Benefiting from northern mines

Tyler Clarke
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General manager of Cameco’s Cigar Lake uranium mine Steve Lowen speaks at Thursday’s Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce luncheon, during which he highlighted the expanding uranium mine effort up north. 

Uranium mines aren’t exactly on Prince Albert’s doorstep, but they are having a significant impact on the local economy.


Visiting Prince Albert on Thursday to highlight Cameco’s expanding Cigar Lake uranium mine operation, mine general manager Steve Lowen noted its impact on the city.

“The main benefits I would see for Prince Albert is continued spin-off benefit,” he concluded. “We have lots of employees in this area. They will be bringing their paycheques home looking for services, goods, and be able to support local businesses here very well.”

There are least two mine flights per day Monday through Friday leaving the city’s municipal airport, transporting about 300 Cameco employees who call Prince Albert home.

“I have a fair number of people at Cigar Lake that actually live in Prince Albert and surrounding area who use those mine flights and commute week-in and week-out,” Lowen explained.

The Cigar Lake operation is currently employing about 350 people and a few hundred contractors -- a number expected to ramp up to about 400 by the end of the year, once McClean Lake’s equipment is upgraded.

The Cigar Lake ramp-up is intended to meet global demand for uranium, Lowen relayed, noting that there are 425 nuclear reactors currently online worldwide, another 70 under construction and even more in the planning stages.

“That’s a fair growth rate over the next number of years,” he assessed.

With more people working up north, a challenge will be convincing the growing workforce to consider Prince Albert as a place to live during their off time, as about 300 Cameco employees already do.

Pondering this point, Mayor Greg Dionne said that he’s spoken with Cameco officials about putting together a package for new miners advertising Prince Albert as a potential home.

“When you’re hiring new people, here are your options,” Dionne summarized.

The mayor added that he knows of at least a few families of miners who chose Prince Albert over other cities in the province, relaying that “They found Saskatoon just too expensive and hard to move around, so they moved to Prince Albert.”

“They like the lifestyle, they’re closed to the lakes and they can fly to work from our airport,” Dionne said.

Further to this point, Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce CEO Merle Lacert said that people look for a handful of things when considering a city to lay down their roots.

Health care, education, arts and civic facilities are key selling points, he said.

“If we can maintain that, I think everyone’s going to find (Prince Albert’s) a great place to live and work,” he said.

It’s not only attracting people who work from further north that the city is charged with roping in, but the jobs themselves.

“Our key is to look at our value-added processing,” Lacert said. “Rather than just digging it out of the ground and shipping it, if we can increase our value-add, that can be our single biggest point of leverage that we can have to increase everything, from jobs to the value of the product.”

The main benefits I would see for Prince Albert is continued spin-off benefit. We have lots of employees in this area. They will be bringing their paycheques home looking for services, goods, and be able to support local businesses here very well. Steve Lowen

The Prince Albert Pulp Mill was a good example of this in relation to the forest industry, but even when it was at full capacity there was more untapped potential.

Saskatchewan Mining Association executive director Pam Schwann said that there’s always more opportunity for Prince Albert to find greater benefits from the mining industry.

“With the people who reside here and the businesses, you’re talking tens of millions of dollars directly with Prince Albert,” she said.

“If we look at an expanding mining sector once Cigar Lake comes on stream, there’s other potential.”

Even closer to Prince Albert is the long talked-about Shore Gold diamond mining effort, which currently appears at a standstill pending an upswing in market conditions.

But, more can be done right now with renewable power, local environmental advocate Stephen Lawrence argued.

And with renewable power, employment isn’t limited to wherever deposits of uranium or any other mineral are located.

As an active member of the local organization Renewable Power - the Intelligent Choice -- an organization that advocates for renewable energy, Lewis offers a counterpoint to uranium mining efforts.

“If we went full bore into renewable energy we’d have much better employment opportunities and better paid opportunities than we have now,” he said.

“You may not want to invest in wind energy in Prince Albert because there are better wind opportunities in the south of the province.

“Here, we could probably set up a form of photovoltaic (a form of solar power) and set up a community project where people in the community can invest in a larger project, or they can invest on something on their own home.”

Although he recognizes that Cameco is a major player in the Saskatchewan economy, Lawrence argued that jobs centred on renewable power have their own benefits.

These jobs would create “a cleaner environment and high-tech jobs, and we could scatter those jobs throughout the province instead of just a few locations.”

Lowen’s presentation came as part of the Saskatchewan Mining Association’s recognition of Mining Week, which is taking place this week.

His presentation was also part of the Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce’s luncheon series.

Organizations: Prince Albert, Cameco, Saskatchewan Mining Association Shore Gold Renewable Power

Geographic location: Cigar Lake, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

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Recent comments

  • Joan
    May 31, 2014 - 23:40

    I don't think there are 70 nuclear reactors under construction around the world. I would need a source for that other than the nuclear industry itself. Did this reporter check any independent sources?