The Giant Mine site is probably the largest, most dangerous, the
most expensive contaminated site in Canada. It is located inside
the City of Yellowknife. Its underground chambers and stopes
contain over 237,000 tonnes of water soluble arsenic trioxide, and
there are 13.5 million tonnes of contaminated tailings spread
over 95 hectares (approximately 175 football fields).
The remedial plan came from the
Giant Mine Remediation Directorate, led by the federal
department Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada
(AANDC) and the Government of the Northwest Territories. In
essence, they proposed to freeze the ground around the mine
"forever", to demolish 100 buildings and cover the
tailings, and to pump partially treated arsenic-contaminated water
deep into Great Slave Lake. The Directorate described its
"This is a clean-up the surface project.
This is a stabilize and secure the underground
This is a maintain & monitor for health
& safety project."
The Review Board found that the proposed Giant Mine
Remediation Project IS likely to cause significant cumulative
adverse impacts, and that significant public concernabout the plan was justified. To mitigate these
impacts, the Board has ordered the Developer (essentially, the
federal taxpayer) to:
Treat the contaminated water to a drinking water standard
before it is pumped to the lake;
Reduce the Project timeframe from perpetuity to 100 years, i.e.
to find a permanent solution;
Fund and facilitate research in emerging technologies towards
that permanent solution;
Investigate long-term funding options, instead of relying on
perpetual annual appropriations by Parliament;
Set up a multi-stakeholder group to provide independent
Do more studies, including a comprehensive risk assessment and
human health risk assessment;
Do better monitoring of the impact on human health;
Divert a nearby creek that sometimes floods the site;
Hold an independent review of the Project every 20 years to
evaluate its effectiveness and decide if a better approach is
Environmental Commissioner had already
warned that the federal government's estimate for the Giant
Mine site cleanup was insufficient, a factor emphasizing the
inadequacy of current financial assurance requirements for ongoing
environmental risks. The bigger question is: why did our government
allow this disaster to be created in the first place? Especially
without financial assurance! What other financial and environmental
disasters are waiting to explode in current and proposed resource
projects? Is this why the Minister of Natural Resources has finally
proposed to increase financial assurance for offshore drilling?
Will we ever learn?
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