Article Cameco Canada Uranium

Open access to the Canadian paper

Our paper on the fly-in/fly-out work regime at the uranium mine in Saskatchewan is now published with open access. Click here to access the paper via the homepage of the Journal of Rural Studies.

Aboriginals Article Cameco Canada Saskatoon Uranium

The Canada paper finally accepted!

Our paper on the remote uranium mine in Saskatchewan, Canada, has just been accepted to the Journal of Rural Studies (JRS). It’s a relief, since we’ve worked a long time with this paper and worked hard to improve it after every setback (see the posts from April 2018 or December 2018). JRS got the best version! As soon as the paper comes on-line first we’ll make another post to notify you. Meanwhile, here’s the abstract:

The article presents a case analysis of the work regime at a uranium mine, located on indigenous land in northern Saskatchewan, Canada. All the miners are flown in and out (FIFO), and with nearly half the workforce coming from different indigenous communities. We ask how the miners participate in and experience life as FIFO workers, and enrol the community concept in the analysis. Defining community as not merely a group of people or a place but also, in the wake of Tönnies’ classic work, as a matter of attitude, the case analysis reveals a community at work but fragmentation of indigenous communities off work.

Aboriginals Cameco Canada Kiruna Management Storyteller Supplier Uranium

Storytellers #29 and #30 – using local contractors

The general trend in the mining industry is to increase the use of contractors in order to be more flexible, adaptable and cost-effective. Whether this is achieved can be debated, but the trend is clear and although the markets for iron ore (the Kiruna case) and uranium (the McArthur River/Key Lake case) are different, they are both nevertheless highly influenced by ‘boom and bust’, ‘feast and famine’. Walking the fine line between stability and adaptability is highlighted in northern Saskatchewan, where companies like Cameco has to engage local firms and workers as part of the regional agreements (written about earlier on this blog). Interestingly, in some of the conversations, this is lifted as a competitive advantage from both sides of the table, and although more complex than this, the arguments boil down to ‘local knowledge’ and to ‘loyalty’. The first quote below is from a contractor owned by an indigenous band from the north and the second quote is from a manager at Cameco.

companies like Cameco learn that we can deliver and can count on our loyalty to mobilise quickly and to do it quickly as well because we understand what it takes to get it up there. We get to know the local people, it’s easier to identify with the locals. So after a period of time companies like ours starting to have a clear returning in investment back to Cameco.

I would say that the work we do with the contractors has become more stable over the years because we have pushed to have more northern content in our contracts, for workers as well. I think things like that have made Cameco more stable, has made it more stable for the contractors.

Aboriginals Cameco Canada Supplier Uranium

Aboriginals and the labour process (part 4)

Two short questions are still left hanging from my visit to MCA in Saskatchewan and from reading the CVMPP-reports:

What about the contractors? In the reports, contractors are not really dealt with, but they still represent a significant part of the labour process. Just as on site, they had their rooms in a building beside the Cameco employees, but they shared the other facilities (restaurant, wellness facilities etc.). Interestingly, most of the large, visible contractors on site are owned by indigenous bands. In the report on socio-economic benefits it is stated that “the uranium mining industry contributed significantly to the business capacity of northern Saskatchewan (e.g., growth in contracts from northern suppliers from S23 million in 1989 to S464 million in 2011)” (2013: 8; although down to S308 in 2014). In the report, the uranium companies are called upon to explore how small northern companies can have contract opportunities, but beyond this, the contractors are not really included in the reports and analyses by CVMPP.

What about the communities? What seems to be a recurring issue, when mining companies operate or seek to operate on indigenous people’s land, is how the companies could/should approach the complexities of indigenous communities. In the socio-economic report one of these complexities is addressed under the heading “On local participation” that: “While the uranium mining companies indicated that they try to respond to community interests, they have found it challenging to communicate effectively with a large number of communities (57) located across the vast region of northern Saskatchewan.” (2013: 10) Several views on what dictated community relations were expressed during my visit and in the reports aspects such as accessibility to educated labour, particular need for labour, how vocal the community is etc., were mentioned. This echoes research on what happens when capitalism and science meet indigenous wisdom and folklore, in that the complexity of the latter discourse often have to be reduced so as to fit the former discourse.


