Port Radium

Eldorado Radium/Uranium/Silver Mine

Located on the east shore of Great Bear Lake, the mine at Port Radium operated almost continuously from 1932 to 1982. Initially, radium-bearing pitchblende ore was mined at the site, but with the U.S. entry into the Second World War the Eldorado Mining and Refining Company began mining uranium at the site in 1942 for use in the atomic bomb project. The company was secretly nationalized in 1944 and continued to produce uranium ores for the purposes of Cold War nuclear arms production until 1962. From 1964 until 1982, the company Echo Bay Mines extracted silver from Port Radium, but the site reverted to federal Crown land with the closure of the mine and Port Radium town site in 1982.

Recently, high rates of cancer and lung disease in the nearby Sahtu Dene community of Déline have caused a great deal of anxiety and controversy. By 1999, fourteen of the thirty Dene workers who were employed to transport uranium ore in burlap bags had died of cancer and there were ongoing concerns about radioactive contamination of the local environment. Under pressure from the Sahtu Dene, in 2000 the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development established the Canada-Déline Uranium Table (CDUT) to foster collaborative approaches to the remediation of the Port Radium site. In 2002, the CDUT released an action plan outlining research priorities (using science and traditional ecological knowledge, and also suggesting key concerns for the reclamation process. A final report (Canada Déline Uranium Table 2005) cast doubt on the direct health impacts of radiological exposures on Dene ore carriers, and declared the environmental hazards to be of a localized and ecologically benign nature. However, these findings remain disputed by the local community.