Methods and Limitations

The evaluation was conducted in-house by NRCan’s Strategic Evaluation Division (SED) staff over the period June to October 2011. The risks relating to the program were assessed as low, given a number of factors:

  • low Government of Canada expenditures to date ($1.1 million in 2007-08);
  • agreement with a single delivery partner, the Government of Saskatchewan;
  • the project is a long awaited environmental clean-up which will mainly be welcomed by Canadians in general and by residents of northern Saskatchewan in particular; and
  • while environmental remediation costs traditionally are difficult to forecast at the beginning of a project and often increase over the course of the project, the agreement limits the costs of the Government of Canada to $12.6 million as identified in the agreement.

The evaluation employed a multiple lines of evidence approach based mainly on three methods.

  • Document Review: A review of program files and documentation was conducted to provide an in-depth understanding of the Gunnar Project and to gather evidence for the purposes of the evaluation. Specifically documents relating to the following were examined: the EIS and other presentations to the CNSC as part of the licensing process; transcripts of the CNSC hearings; consultation presentations to community stakeholders; annual progress reports from the SRC; the MOA between NRCan and Saskatchewan; program approval documentation for the contribution program; and documentation relating to the Shared-Responsibility Contaminated Sites Policy Framework.
  • Literature Review: A review of literature outlining government and NRCan priorities and strategic outcomes was conducted. In addition, prior to developing the data collection instruments and conducting the field work, a cursory review of domestic and international documentation and literature on uranium mine decommissioning and legacy projects was also conducted.
  • Stakeholder Interviews: Interviews were conducted in person in Ottawa and in Saskatchewan at both the SRC offices in Saskatoon, and at the offices of SER in Regina. Other interviews were conducted by phone. A total of 15 individuals were interviewed as part of the process. Interviewees included: NRCan staff (2); Government of Saskatchewan staff (3); SRC staff (4); former SRC project managers (2); contractors (1); CNSC staff (2); and a representative from the community (1).

Limitations relating to the evaluation include the following:

  • Given the low risk of the project as identified in the Results-based Management and Accountability Framework (RMAF), the evaluation was designed to have a relatively low level of effort and a limited number of lines of evidence. However, this may have limited the evaluators’ ability to conclude on some questions when the evidence from various sources was not consistent.
  • Because of the cost and logistics of travelling to northern Saskatchewan to the Gunnar mine site, only one interview was conducted with a local community official by phone. As appropriate, secondary data relating to face-to-face consultations conducted by the SRC with the local community was used to mitigate this limitation, however it may be less contextually complete.
  • Attribution issues may have impeded the validity of the conclusions. While this evaluation only covered activities relating to the Gunnar site, Saskatchewan and the SRC were concurrently managing the rehabilitation of a number of other legacy sites in the area.
  • The very nature and current status of the project meant that no quantitative data was available to the evaluation.

3.0 EVALUATION FINDINGS

3.1 Relevance

3.1.1 Continued Need for the Program

Evaluation Question Methodologies Assessment
1. Is there an ongoing need for the Program? Document review; literature review; stakeholder interviews. Yes, environmental and health risks indicate an ongoing need.

Summary:

Evidence indicates that there is a need, both environmentally and from a human health standpoint for the Program. The physical risks to safety at the site included abandoned buildings and associated risks related to falls, collapsed structures, and exposure to asbestos. The site also includes unsafely stored chemicals used in the mining process. In addition, the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) outlines how casual visitors to the abandoned mine site can receive low levels of exposure to gamma radiation and various radionuclides associated with past uranium processing activities. It also outlines that there are ongoing risks associated with the consumption of fish and wildlife from the immediate area that must be minimized. All those interviewed for the evaluation conclude that these physical and environmental risks need to be cleaned-up.

Analysis

There is a need to clean-up the Gunnar site in order to address the human health and environmental risks that exist due to physical safety hazards and exposure to low levels of radiation.

The condition of the abandoned buildings was documented in photos taken during Saskatchewan Research Council and Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission site visits. Many of the buildings had become structurally unsound, as a result of abandonment and because parts of the buildings had been disassembled by persons recovering building material. The condition of the buildings could have resulted in their collapse, injuring or trapping a person. As well, individuals could have been injured by climbing unsafe stairs or falling into holes in the floor, or into collection sumps and other ground hazards outside around the site. Site inspections also note the presence of dangerous substances including improperly disposed of or stored chemicals used in mining, and asbestos that was used as siding and insulation for the buildings, to which casual visitors to the site could have been exposed.

Despite the isolated nature of the region, the physical risks are significant in that residents have been able to visit the site with few restrictions. Several interviewees mentioned that the site was also considered locally to have heritage value, and that visitors to fishing lodges were allowed access to the site by the companies operating in the area. As documented in CNSC proceedings from July 5, 2010Footnote 12, attempts to restrict access to the site were not effective, as there are no onsite caretakers. For instance, the proceedings note that watercraft and heavy equipment were stored on the premises (presumably belonging to the fishing lodges), and that barriers at the mill and acid plant buildings were breached.

In addition to the physical risks, there are low level radiological risks to human health. The Environmental Impact Statement indicates that, if members of the public were to remain at the site over extended periods in the summer, when engaged in traditional land uses, they could experience external radiation doses from gamma emissions at the surface of waste rock and tailings that exceed the threshold dose established by the CNSC for protection of the Canadian public. In addition, if people consume too much fish from Zeemel Bay or Langley Bay they could ingest unacceptably high levels of uranium and radionuclides. This is a possibility given that Aboriginal and northern residents consume fish and wildlife from the area, as documented in the Traditional and Local Knowledge Contributions to the Environmental Impact Assessment appendix of the EIS.

All of the stakeholders interviewed for the evaluation felt that there was a need for the Gunnar Project and they judged the risks to be important enough to warrant remediation, and to bring the site into line with current environmental practice.

3.1.2 Alignment with Government Priorities and NRCan Strategic Outcomes

Evaluation Question Methodologies Assessment
2. Is the Program consistent with government priorities and NRCan strategic outcomes? Document review; literature review; stakeholder interviews. Yes, it is consistent.

Summary:

The objective of the Gunnar Project is consistent with the federal priority of developing Canada’s natural resources in a manner that protects the environment, including protecting nature and the health of Canadians. In addition, it is consistent with its commitment to contributing to remediation projects when the contamination relates to national security efforts, such as with the mining of uranium at Gunnar in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Gunnar Project is also aligned with NRCan’s Strategic Outcome, “Canada is a world leader on environmental responsibility in the development and use of natural resources.” Specifically it is consistent with the priority of “managing nuclear issues” under this outcome as outlined in the 2011-12 Report on Plans and Priorities. The Gunnar Project is part of radioactive waste management programs aimed at mitigating risks to the environment and human health.