Cameco Canada Emily Researcher Uranium

On Cozying Up to Corporations

Below you’ll find a post from our guestblogger Emily Eaton, Associate Professor at the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Regina, Canada:

“I read with interest the January blog post “Empathizing with the subjects of study” and was reminded of a conversation I had with Johan when he visited the University of Regina. At that time we discussed Organizing Rocks’ relationship to Cameco Corporation, the owner of the uranium mine and mill at the centre of this study. I was happy to hear that the Organizing Rocks project is funded by public money because it has already been well-established that corporate funding of research influences projects to their core, shaping the design, methods, analysis and dissemination of research. In other words, social science research cannot be ‘dis-interested’ when funded by private corporations.

Yet, the Organizing Rocks project has had to engage with Cameco Corporation in order to gain access to the project’s research site, which is a fly-in/fly out mine and mill in northern Saskatchewan where workers stay at gated work camps. Johan disclosed in an email to me that he offered to pay all his expenses associated with travel and room and board, but that the corporation declined and paid for everything. The corporation also helped arrange access to many of the workers that Johan was interested in interviewing.

According to Kirsch (2014) this kind of ethnographic research within the corporation “poses a risk of co-optation, because the tendency of ethnographers to empathize with the subjects of their research may influence their findings or temper their critical perspectives.” Here I side with Johan and Tommy in suggesting that empathizing with research subjects is always a ‘risk’ no matter whether they are those suffering the impacts of extraction or those working within the extractive machine. Empathizing with subjects is not something to be warded against or denied, but rather, a way of getting deep into people’s stories and connecting with them on a human level. I must agree that those working for corporations, whether they are out-of-scope workers, or management are whole human beings with complex relationships to the work they do. In fact, in my experience researching the oil and gas industry in Saskatchewan, such workers and management can offer strident critiques of their industries from places of intimate knowledge. Such people ought to be engaged and often need the protection of confidentiality in order to speak their truths to probing outsiders.

The more pertinent question, I think, in relation to the Organizing Rocks research project is what Cameco is getting out of the research and relationship. We have already established that they are not intervening in or influencing the research trajectory, collection of data, etc. In fact, Johan suggested they have been remarkably accommodating in granting access to their personnel and operations. If the corporation is not getting anything tangible out of the research, why would they pay for travel and open themselves up to probing researchers? When corporations offer ‘no strings attached’ funding or perks (such as travel and accommodation) social scientists consider their research conflict of interest-free. Yet corporations still get something out of these relationships. In this case, they strengthen their ties to the University of Saskatchewan and a group of public policy researchers at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy who have significant input into and influence on public debate in Saskatchewan. This is not uncontroversial, many critics are already wary of Cameco’s relationship to the University of Saskatchewan. Furthermore, in its support of the Organizing Rocks project the corporation fosters positive public relations and scores points as a good corporate citizen. All of these soft benefits play into the corporation’s ‘social license to operate’, which is required not just in the northern communities where they extract and mill, but across the province among a population that has seen nuclear energy and the uranium industry as a controversial issue and a site of fractious politics for over 50 years.”

Aboriginals Cameco Canada Saskatoon Supplier Uranium Worker

Aboriginals and the labour process (part 3)

One issue related to the labour process at MCA and to life in northern Saskatchewan that has received a lot of attention is health and well-being.

In a CVMPP report from December 2014, the effects of the uranium industry’s health and wellness programs on direct employees of AREVA and Cameco are studied (predominantly based on surveys; gaining generalizability but losing context). Reading the report with my visit to MCA as a sounding board, there are three spaces in which health and wellness are dealt with: (i) on site, at work, (ii) off site, off work, and (iii) in-between.

On site, at work, it is about the actual workplace and life on site, and what stands out are automation, good food and the risk of cancer. The report says that: “Modern mining operations are less physically demanding than in the past and this decrease in physical exertion, along with living at an industrial site where there is a good variety and supply of prepared foods, can result in weight gain and associated increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers. […] …a shift to mechanized and computerized processes.” (2014: 2-7) Further: “Most RSN workers in the uranium industry, though active, feel that the physical demands of their jobs are only ‘intensive sometimes'” (2014: 7-1).

