Environment & Safety
We manage the safety of our workers through programs, systems, and standards, with our Safety, Health, Environment and Quality (SHEQ) Policy providing overarching guidance. There are many aspects of the management system that contribute to a safe work environment, a few examples include:
- Risk assessments help identify issues and determine the appropriate controls; the corrective action process verifies that incidents and near misses are reported, tracked, investigated and shared with colleagues; and emergency preparedness and planning prepare us to respond to serious incidents.
- We have developed 12 corporate safety standards to help protect our workers from our most common hazards. Some standards guide our general safety practices, such as our job hazard analysis and our job task observation, and other standards deal with specific hazardous situations (similar to other companies’ life saving rules): such as fall protection, confined space entry, rigging and hoisting, and control of hazardous energy (also referred to as lockout/tagout).
- Routine audits are conducted to monitor compliance with regulations and our own requirements. These and other aspects of the management system are routinely examined to verify that they continue to be effective at keeping our workers safe.
Radiation risks are effectively managed at Crow Butte through a formal radiation protection program and dedicated personnel who ensure that doses to workers are as low as reasonably achievable. The program ensures that radiation protection is considered in the physical design of all facilities and operating procedures. It also provides for systematic monitoring of radiation in work areas and tracking the exposures of individual workers using a combination of monitoring devices and health testing. Radiation exposures at Crow Butte are far below the regulated limits.
At Cameco, protection of the environment is one of our highest corporate priorities during all stages of our activities, from exploration through development, operations, decommissioning, and reclamation.
We monitor our performance by tracking corporate and site-specific key performance indicators, conducting environmental monitoring programs, and regularly auditing our adherence to the requirements of these programs We use the information from all of our programs to help us to identify opportunities to improve.
Environmental management system
We have a ISO 14001-certified environmental management system used across our operating sites, which is supported by a corporate Environmental Management Program that outlines the operating requirements sites must meet. Our environmental management system encourages and promotes continuous adaptation of our practices based on new information and technologies.
Environmental risk assessments
We complete environmental risk assessments to systematically identify, quantify, and to characterize the potential risks to the environment, workers, and the public. We use our environmental risk assessments to inform our decisions and actions. Additionally, we complete an iterative process, where required, to verify that our proposed measures to protect the environment and the public are effective. We review or update the assessments every five years, incorporating results from our environmental monitoring programs and other scientific advances.
Corrective action process
We have a corrective action process in place to systematically investigate and address the causes of non-conformance to regulatory requirements or internal standards. The process includes classifying the non-conformance, assigning the appropriate level of investigation (dependent on incident significance), and tracking the recommended corrective actions to prevent and mitigate similar occurrences.
To support our culture of continuous improvement, our processes and operations undergo regular audits, including:
- Our environmental management system is audited by a third-party every three years as a requirement to maintain our ISO 14001 certification.
- Our SHEQ team conducts an internal audit of our SHEQ programs on a three-year cycle. The total audit scope is split in half and executed on a rotating basis. This means that all our sites undergo at least two audits to cover all aspects of our SHEQ programs within every three-year period. The audit follows the ISO 19001 process and encompasses our environmental and safety programs.
- We also maintain and implement an internal audit program at our corporate office. Results and recommendations from this systematic and documented process are presented to senior management, who are responsible for implementing them and correcting any deficiencies. The internal audit group reports to the audit and finance committee of the board.
Monitor wells are installed to allow testing of groundwater quality above, below and around the target zones to ensure fluids do not move outside those areas. Crow Butte has more than 375 monitor wells that are tested at least every two weeks. Every year, about 9,700 water samples are analyzed to ensure any potential issues are kept on the mine site. More than 20 years of regular testing of surface waters by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality has detected no contaminants in the environment downstream from the Crow Butte operation.
The in situ recovery (ISR) mining method employed at Crow Butte produces no tailings or waste rock. About 95% of the water used in the process is recycled. Surplus water is returned underground through a deep disposal well or evaporated from lined ponds on the surface. Residue from the evaporation ponds and other waste materials such as plastic piping is transported off site for disposal or recycling.
Detailed plans and financial guarantees are in place to provide for decommissioning of the Crow Butte mine. Once operations are complete in a wellfield, groundwater is restored to meet regulatory standards. Once regulators confirm that the groundwater has been restored, all piping and other infrastructure is removed, all wells are sealed, and surface lands are restored to their original state.
All new mining developments and significant changes to existing operations are subject to environmental assessments to identify potential effects on the environment.
Crow Butte is licensed and regulated by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The operation also is subject to other federal and state regulations for the protection of people and the environment, including by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) and by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Federal and state regulators conduct regular site inspections and audits to verify that people and the environment are protected. The Crow Butte operation undergoes regular review and renewal of its operating permits and licences.