This alignment is consistent with the federal government’s decision to enter into the MOA with Saskatchewan.

Analysis

The Government of Canada recognizes that the use of Canada’s natural resources for economic or other purposes must be balanced with mitigation of the impacts of those actions on the environment. The 2011 Speech from the Throne sets out the priority “developing Canada’s extraordinary resource wealth in a way that protects the environment”. Footnote 13 Similarly, the 2007 Speech from the Throne recognized that “environmental protection is not just about protecting nature. It is about the health of Canadians.” Footnote 14 As a project with the goals of safe use and the remediation of past resource development which was conducted for both economic and national security purposes, the Gunnar Project is consistent with these priorities.

In addition, the government has demonstrated its commitment to its priority of environmental protection for the health of Canadians through recent funding allocations. The 2004 federal budget included a commitment of $3.5 billion in multi-year funding to address federal contaminated sites that pose a human health and/or environmental risk as a result of contaminated soil or water, resulting in the establishment of the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan (FCSAP) program in May 2005, and an additional $80.5 million under Canada’s Economic Action Plan in the 2009 Budget to accelerate remediation of these federally-owned sites. In 2005, the government established a Shared-Responsibility Contaminated Sites Policy Framework under the FCSAP and set aside $500 million to assist with the cost of remediating non-federal lands where the contamination is a direct result of federal government activities or operation, or where the contamination relates to the Government of Canada’s national security efforts.

The Gunnar Project qualified for funding under the Shared-Responsibility Contaminated Sites Policy Framework because uranium from the Gunnar mine was used for national security purposes. A number of documents outlining the history of uranium mining in Canada, record the fact that a federal Crown corporation, Eldorado Mining and Refining Limited, was the sole purchaser of uranium in Canada at the time that the Gunnar Mine was in production. This monopoly continued until 1962 and most of the uranium was sold to the United States Atomic Energy Commission (USAEC).

The Gunnar Project is also consistent with NRCan’s Strategic Outcome, “Canada is a world leader on environmental responsibility in the development and use of natural resources.” Specifically, it falls under the Radioactive Waste Management sub-activity in the 2011-12 PAA. NRCan’s 2011-12 Report on Plans and Priorities (RPP) outlines a priority of “managing nuclear issues” which is aimed at mitigating “risks to the environment and human health” through radioactive waste management programs. The Gunnar mine is an historic site under these programs and its remediation is fully consistent with NRCan priorities, as stated in the RPP, of mitigating risks to the environment and human health.

3.1.3 Alignment with Federal and NRCan Roles

Evaluation Question Methodologies Assessment
3. Is there a legitimate, appropriate and necessary role for the federal government in the Program? Is NRCan’s role appropriate in the context of the role of others? Document review; literature review; stakeholder interviews. Yes, there is a legitimate, appropriate and necessary role for the federal government and NRCan in this project. NRCan’s role is appropriate in the context of others.

Summary:

The federal government’s role as funding contributor to the Gunnar Project is appropriate as it aligns with the Shared-Responsibility Contaminated Sites Policy Framework which allows the government to contribute funding for remediation of non-federal lands where contamination relates to national security efforts. NRCan is the appropriate federal department to exercise the government’s role in this project as the Department of Natural Resources Act assigns it responsibility for natural resources including mines and energy, and it is the lead government department on radioactive waste management. NRCan’s technical expertise and its experience in funding other radioactive waste projects position it well to exercise the federal roles under the MOA. The CNSC, the only other federal organization with a role in radioactive waste cannot assume a funder role as this would be in conflict with its regulatory role.

In addition, the roles of Saskatchewan and NRCan in the project are appropriate. The Government of Saskatchewan acts as project manager and is responsible under the MOA for delivering the project in a timely and cost-effective fashion. These roles recognize that Saskatchewan, as the property owner, has primary operational and legal responsibility for the project. NRCan’s role of overseeing federal expenditures is consistent with the intent of the Shared-Responsibility Contaminated Sites Policy Framework, the source of funding for the project. It allows the federal government to acknowledge an interest in remediating contamination that relates to national security efforts without taking on primary operational or legal responsibility.

Analysis

The federal government has a legitimate role as a funding contributor to the project. The federal government’s establishment of the Shared-Responsibility Contaminated Sites Policy Framework allows the federal government to contribute funding to the remediation of contaminated sites on non-federal lands which pose a human health or environmental risk. The framework enables the federal government to contribute funding under certain circumstances, including where the contamination relates to the Government of Canada’s national security efforts. Due to the importance placed on uranium as a strategic commodity during the Cold War, the Gunnar site met this criteria.

NRCan is the appropriate department to exercise the federal role with respect to uranium mining. It derives its mandate from the Department of Natural Resources Act (S.C. 1994, c. 41) which gives the Minister authority over natural resources including mines, minerals and other non-renewable resources, energy, including energy developed from water, and forest resources.Footnote 4 Furthermore, NRCan is the lead government department for the development and implementation of Government of Canada policy on radioactive waste management and oversight to ensure obligations under the 1996 Policy Framework for Radioactive Waste are met.

The roles assigned to Saskatchewan and NRCan under the MOA are also appropriate. As the property owner, the Government of Saskatchewan has primary legal and operational responsibility for the project. As such, it is the project manager and is responsible for delivering the project in a timely and cost-effective fashion. Implementation of the project by Saskatchewan – not the federal government – is consistent with direction provided by the Assistant Deputy Minister Steering Committee responsible for the administration of federal contaminated sites funding. This delivery structure fulfills the intent of the Shared-Responsibility Contaminated Sites Policy Framework in that it allows the federal government to acknowledge that the contamination relates to national security efforts, without assuming a legal liability for clean-up of the site.

Given the federal government decision to enter into the MOA with Saskatchewan, NRCan is well positioned to exercise its dual roles in the project. In its first role, as funder and signatory of the MOA, it is responsible for providing oversight on the expenditure of federal funds. NRCan has the relevant experience, since it is involved in the administration and oversight of funding used for other radioactive waste remediation programs in Canada such as the Nuclear Legacy Liabilities Program and the Historic Waste Program.Footnote 16 The only other federal organization with the relevant experience is the CNSC that cannot fund remediation projects, as this would be inconsistent with its role as a regulator.

NRCan’s provision of funding to the project triggers its second role as a responsible authority (RA). In this role, NRCan has the obligation of applying its technical expertise to ensure that the environmental assessment (EA) that Saskatchewan conducts in order to ensure that the project is carried out in an environmentally responsible manner and to obtain licences to remediate the site, is conducted in accordance with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. To date, this has required NRCan to assess the feasibility and environmental appropriateness of the technical options presented in the Environmental Impact Statement for the Gunnar Project. Again, this is an appropriate role for NRCan since it has exercised a Responsible Authority role as well as a technical reviewer role as a federal authority on a number of occasions in the past. In these instances, the CNSC requested NRCan’s advice on uranium mining projects because of its expertise in geological services, mining technology and radioactive waste management.