Modern mining, that is, is becoming more automated and less physically demanding, combined with an on site life with extensive and inviting choices of food. The image of the miner, hollow-eyed, down-to-the-bones marked by the mine, withers and an image of a sligthly overweight office worker emerges. During my days at MCA, there were a lot of physical, after-work activities (weight-lifting, raquetball, basketball etc.) to in some extent compensate for this. The food is an issue, however. Although there’s no pop (läsk in Swedish) in the cafeteria, my experience is that it was quite easy to put together rather fat, sugar-intensive and fine-tasting plates during (and between) meals. Diabetes is also a problem in the north. Besides offering a lot of physical activities on site, one of Cameco’s responses was to market a so-called “Heart Smart plate”, but from what I could pick ut on it seemed to be a difficult sell. Many workers on site joked about gaining weight at work. I can understand them.

Also related to work in the uranium mine is the risk of cancer due to exposure to radiation. In the report it is early on stated that “current exposures are so low that it would be practically impossible to correct for the effects of smoking and residential radon exposure” (2014: 2-4). The rate of cancer is lower for men and similar for women in northern Saskatchewan compared to in southern Saskatchewan. Tied to the healteffects of automation, some of the work tasks being automated also had the effect of minimizing the risks with workers’ contact with the uranium mined. One example is the loading, where the driver steps out of the vehicle and uses a joystick to control the vehicle by distance when scooping the uranium.

Off site, off work, it is about life in the communities. The report says that: “The proportion of residents in northern Saskatchewan indicating “very good” or “excellent” mental well-being is the lowest among northern health regions/census divisions in Canada” (2014: 2-16). It also states that injuries (off site, off work) are the leading cause of death in northern Saskatchewan and that suicide is the leading cause in that category (the highest rate is among men in their twenties). The rates of heavy drinking is also higher in northern compared to southern Saskatchewan. In CVMPP’s socio-economic report from 2013 it is also stated that: “The community well-being index (an indicator of overall community well-being, including income, education and housing) indicated, overall, that scores were higher in Saskatoon, Air Ronge and La Ronge than the other case study communities and the north as a whole. This disparity in community well-being, as evidenced by this indicator, appears to be widening over time.” (2013: 15)

Off site, off work, there are real health and well-being challenges for many communities. Reading about this raises my curiosity for the in-between site/work and off site/off work.

In-between, it is about the connections between the health programs and life in the northern communities. The CVMPP is a testimony to the necessity of highlighting these connections, but to some extent this is weak in the reports. The 2014 report says that: “Although there is broad recognition and awareness of health programs offered at McArthur River and McClean Lake, the majority of respondents reported that they have not changed their personal attitudes or behaviours as a result of the programs” (2014: 3-6). But, it also states that there are some positive health and safety effects of the programs on their community life (c.f. 2014: 6-9, 6-10, 6-11, 7-4, 7-5).

In the report, the path forward is not clear and maybe that would have a been a task too grand for a single report. It might more be a way to facilitate a further discussion, but there seems to be a basic (and very common) assumption in that increasing participation in capitalistic life enhances health and well-being. Citing statistics from the government of Canada, the report states that: “There is a growing body of evidence to support the idea that income and social status are the most important social determinants of health” (2014: 2-4). To some extent this is debatable, but to a large extent this is more complex.

Aboriginals Cameco Canada Management Uranium Worker

Visiting the Key Lake mill

Key Lake is where the uranium from MCA is processed, turned into “yellow cake” (which in the end is black), and then exported. The mill is about 80 km from the mine, about an hour drive on roads controlled by Cameco, and on which the slurry trucks go back and forth. Aboriginals entitled to be on the land are also allowed on the roads.

I ride with Ryan and although the landscape is covered with snow, it’s a beautiful area. Rolling hills, many lakes, short trees (many marked by last Summer’s severe forest fires). Had it been back home, a cabin here and there would break the view, but up here it’s not as common. Arriving at Key Lake, I get to meet staff in the administration and several workers at the mill as well as visit the camp site for lunch (including the Sunday donut). My guide in the mill is Kevin, the mill manager. Below is a short report and some pictures.

