A Toxic Legacy

Decades of neglect left this former uranium mine site in a dangerous state of decay. More than a mine site, in fact, Gunnar Mines was a community turned ghost town when in 1963, the mines shut down. The only attempted decommissioning was the blasting of a narrow trench between the mine and neighboring Lake Athabasca, which flooded the pit and its entire underground system. After filling this channel with waste rock three years later, responsibility for what remained was indeterminate. Crumbling infrastructure was the least of the risks.


To make the mine site safe while the ongoing planning process was undertaken. The derelict buildings that were deemed unsafe to the public on-site needed to be addressed immediately. This was due to the hazardous materials in the buildings, and the structural integrity of the buildings and building components.

Abandoned on the Surface

    • An open pit, radioactive uranium mine (7.5 million cubic metres)
    • Approximately 4.4 million tonnes of tailings
    • Approximately 2.2 to 2.7 million tonnes of waste rock
    • A uranium mill
    • Uranium processing buildings
    • Two acid plants
    • Derelict public and administrative buildings, including residential housing, a former curling rink, and shopping mall

Dangers Unseen

    • An underground mine (600 metres deep)
    • Asbestos in every building
    • Unsafely stored chemicals used in the mining process
    • Risk of exposure to gamma radiation and various radionuclides associated with past uranium processing activities
    • The consumption of exposed fish and wildlife in an area still frequented by hunters and fishers

An Integrated Approach

Infrastructure Requirements

So remote an area, there were no direct highways to count on for easy access to the mine site. Instead, QM constructed an ice road to reach the mine site – a road that remained open for just two weeks until it was closed due to warming temperatures. The only way in or out was through barge or chartered plane on a runway that was maintained by QM. To prepare the site, 300 truckloads of equipment, supplies, and materials to complete the work were brought in during this narrow window.

Safety First and Foremost

Given the nature of the demolition, safety plans and procedures were paramount and established early. Old sumps were immediately filled in, overhead structures were removed, and barriers were built around open areas such as the pit itself. Dust suppression was used to keep the dust and debris at a minimum, further protecting the team and the area. During the entire project, all team members were closely monitored for radioactive doses in partnership with Health Canada. In addition to the regulatory requirements for the Health Canada dosimetry program, QM monitored the dose for employees, subcontractors, visitors, and client representatives in real time.

Community Engagement and Capacity Building

Working effectively with the seven communities, three First Nations and the Métis Nation of the Athabasca Basin were key to this project’s success and included local employment, subcontracting, and the procurement of goods and services. The QM team and the Aboriginal Relations Manager worked closely and collaboratively with the client and the communities throughout the life cycle of the project in establishing effective communications, building teams of onsite and in-community coordinators and liaisons, and building sound and effective relationships. As part of QM’s corporate commitment to Aboriginal Inclusion and Capacity Building over 100 individuals were trained in-community; an industry transferable curriculum and a program tailored to the scope of work that prepared individuals to safely and effectively work onsite.


    • Demolition of process asbestos-laden buildings, as well as the safe removal and packaging of all physical, chemical, radiological and biological hazards.
    • Cooperation and involvement of four neighbouring communities.
    • Involvement of over 50% Indigenous peoples (surpassing the 35% target), better positioned for future employment.
    • Project was completed 12 months ahead of schedule, providing client and partners ease of mind that the site was safer and more secure while future planning continued.

Project Info

Gunnar Mines

Saskatchewan Research Council

Lake Athabasca, Northern Saskatchewan

Services Used:
Demolition, Hazardous Materials Abatement, Training


Project Value:
$26 Million