All of the stakeholders interviewed for this evaluation indicated that the federal and NRCan roles in the Gunnar Project were legitimate and appropriate. Several interviewees indicated that it was also a necessary role, expressing the opinion that the project would not have gone forward without federal funding.

3.2 Performance (effectiveness, efficiency and economy)

3.2.1 Achievement of Expected Outcomes (Effectiveness) – Progress towards Environmental Assessment

Evaluation Question Methodologies Assessment
4. a. Has the environmental assessment been completed on time and on budget? Document review; literature review; stakeholder interviews. No. The environmental assessment/planning phase is approximately three years behind the original schedule. Federal spending is not over budget, however provincial spending is.

Summary:

The environmental assessment/planning phase is approximately three years behind schedule. In addition, Saskatchewan has spent approximately $37 million to date, which is considerably more than the originally estimated total cost for the overall project of $24.6 million. However the terms of the MOA limit federal funding obligations for Phase 1 of the project to the $1.1 million payment made in 2007. In addition, the Shared-Responsibility Contaminated Sites Policy Framework prevents funds from being directed to building demolition. Factors that have contributed to delays and increased costs to Saskatchewan include:

  1. A July 2010 CNSC order required the SRC to take down all buildings on the site. Since the work was unexpected and urgent, it delayed the project by approximately five months. It also increased the costs by over $20 million.
  2. The SRC’s lack of experience with the regulatory process contributed to delays in the project. This might have been compounded by the relatively new regulatory process for abandoned mines that came into effect in 2000.
  3. While the Environmental Impact Statement was submitted in January 2011, there was lack of agreement between Saskatchewan and NRCan on the appropriateness of the submitted options and the way forward on the project. This situation has already delayed the project several months and was not resolved by early Fall 2011 when data collection for the evaluation ended.
  4. There was significant staff turnover, particularly in the project manager position at the SRC, which contributed to project delays.
  5. In the complex governance structure, the lack of clarity about the roles of each organization led to issues when the appropriate parties were not included in communications and decision-making.
  6. The complexity of the site may not have been fully considered in initial schedules and budgets.

Analysis

The environmental assessment/planning phase is approximately three years behind schedule since the MOA shows that it was intended to be complete by 2008 or 2009. Even though the Environmental Impact Statement was submitted by the SRC to the CNSC on January 18, 2011, it has not yet been approved. In addition, Saskatchewan has spent approximately $37 million, significantly more than it expected to during Phase 1 of the project. On the other hand, in accordance with the MOA, federal expenditures have been limited to the $1.1 million initial payment.

The Cost Estimates table in the MOA, which shows how the $24.6 million overall cost estimate and the federal and Saskatchewan shares were developed, indicates that all cost estimates are based on Class D estimatesFootnote 17 provided by the Government of Saskatchewan that include a 15 percent contingency. Some interviewees indicated that the overall cost estimate was based on the budgets of comparable decommissioning projects such as the Beaverlodge mine site, with a contingency added. Some interviewees indicated that the plan was ambitious and there was general agreement that the funding estimates were just a starting point. Others indicated that if the schedule had not slipped, the funding identified in the MOA would have been sufficient, albeit tight. The original schedule was developed based on scientific work and a review of typical timelines for a regulatory approval process.

To put the progress of the project to date into context, the activities completed under the planning phase are summarized below.

Table 1: Summary of Project Progress 2006 - 2011
Date Milestone
2006 Governments of Saskatchewan and Canada signed MOA
April 2007 SRC submitted a project proposal to the CNSC
June 2007 CNSC determined the need for a comprehensive study
February 2008 Gap analysis completed by SRK Consultants under contract to SRC
December 2008 The Project-Specific Guidelines and Comprehensive Study Scoping Document (PSG) were released
June-July 2009 Formal preparation of the EIS commenced
December 2009 The SRC requested extension to the licensing exemption (CNSC approved exemption to April 30th, 2013)
July 23, 2010 The CNSC issued Order Number 10-1 to the SRC
January 2011 Environmental Impact Statement submitted for review

Six major reasons for the delay in the project were identified by the evaluation: a) the July 2010 CNSC safety order; b) the lack of experience with the regulatory process; c) the lack of agreement on options in the EIS; d) staff turnover; e) the governance structure; and f) the complexity of the site.

a) The CNSC Safety Order

The first major reason for the delay is the July 2010 CNSC Order 10-1 which required the SRC to immediately conduct a structural safety assessment of all buildings, take all reasonable steps to secure the site, and take down all buildings that posed a physical risk to the safety of the public. Interview evidence suggests that the order was unforeseen by Saskatchewan and issued with little advance warning. CNSC documents show that the order was issued because the CNSC found evidence of continued unauthorized access to the site.Footnote 18 Interview evidence suggests that the SRC did not take appropriate precautions to secure the site, and that the risks of the site were sufficiently high to justify immediate action. Some stakeholders explained that the CNSC was not satisfied with the progress on the project and was not comfortable leaving the buildings as a hazard for the additional couple of years they felt it would take for the license to be issued.

Almost all interviewees indicated that the order had the positive effect of allowing an immediate reduction of the Gunnar site’s highest risks. A representative from the community indicated that the community saw the first real progress on the project when the buildings were removed.

However, the order also had a negative impact on the schedule and costs since the SRC was required to conduct work it had not anticipated doing during the project’s planning stage. A review of the MOA confirms that the building demolition was originally intended to be part of the operational phase of the Gunnar Project. Interview evidence and the minutes from the CNSC meeting of January 19th and 20th 2011 indicate that, in response to the order, the SRC put all of its other Gunnar actions on hold to immediately perform the demolition. This led to a delay of four or five months in the overall project.