Safety first, so I’m all dressed up, from head to toes. One impression is that there are not many people in the facilities, reminding me of the works in Kiruna (big buildings, few people). I meet and talk to five operators, all of them are aboriginals, four from different communities (Pinehouse, Patchuak, Cumberland house) and one from Prince Albert. All of them had also gone through internal trainings and worked their way up to reach the highest level for an operator – from level 1 to 10 (you don’t need a chemical or metallurgy degree to work as an operator). Their work is in the control room, controlling the different processes, but they also walk and inspect the facilities everyday. Same type of work as in the works in Kiruna.

Another impression is the lime ‘dust’ coloring the inside of the first facility Kevin takes me to (which houses the last part of the process). Kevin pointed out that it’s not really a problem but that they will clean it up. I couldn’t help thinking it was beautiful. I remembered having a similar feeling during the tour of the works in Kiruna when confronted with all the pipes, machines, stairs, dust, noise, etc., and with the idea that all of this actually work together somehow. Although these facilities house processes that put a lot of strain on our natural environment and where humans have to deal with hazardous materials in their everyday working life, there is nevertheless some kind of industrial aesthetics to them. A strange combination of feelings, for sure (ergo, there’ll be a song about this in the future).

Thanks to Kevin, I get a good tour and a good introduction to the process. It was also easy to feel the difference in terms working climate between Key Lake and MCA. My impression is that it’s a bit rougher at MCA, reminding me about a similar difference between the mine and the works in Kiruna. To some extent, a similar rhetoric or jargon among the workers also exist. In Kiruna it’s between those who get the stone up versus those who get the stone out. At Key Lake a common strategy used to tease MCA seemed to be that: “anybody can dig dirt but we do the magic and turn it into money”, or “it’s at Key Lake where the magic happens”. Consequently, the room where the experts in metallurgy work (all with higher education degrees, a demand making it much more difficult to recruit aboriginals/RSN) is called “the magic room” and the metallurgs are called “magicians”.

Aboriginals Cameco Canada Management Supplier Union Uranium Worker

Aboriginals and the labour process (part 1)

The presence (past and present) of indigenous people in northern Saskatchewan significantly influences the labour process of MCA. It’s quite a contrast to Kiruna where the Sami people have a more peripheral, even marginalized position.

People established in northern Saskatchewan are sometimes referred to as Residents of Saskatchewan’s North (RSN). There are about 37000 RSN and more than “85% of the population in northern Saskatchewan identify themselves as Aboriginal [Cree, Métis, Dené] […] The population is young and growing” (CVMPP 2015: 2-5).

According to a recent report from the government of Saskatchewan, the mining industry in northern Saskatchewan employs about 3400 persons of which half are RSN. It also says that 43% of all mine workers are indigenous. Behind this development lies strong legal rights awarded to indigenous people in Canada and what seems to be an explicit political will in Saskatchewan to put pressure on companies to build capacity in the north. We don’t see this in Kiruna, in the county of Norrbotten nor in Sweden in general, which might explain why the Sami people do not play a significant role in the labour process in the Kirunamine (whether this would be a good or a bad thing is another issue).

AREVA and Cameco, running the uranium mines and mills in the north, have to sign two partnership agreements with the Province of Saskatchewan, one human resource development agreement and one mine surface lease agreement, both directed at capacity building in the north (hiring RSN, developing their business opportunities, help provide education/training opportunities etc.). The “surface lease agreements for northern uranium mining projects require companies to participate in a community vitality monitoring program” (2013: 3, the Community Vitality Monitoring Partnership Program, CVMPP). Cameco recommended me to read the reports by the CVMPP and they provide useful information with which to compare my impressions from visiting MCA.

