Uranium

Eldorado mine, 1954.
Saskatchewan Archives Board R-A2667-1

Uranium is one of the most abundant elements in the earth’s crust: it is 500 times more common than gold. Traces of uranium can be found in human tissue and some foods, while larger amounts can be found in rivers, oceans, rock and soil. Most of the uranium that is mined is used as fuel to generate power in nuclear reactors, and ultimately provides 17% of all electricity used in the world today. Other uses include medical diagnosis, food preservation, agricultural production, and manufacturing purposes. Canada is the world’s top producer of uranium, with 33% of the world’s total yield in 2002. Mining companies sell Saskatchewan uranium to electric power utilities in Canada, the United States, Europe, and the Far East. The earliest records of uranium discovery date back to the mid 1930s. In 1943, the federal government established Eldorado Mining and Refining Limited, which was later named Eldorado Nuclear Limited. The company was responsible for all Canadian uranium interests. In 1949, a uranium mine was developed in the Beaverlodge area, and three years later Uranium City was established as the hub for uranium mining. The late 1960s saw a large increase in exploitation due to the Rabbit Lake discovery and the following projections of high demands for uranium.

In 1974, the provincial government created the Saskatchewan Mining Development Corporation, a Crown corporation that would govern all mining in the province. It was during the 1970s that extensive uranium reserves were located in the Athabasca Basin and, following this find, several more mines were established in the 1980s in Cluff Lake, Key Lake, Cigar Lake and Rabbit Lake. In 1988, the Saskatchewan Mining Development Corporation merged with Eldorado Nuclear Ltd. to form the Cameco Corporation. About 88% of the uranium shipped from Saskatchewan goes to global markets. The value of mineral sales for uranium in 2001 was $562 million; the uranium industry created approximately 5,000 jobs in the province (1,334 direct jobs, 364 contractor jobs, and an additional 3,400 spin-off jobs). COGEMA Resources Inc. is one of the largest uranium producers, with headquarters in Saskatoon. JCU (Canada) was established in late 2000 as a subsidiary of Japan-Canada Uranium Co. Ltd. Canada is a signatory of the International Non-proliferation Treaty, which is safeguarded by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Crystal Wallin