The building demolition also increased costs dramatically. While the MOA estimates building demolition costs at just over $3 million, actual costs are over $20 million. Interview evidence indicates that actual building demolition costs significantly exceeded estimates because of the urgent nature of the work and the shortened tender process. While the MOA indicates that the intent is for Saskatchewan and NRCan to share equally in the estimated $24.6 million cost of the project, Saskatchewan was required to find the additional funding, because under the MOA, NRCan would not share in demolition costs since it was not an eligible expenditure under the Shared-Responsibility Contaminated Sites Policy Framework, and no additional federal payment was due until after the licence had been issued.

b) Lack of Experience with the Regulatory Process

The evaluation also concludes that the SRC’s lack of experience with this type of regulatory process contributed to delays. The SRC, a provincial Crown Corporation and research organization, is the project proponent. While the SRC had the scientific knowledge and capacity to undertake and/or manage the environmental studies required to support the project, it had no experience in uranium mine decommissioning or with the CNSC regulatory process for a uranium mine. This may have led it to make inexact planning assumptions which contributed to project inefficiencies. Interviewees responsible for managing the project in Saskatchewan indicated that one of the Gunnar Project’s main challenges was the uncertainty as to the regulatory path the Gunnar Project would follow. They stated that the project was originally expected to proceed as a less rigorous screening under the Canadian Environmental Assessment process, rather than as a more thorough comprehensive study. Review of the section on nuclear and related facilities of the Comprehensive Study List Regulations (SOR/94-638) of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act suggests that a project related to an abandoned uranium mine would clearly necessitate the conduct of a comprehensive study. The Saskatchewan Research Council’s inexperience was also raised by interviewees.

It should be noted that the regulatory process for licensing an abandoned uranium mine was relatively new; as the requirement only came into effect with the coming into force of the Canadian Nuclear Safety and Control Act in 2000.Footnote 19 As a result, there were a limited number of regulatory precedents to draw on, since only a few abandoned mines had been licensed for remediation.

c) Lack of Agreement on EIS Options

The EIS is the key document summarizing the environmental impacts examined for the project’s planning phase, to conform to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, as well as the methods that will be employed to minimize these impacts. The SRC submitted the EIS to the CNSC in January 2011. The EIS presented two options, which interviewees in Saskatchewan indicated had been developed from approximately 100 previous combinations of options. Other interviewees indicated that the inclusion of multiple options in an EIS is unusual in Canada.

Following submission of the EIS, a federal review process took place which involved the production of a Federal Comments document by the responsible authorities (CNSC and NRCan) and some federal authorities (Environment Canada and Health Canada). Comments were also provided by the provincial regulators. The comments were compiled and submitted to the SRC in the spring of 2011. There are numerous comments on many aspects of the EIS, including 10 “type 1 comments” from the CNSC, 11 from NRCan and one from Environment Canada. As explained in the Federal Comments document, type 1 comments include “…outstanding deficiencies considered sufficiently important to justify withholding a decision under The Environmental Assessment Act and/or the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.” The Federal Comments document details the major points for which the federal authorities need clarification or more information than was provided in the EIS. The federal type 1 comments include issues relating to the characterization of site conditions, waste rock, the pit and tailings, sampling techniques, standards, insufficient information about the evaluation of options, and selection of the most suitable options.

By spring, there existed a lack of agreement on the appropriateness of the remediation options identified in the Environmental Impact Statement. Discussions between NRCan and Saskatchewan during the spring and summer 2011 resulted in two very different views about how to move forward and created an impasse which delayed the project for several months and potentially longer since the situation had not been resolved by early fall 2011 when data collection for the evaluation ended. In addition to their input to the federal comments, NRCan officials pointed out that Schedule 3 of the MOA indicates that required site characterization work must be completed, and that waste rock characterization is identified in the Project Specific Guidelines. Saskatchewan and SRC officials indicated frustration with the delay, and mentioned that the strategy had evolved over time but that the options met federal and provincial standards and were supported by highly qualified scientists and geologists at the SRC and in the Saskatchewan government.

The complexity of the standards has created issues of interpretation, opening the door for disagreement. The application of the “as low as reasonably achievable” or ALARA principleFootnote 20 means that meeting objectives is often not black and white since social and economic factors must be considered. There are also many applicable standards and guidelines, from various federal and provincial authorities, that apply to the Gunnar Project. Interview evidence reveals that this can sometimes lead to differences of opinion on which remediation options are the “best” technical options. For example, one interviewee pointed out that one authority was willing to consider pumping out the flooded Gunnar pit directly to Lake Athabasca as a one-time release to the environment, while another authority did not consider that an acceptable option.

In addition, methodologies for the calculation of radiological dose limits have been continually updatedFootnote 21 and are based on various assumptions and methods of calculation. One calculation method could show that the standard is met, while another could show that the standard’s acceptable values have been exceeded.

It should be noted that the SRC was completing the EIS while also completing building demolition under the CNSC order. This may have resulted in the EIS being rushed, which may have delayed consultations with NRCan until late fall 2010. This may in turn have resulted in much of the input from NRCan getting focused into the Federal Comments, rather than being incorporated into the EIS.

All involved stakeholders are aware that, if the EIS is not approved quickly, the project will be further delayed and the exemption from licensing deadline may be missed. Although interviewees indicated that the relationship between Saskatchewan Energy and Resources and NRCan was still good, other statements made with respect to unrelated issues made it clear that the relationship has at times been strained by the impasse.

d) Staff Turnover

The fourth major reason for the delay in the project is staff turnover, particularly at the Saskatchewan Research Council. Interview and documented evidence indicates that the SRC had six project managers and four different vice presidents between the signing of the MOA in 2006 and summer 2011. The impact of this turnover was frequently mentioned and several interviewees indicated that these personnel had varying degrees of experience in mine remediation and uranium or nuclear projects.

Some interviewees indicated that, no matter how generally competent an incoming project manager was, because of the complexity of the project and the large number of stakeholders a project manager needed to develop relationships with, it would take several months before new project managers could be effective. As well, the turnover may have contributed to delays since later project managers were unfamiliar with the basis for the initial project milestones and engaged in “reverse engineering” to determine the project path.

In addition, staff turnover in other organizations may have impacted the progress of the project. None of the officials originally involved in the project from either Saskatchewan or NRCan are still involved, resulting in little “corporate memory” in either organization. For instance, not one interviewee currently involved in the project from either organization had been directly involved with, or knew exactly how the budget and timelines had been developed.

e) The Governance Structure

Several aspects of the governance and regulatory structure inhibited the timely and efficient achievement of expected results. The large number of organizations with a role in governing and regulating the Gunnar Project was necessary in order for the project to meet requirements of the provincial and federal regulatory processes and its social and economic outcomes. While some interviewees commented that it may have been easier to operate without so many, due to the roles assigned by the various federal and provincial regulatory processes, this was not an option. Interviewees appeared to take the complexity and formulation of the governance structure for granted and saw the regulatory process and its associated workload as a necessary burden. Others felt that the larger number of organizations involved meant that there was a good evaluation taking place, which was seen as an advantage.

There was general agreement among most interviewees that the governance structure as originally planned seemed appropriate, was well understood, and worked well initially. The right information was available for decisions early on, and decision making had been appropriate though challenging. They also indicated that there was a good relationship between Saskatchewan and NRCan to begin with, supported by regular communication involving e-mail exchanges and comments on documents, and meetings where the CNSC was also involved with both Saskatchewan and NRCan. However, as the project progressed, a number of complexities in the governance structure created barriers to the efficiency of the project. For instance, as shown as Figure 5, the governance structure is composed of a series of bilateral relationships that by nature or necessity, exclude other parties.

SER and the SRC, as its contractor, have a relationship for the purpose of managing the day-to-day operations of the project that does not include NRCan. However, there appears to have been a lack of clarity about the level, type and timing of information that Saskatchewan should provide to NRCan about these operations. For instance, at some point, Saskatchewan and the SRC made the decision to change the approach to the project and not undertake additional waste rock characterization, which they considered an operational decision. However NRCan saw this as a significant decision, particularly since waste rock characterization was a requirement in the MOA.

Another bilateral relationship exists between the SRC, as the proponent, and the CNSC, as regulator. There is some interview evidence to suggest that the SRC may have looked to the CNSC for guidance on the selection of options, which was not consistent with the CNSC’s role to respond to options presented by the proponent, based on their acceptability in meeting standards. Since NRCan and Saskatchewan would also require options to be cost-effective, this would suggest that the SRC may have been looking to the wrong organization for answers, which hindered the achievement of expected results.

NRCan’s dual role in the Gunnar Project, one as funding partner, and the other as responsible authority under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act process also appears to have hindered project progress. It should be noted that NRCan’s two roles are indivisible since it is the involvement of NRCan as the federal funder that triggers its responsible authority status. It appears that Saskatchewan believed that, as project lead, it had full authority to determine project direction, and was surprised by NRCan’s ability, under its role of responsible authority, to issue ‘type 1’ comments that could prevent the project from proceeding. NRCan’s submission of type 1 comments was seen by Saskatchewan as being in conflict with their role as funding partner in the project. In addition, Saskatchewan’s perception of an unnecessarily high level of cooperation between NRCan and CNSC as responsible authorities added to their frustration.

In turn, NRCan seems to have had difficulty balancing its two roles. NRCan’s usual role in uranium mine decommissioning is to provide “arm’s length” advice. However for the Gunnar Project, NRCan as a funding partner, needed to undertake sufficient oversight to contribute to the efficient and cost-effective achievement of the project’s expected results. This included ensuring it received sufficient information to gauge whether effective progress was being achieved, and adjusting its level of effort and interaction with the project based on that information. When the project began to experience significant delays, NRCan does not appear to have been successful in obtaining the necessary information on project plans, which would have allowed it to give Saskatchewan advance notice of its concerns and the potential impact of these concerns given its role as a responsible authority.

f) Complexities of the Site

The complexities of the site also hindered the achievement of the environmental outcomes and it is unclear the extent to which these were considered in developing project schedule and cost estimates.

According to various stakeholders, the remote northern Saskatchewan location made imposition of strict timelines difficult and expensive. Examples provided included the:

  • short scientific field and construction seasons limits the time available to work on the site;
  • remoteness of the site and lack of persistent supervision leads to the loss of material left on the site over the winter;
  • lack of transportation infrastructure and lack of a permanent road leading to the Gunnar site means that everything (equipment, expertise, food, water) has to be taken to the site by boat or be flown in; and
  • regulatory and funding agencies’ lack of understanding of the technical constraints imposed by the northern conditions and context.

Documents also describe additional complexities of the site, including:

  • the flooded Gunnar pit is large and very deep, which, according to Saskatchewan officials, would require a large treatment plant;
  • much of the site is situated on exposed rock, making it hard to find clean cover and borrow materials for use in reclaiming the site;
  • the tailings are spread out in both terrestrial and aquatic environments;
  • the site has varied ecosystem components, each requiring separate impact analyses;
  • plant, fish and game species are consumed as country foods, which necessitated pathways analysis for ingesting contaminants; and
  • there was very little environmental baseline data relating to the mine’s pre-operating conditions, and little operational information on where and how materials were discarded.

3.2.2 Achievement of Expected Outcomes (Effectiveness) – Stakeholder Engagement

Evaluation Question Methodologies Assessment
4. b) Have appropriate stakeholders been engaged? Document review; literature review; stakeholder interviews. Yes - appropriate stakeholders were engaged.

Summary:

The SRC engaged in consultations sufficient to meet the requirements and intent of the MOA, regulatory requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, as well as the legal duty to consult with First Nations. Appropriate stakeholders were engaged throughout the process through a variety of mechanisms including a Project Review Committee (PRC), the existing northern Saskatchewan Environmental Quality Committee (EQC), meetings with the general public and other officials in Saskatchewan. As public expectations increased, more consultations were conducted than originally planned, however the SRC maintained a reasonable balance between community expectations and the need to minimize costs. The issues raised during consultations can be categorized into two main areas – environmental and safety issues, and economic matters.

Analysis

The Saskatchewan Research Council engaged in consultations sufficient to meet the requirements and intent of the MOA, regulatory requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, as well as a proponent’s legal duty to consult with First Nations. The purpose of engaging stakeholders is to fulfill regulatory and legal requirements; for instance, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act indicates that public participation strengthens the quality and credibility of environmental assessments. In addition, stakeholders from the SRC and Saskatchewan indicated that there is a legal duty for the Crown to consult with First Nations, as defined in the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2005 decision with respect to the Mikisew Cree.

The duty to consult is well addressed by Saskatchewan and the SRC, since they engaged appropriate stakeholders throughout the process in a variety of mechanisms including a Project Review Committee and the existing Environmental Quality Committee, meetings with the general public, and other community officials in Saskatchewan. A PRC was established in 2007 for the clean-up projects being managed by the SRC in the Athabasca area, including the Gunnar and Lorado sites and a number of satellite mines. It consists of representatives of Uranium City, Camsell Portage, Fond du Lac, Stony Rapids, Black Lake, Hatchet Lake, the Prince Albert Grand Council (represented by the Athabasca Vice Chief), and starting in 2008, a representative from the Metis Nation – Saskatchewan.

The SRC’s CLEANS web site documents the presentations and meeting notes from consultations with the general public in the area throughout the project.Footnote 22 One or two public meetings were held each year starting in 2007, mostly in Uranium City. A review of CLEANS documents shows that the public was provided with contextual information about the mines and the status of the project, and that input on priorities and site remediation sequence was solicited. There were also lengthy question and answer sessions. Attendance levels at these meetings varied between 12 and 25 members of the public, in addition to officials from the SRC and their contractors, the CNSC, and Saskatchewan. Interview evidence shows that the SRC also met with the mayors or other officials in a number of communities including Black Lake, Stony Rapids, and with the Prince Albert Grand Council.

The meeting notes suggest that there were two main subjects raised through the consultations about the Gunnar project: environmental and safety aspects, and economic aspects. Environmental and safety concerns included: radiation levels, use of traditional knowledge, the end state of the site, and the lack of progress on the project. A representative of the community indicated that immediate physical and environmental hazards (open shafts, blowing dust from tailings) tended to be of the greatest concern for the closest local community of Uranium City. Economic issues were raised as often as environmental ones in the consultations. Meeting notes show consistent attendance by local contractors, and the general public asked many questions about hiring practices and employment opportunities.

Interview evidence suggests that community expectations increased and the SRC conducted more public consultations than originally planned. Some interviewees suggested that the geographic area covered by consultations was too broad, which increased the emphasis on economic over environmental issues. However, distances must be considered in the context of the remote north; as SRC presentations indicate, there are no permanent residents within 12 kilometres of the site and only 112 residents within 80 kilometres of the site. SRC officials indicated that their approach was to maintain a balance between community expectations and the need to minimize costs. The evaluation considers this approach reasonable.

3.2.3 Achievement of Expected Outcomes (effectiveness) – Training and Employment Opportunities

Evaluation Question(s) Methodologies Assessment
4. c) Were local training and employment opportunities considered in project management? Document review; literature review; stakeholder interviews. Yes, although unable to quantify number of local jobs created.

Summary:

A high level of consideration was given to training and employment opportunities. SRC officials indicated that they used local contractors where possible without affecting the cost effectiveness of the project. The SRC also played the role of broker by developing a database of locals available for employment, providing it to its contractors, and setting local hiring criteria which its contractors had to meet. The evaluators were unable to identify how many locals were hired at the site.

The SRC put in place direct training, in particular for asbestos abatement, however interview evidence also suggests that this training was provided to a greater number of participants in a broader geographical area than the SRC believed could obtain employment at the Gunnar site, thus potentially creating false expectations. It is unknown how many jobs were created as compared to the number of locals trained through this program.

Analysis

The MOA indicates that the parties will work together with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada to develop training and employment opportunities for local residents, especially First Nations residents, in the project. The importance of training and employment to the region is outlined in various parts of the EIS. For instance, based on 2007 data, the unemployment rate in the area is 14 percent higher than the provincial average, leading participants in the socio-economic study conducted for the EIS to indicate that the availability of a skilled, trained workforce was the most important human asset for the project to make a positive contribution to community well-being.

The document review and interviews provide evidence that the use of local contractors by the SRC was considered in the management of the project, but levels achieved were not high. Only a few individuals or small local firms were hired directly by the SRC. SRC officials indicate that, while Request for Proposal documents included ranking for partnerships or ownership by northern Saskatchewan or Aboriginal individual or entity, they made a business decision to use local contractors only where it did not significantly impact on the cost-effectiveness of the project. There is sufficient interview evidence from a variety of sources to indicate that local contractors’ bids were often not competitive since they included the start-up capital costs of the equipment required to undertake the work.

The Gunnar Project indirectly created other employment opportunities because the SRC’s website encouraged local workers looking for employment to register in a database on their website, which the SRC then made available to its contractors. Interview evidence also suggests that the SRC was able to increase the use of its local labour database by specifying and monitoring hiring criteria for their contractors, for instance the percentage of Athabasca basin workforce on the project and number of hours worked. The evaluators were unable to identify the number of jobs brokered by the SRC indirectly.

The work to be undertaken at Gunnar requires specialized skills including, as indicated in the Environmental Impact Statement: environmental sampling and monitoring, asbestos removal and disposal, radiation protection, and heavy equipment operations. Locals were concerned that lack of training might exclude the local work force. SRC interviewees indicated that local training opportunities were created although the evaluators were unable to quantify the numbers trained.

For example, the SRC hosted a three-day training course in asbestos abatement for Athabasca Basin residents. It received funding that enabled it to cover participant costs relating to the course fees, travel and accommodation. SRC officials acknowledge that they trained everybody that wanted training when the instructors were in the community, despite being aware that more people were trained than could be employed. Evaluators note that the largely unrestricted training offers may have created unreasonable employment expectations in the region. However, since the funding for the training was provided externally, the broad training approach appears not to have had a significant impact on the cost-effectiveness of the project.

3.2.4 Achievement of Expected Outcomes (Effectiveness) – Private Sector Participation

Evaluation Question Methodologies Assessment
4. d) Has private sector participation in the project been facilitated? Document review; literature review; stakeholder interviews. Although private sector participation was facilitated, use of private sector advice has not been optimized.

Summary:

The MOA directs the parties to seek in-kind support from private sector uranium mining firms operating in the area since their experience with the regulatory process for decommissioning uranium mines would lead to a more efficient project. Interview evidence suggests that the private sector provided in-kind support in the form of advice and documentation. However, there is some question as to whether the information provided by the private sector was applied to the project and therefore whether the anticipated efficiencies were realized. Specifically, a comparison of the Federal Comments on the EIS for Gunnar Project with a project considered to be a best practice, shows significant differences. In addition, in spring 2011, the CNSC gave strong direction to the SRC to find out what private sector companies had done and make use of this information.

Analysis

The MOA directs the parties to seek in-kind support from private sector mining firms operating in the area. Interview evidence indicates that it was envisaged that private sector mining firms would provide knowledge and information to the Gunnar Project based on their experience in successfully navigating the regulatory process. There is agreement among interviewees that advice and information from the private sector companies would contribute to a more efficient and effective project. Some suggested that the private sector companies were willing to play this role because they felt that the remediation of Gunnar would enhance the overall image of the uranium mining sector in the communities in which they operate.

Most interviewees agreed that the local uranium mining industry had been supportive. Interview evidence suggests that information and best practice knowledge was available to SRC staff in the form of documentation; for instance it was given the “whole shelf of books” on the Cluff Lake mine decommissioning, which is 75 kilometres south of Lake Athabasca.Footnote 22 A Saskatchewan official indicated that he would pick up the phone and call Cameco or AREVA to ask for advice. Interview evidence shows that communication with the private sector companies was through informal channels such as one-on-one meetings, emails, and other processes which did not involve a formal public documentation process. Several stakeholders interviewed indicated that a more formal joint technical committee involving input from the private sector was discussed early in the project but was not put in place. As a result, documentation to quantify the extent and nature of the consultations was not available to the evaluation.

It appears that the use of the advice provided to the Saskatchewan Research Council by private sector companies may not have been consistently applied through time. The evaluators undertook a comparative analysis of the Federal ‘type 1’ comments on the Gunnar Project EIS with the Cluff Lake Comprehensive Study Report – a decommissioning project that several stakeholders consider a best practice. This analysis found that many of the federally identified gaps in the Gunnar Project EIS were well covered in the Cluff Lake Project document including a rigorous characterization of its waste rock, modeling and analysis of post decommissioning effects from all contamination sources on groundwater, and preferred decommissioning approach for each of the key project areas.

The apparent lack of documented similarities to other best practice projects in the EIS, has also been noted by the CNSC. Interview evidence from several sources shows that in the spring of 2011, the CNSC gave strong direction to the SRC to find out what Cameco and AREVA had done for similar projects and to use similar best-practice techniques. The lack of use of private sector information may have contributed to some stakeholders being unaware that consultations had occurred and suggesting that the project could benefit from private sector experience.

3.2.5 Unintended Outcomes

Evaluation Question Methodologies Assessment
5. Have there been unintended (positive or negative) outcomes? Document review; literature review; stakeholder interviews. No significant unintended outcomes; one small unintended outcome

Summary:

One small unintended outcome was identified. A local fishing lodge reportedly did not operate for the 2011 season as a result of the work at the Gunnar site.

Analysis

When asked whether there had been any positive or negative unexpected outcomes of the project, many stakeholders identified the June 2010 CNSC order to immediately remove buildings and structures at the Gunnar mine site. However, the CNSC order was an unforeseen event, which led to an intended result of removing buildings and increasing the safety of the site, rather than an unintended result.

The one unanticipated outcome that was mentioned in interviews was that a local fishing business decided not to operate in 2011. Because the SRC would not allow the lodge’s guides and guests access to the Gunnar site’s dock or airstrip while work was underway, they would have had to bring their clients across Lake Athabasca. Their ability to do this was very weather dependent. They therefore decided not to operate in 2011.

3.2.6 Factors affecting Achievement of Expected Results (efficiency and economy)

Evaluation Question Methodologies Assessment
6. What are the factors (both internal and external) that have facilitated or hindered the achievement of expected results? Document review; literature review; stakeholder interviews. A number of factors have hindered achievement of expected results.

Summary:

The same factors identified as contributing to the project delay and increased costs, also hindered the achievement of expected results. These include: the CNSC safety order; inexperience with the regulatory process; the lack of agreement on the EIS options; staff turnover; the governance structure; and the complexity of the site. In addition, the interplay between a number of these factors added to the complexity of the project and further inhibited it.

A number of project management best practices were also identified.

Analysis

The same factors identified as contributing to the project delay and increased costs, also hindered the achievement of expected results. These include: the CNSC safety order; inexperience with the regulatory process; the lack of agreement on the Environmental Impact Statement options; staff turnover; the governance structure; and the complexity of the site.

However, it should be noted that the situation is further complicated by the interplay among a number of the above factors. The complexity of the project may have contributed to the high staff turnover, particularly in the position of project manager at the SRC. The remoteness of the site made it difficult to secure, likely contributing to some extent to CNSC putting in place its safety order that delayed the project by 4-5 months and increased Phase 2 costs by approximately $20 million. The workload carried by the SRC in undertaking the work required by the CNSC order on an urgent basis, may have contributed to a “rushed” EIS, which in turn may have contributed to the number of federal comments on the options, which further delayed the project. It is also noted that the MOA is structured in such a way that, while the intent was for parties to share equally in the costs of the project, the unanticipated events and factors and the delays that resulted from them, have created a funding imbalance (Saskatchewan has spent approximately $37 million while NRCan has contributed only $1.1 million), that has put some strain on the relationship between the parties.

While the evaluation identified a number of factors that inhibited progress, it also identified, through interviews, a number of project management best practices that were facilitating the efficiency of the project. These are listed below:

  • during the building demolition, thought was given to the expected future location of materials, so that they would only need to be placed once and not subsequently moved;
  • the contracting bid process indicated certain assumptions, for instance that all pipes and drums on the site were empty until proven otherwise, so that the contractors did not automatically build into their bids, potential costs of disposing of hazardous materials that might or might not be within;
  • the environmental assessment and licensing processes were being conducted in parallel;
  • recent reporting processes, including the SRC’s submission of cost breakdowns on a bi-weekly basis, and justification of planned costs on a line item basis; and
  • discussions were taking place to plan for joint monitoring processes with the private sector in the final stage of the project.

3.2.7 Efficiency and Economy

Evaluation Question Methodologies Assessment
7. Is the program the most economic and efficient means of making progress towards intended outcomes? Document review; literature review; stakeholder interviews. Given Saskatchewan’s jurisdictional responsibilities for managing the Gunnar project, the choice of program delivery model to achieve intended outcomes is outside of NRCan’s role and therefore the efficiency and economy of alternate delivery models were not assessed.

Summary:

Given the scope of this evaluation and Saskatchewan’s jurisdictional responsibilities for managing the Gunnar Project, the efficiency and economy of other program delivery models was not assessed. While in theory a delivery model that involved a less complex governance structure might have been more efficient, it should be noted that the involvement of a large number of engaged stakeholders is needed in order to meet requirements of provincial and federal regulatory processes.

Analysis

A program delivery model in which the Government of Canada leads the project would have placed NRCan in a role that is not consistent with the intent of the Shared-Responsibility Contaminated Sites Policy Framework to allow the federal government to acknowledge an interest in remediating contamination relating to national security objectives, without taking on primary operational or legal responsibility. It was therefore not considered. In addition, given Saskatchewan’s jurisdictional responsibilities for managing the Gunnar project, NRCan does not have a role in the selection of the program delivery model, and therefore the efficiency and economy of other potential models was also not assessed.

4.0 Conclusions and Recommendations

4.1 Conclusions

Relevance

The evaluation found that the Gunnar Project is relevant. There is a clear need for the project in order to address the health and environmental risks that exist at the site. The project is consistent with the federal government’s priority relating to protection of the environment and specifically environmental impacts to the health of Canadians. The project is also consistent with NRCan’s strategic outcome relating to environmental responsibility in the development and use of natural resources.

NRCan’s roles of providing technical advice as a responsible authority and oversight as a funder is appropriate in that it is consistent with the government’s Shared-Responsibility Contaminated Sites Policy Framework. While the financial contribution acknowledges the federal interest in remediating contamination relating to national security objectives of uranium mining, Saskatchewan has primary operational and legal responsibility for the project. The federal role is also important in that there is some evidence that Saskatchewan would not have gone ahead without federal funding. Given the decision by the federal government to enter into the MOA with Saskatchewan, NRCan is the appropriate department to fulfill the federal role in that it is consistent with its technical expertise and its experience in funding other radioactive waste projects.

Performance

When the MOA between Saskatchewan and NRCan was signed in 2006, it was expected that licensing of the site would take two to three years. Since then, while progress has been made on the project, the environmental assessment and licensing phase for the project is approximately three years behind schedule. A number of factors have contributed to the delay in the project and have also hindered its efficiency and economy. These include: the CNSC safety order; inexperience with the regulatory process; the lack of agreement on the EIS options; staff turnover; the governance structure; and the complexity of the site. In addition, the interplay between a number of these factors added to the complexity of the project and further inhibited its efficiency and economy. Finally, it must be recognized that perhaps, as some interviewees suggested, the estimates of time and cost were too ambitious given the complexities of the project.

The project budget of $24.6 million has also been exceeded, with total project expenditures to date at approximately $37 million despite the licensing phase of the project not yet being complete. While the intent of the MOA was for Saskatchewan and NRCan to share equally in the overall costs of the project, in accordance with the actual terms of the MOA, NRCan’s funding obligations for the licensing phase of the project have been limited to its original $1.1 million payment.

A number of the factors that led to the delays and increased costs cannot be addressed as they are beyond the control of NRCan. The work required by the CNSC safety order is complete. The realities of the complexity of the site cannot be changed however must be considered in any future scheduling and costing estimates. Other factors such as the high level of turnover and the SRC’s inexperience with the regulatory process cannot be addressed through the evaluation because of Saskatchewan’s jurisdiction over the selection of the program delivery model. The evaluation will therefore restrict its recommendations to three areas: the governance structure, the lack of agreement on the options, and enhanced use of private sector mining companies’ experience.

The governance structure is complex, however each of the players has a clear mandate from legislation, regulation, the MOA, or other agreements and therefore, for the most part, the roles cannot be changed. Given the inflexibility of the overall governance structure, it is important that its complexity be addressed by ensuring that roles are clarified and understood by all, and that appropriate communication, decision-making, and reporting processes are put in place so that misunderstandings do not further hinder the progress of the project. The evaluation found that, while stakeholders originally believed that the roles of all parties were well understood, as the project progressed, certain aspects of it inhibited progress and some of these aspects came as a surprise. The lack in clarity in the way that the governance structure would be applied was a factor in the impasse on the options that delayed the project.

The roles and processes must continue to recognize that Saskatchewan has primary operational and legal responsibility for the project. As such, they must be based on the principle that Saskatchewan and their contractor, the Saskatchewan Research Council, will maintain their lead role in day-to-day operations. However, NRCan should ensure that planning, information sharing, decision-making and reporting processes are in place to allow it to contribute its expertise to the benefit of the project in its roles as both a Responsible Authority and funder.

The lack of agreement about the options and the appropriate next steps in the project, as well as the future schedule and associated costs must also be addressed. The evaluation found that in 2010 NRCan expressed its concerns to SER both verbally and in writing, about the lack of progress on the project, its disagreement with the presented options, incomplete costing of the options, the quality and consistency of reporting, and the need for agreement on the way forward. A December 2010 memo from NRCan to SER specifically indicates that the impact of the above concerns was an inability by NRCan to oversee the project on behalf of the federal government, and potential difficulties in securing funding for phase 2 and beyond. Despite these communications, Saskatchewan did not address NRCan concerns.

In moving forward, it would be beneficial for NRCan and Saskatchewan to have a common understanding of the required project steps, and their estimated timelines and cost. Given the lack of progress on the project to date, NRCan should communicate clear expectations in this regard and request that Saskatchewan develop a schedule to form the basis for monitoring of project timelines and costs in the future. While this schedule should recognize the complexities of the project identified in the evaluation, it must also be consistent with the project intent, as stated in the MOA, to take effective and timely action to address the current environmental condition at the site.

Should agreement on developing this schedule prove difficult, it may be useful to consider hiring a third party that is acceptable to Saskatchewan and NRCan to review the EIS and federal comments to identify a potential path forward. The solution may lie in some type of compromise, where an intermediate perspective is adopted that is acceptable to both parties. The above approach was a suggestion made by one interviewee who indicated that a private sector firm had hired a third party to conduct a review of their EIS in order to identify any efficiencies or economies. The interviewee indicated that the reviewer was able to identify significantly more cost savings than the cost of the reviewer.

Finally, the experience of private sector mining firms in the area should be maximized. In the early days of the project, a formal technical review committee was considered for the project that would include representatives from the federal and provincial levels as well as from private sector firms with considerable experience in undertaking the regulatory process for uranium mine decommissioning. Given the findings that the project does not appear to have benefitted as fully as originally intended from the private sector experience, a technical review committee could enhance the efficiency of the project.

Lessons Learned

In addition to the recommendations focused at addressing the issues identified for the Gunnar Project, the evaluation found a number of more generic lessons learned that could be applied to similar projects undertaken by NRCan. These are presented below to maximize overall learning from the evaluation.

  1. When entering into an agreement to undertake a project which involves a complex governance structure, even if the respective roles of each stakeholder are generally set out in regulation, policy or an agreement, it is especially important that the details of specific responsibilities, communication protocols and decision-making processes should be discussed and agreed to in writing at the outset of the project. If personnel leave, this document allows any new stakeholders to become familiar and act in accordance with the agreed roles and processes.
  2. Project schedules and budgets should be reviewed regularly by all funders and the reasons for any delays and cost-overruns should be documented in to provide a history of the project.
  3. When carrying out an oversight role over federal expenditures in which NRCan does not have primary responsibility for managing the project, when delays or over-expenditures occur, NRCan managers should ensure that they obtain sufficient information to understand the nature and reason for the delay and its potential impact on the project. Based on this information, if needed, NRCan managers should ensure that their concerns, and the potential impact if these concerns are not addressed, are communicated to the project lead in a timely manner.

4.2 Recommendations

The recommendation below is intended to enhance future project results in a way that:

  • reflects the respective roles of NRCan, as Responsible Authority and funder, and Saskatchewan's jurisdictional responsibility;
  • is consistent with the terms of the MOA;
  • is based on the current delivery model established by Saskatchewan; and
  • aims at resolving the current issues that prevent meeting the objectives of the program.

The recommendation is intended to allow NRCan to effectively deliver on its role of overseeing federal funding to ensure that Saskatchewan is managing the project in a timely and cost-effective manner as required by the MOA.

NRCan should work with Saskatchewan to develop a firm timeframe in which Saskatchewan will achieve the following improvements that will strengthen the parties’ abilities to meet their obligations under the MOA in an effective and efficient manner:

  • clarify roles and responsibilities and put in place more explicit provisions for planning, communication, decision-making and reporting;
  • develop a revised detailed work schedule that provides a complete breakdown of future required project steps and associated expected timelines; and
  • establish a technical review committee to take advantage of private sector uranium mining firms’ knowledge and experience.