Zooming in on the reports, one report from 2013 targets the socio-economic impacts of uranium mining in northern Saskatchewan. On site, I heard several times that the mine paid well (just as in Kiruna) and in the report it says that “The uranium mining industry provides some of the highest-salaried positions in northern Saskatchewan” (2013: 7), but also that “the average household income and median household income for the population as a whole, when adjusted for inflation, actually decreased between 1981 and 2006. The gap between the average and median household income, an indicator of income inequality, also steadily increased” (2013: 8). The uranium companies are therefore called upon to provide more opportunities for Aboriginal/northern workers in supervisory positions and professional jobs, which reflect what seem to be key challenges in the north. Under the heading “employment” the report states that the number of RSN:

“employed directly in the uranium mining industry increased fourfold from 201 in 1981 to 832 in 2011. The proportion of the direct workforce (i.e., those workers hired directly by the mining companies) made up of RSNs appears to have reached a plateau during the last decade (e.g., about 46% in 2011). When considering both the direct workforce and the workforce hired by long-term contractors (e.g., security services, food services), the proportion of RSNs rose to 47% (2011). This fell short of the 67% target rate set by the Joint Panel in the 1990s, although each of the mining companies continuned to try to find innovative ways to address this gap.” (2013: 7; emphasis added)

One reason for this ‘plateauing’ is the lack of education among RSN: “While the number of northerners 15 years and older with at least a high school certificate or equivalent has increased substantially from 1976 to 2006, education attainment rates in northern Saskatchewan have not reached parity with provincial rates” (2013: 6). Even larger communities in the north usually cannot provide education beyond grade twelve. Basically all aboriginal people I talked to on site at MCA and Key Lake had no higher education, but many had to some extent worked their way up the hierarchy through Cameco’s own training and through work experience. This often meant operating more advanced machines underground in the MCA mine or achieving the highest level of control room operator at the Key Lake mill. In the report, uranium companies are called upon to provide bridging programs between high schools and colleges/universities, but also to invest in early childhood development.

The same year, 2013, a report on RSN in supervisory positions in the uranium industry is published. Although clearly written “from an industry perspective” (2013: 31), it addresses what seems to be an ‘indigenous glass ceiling’: “From 1992 to 2012, the number of RSNs in supervisory postions increased from 18 to 71 or an increase of 394%. Despite this progressive trend, the ration of RSN in supervisory positions versus all supervisory positions continue to remain constant and below 26,4% (Cameco, 2013).” (2013: 8) Again, it is stated that RSN “lack the needed formal education and skills” and that the “uranium mining industry is also becoming far more advanced and technical, requiring specialized training in various occupations” (2013: 26). Other aspects of why there is a lack of RSN in supervisory positions are “that when RSNs do move up in their position it is a ‘sink or swim’ opportunity”, that “where unions are active, they can also be viewed as a factor whether RSNs have opportunities to gain experience” (not all mine sites are unionized), and that “Cultural misinterpretations and misunderstandings continue to occur at the mine sites” (2013: 27).

Some of these problems were addressed already in a 2006 report from the CVMPP. Interesting information is put in the appendix of the report, however, due to the authors not regarding it as central to the specific report and because these problems were not central to the findings of the report. Under the heading “Lack of Northerners”, it is stated that: “Some respondents were unhappy with the proportion of Northerners working at the mines, which they felt was low” (2006: 56). Cultural tensions are also mentioned, but under the heading of “Racism”, where it says that: “Many mine workers, their spouses and community members said that racism was a problem at the mine site. These respondents were discouraged by the lack of Northerners assigned to senior positions” (2006: 56).

In the 2006 report, a “Community Bias” is also addressed: “Some respondents felt that the company was biased in favour of certain regions/communities. In addition, some respondents felt that individual communities were treated differently by the company, either because one community was more vocal or because of their status as a reserve community.” (2006: 56-57) In the socio-economic report, however, this is linked to education and the access to skilled labour: “Some communities has a greater percentage of their workforce employed in the industry than other communities despite being a substantially larger distance away, which tends to relate to the availability of skilled labour in a given location” (2013: 14).

A lot of the responsibility to deal with how to increase the number of aboriginals in supervisory positions is again put on the companies: “based on the long term nature of the uranium industry, it is encouraged that the uranium mining industry partner and invest (where appropriate) in early childhood development and primary education” (2013: 32) and that companies “develop and implement a RSN specific (potential consideration of northern and First Nations culture and socio-economics) leadership program” (2013: 33).

It is as if all roads lead to rather vague recommendations that the companies should use their power to change the labour process to benefit RSN more. To my knowledge, Cameco is doing a lot and perhaps it should do even more given the power asymmetries between company and communities, but this strong corporate focus also shadows the role and responsibilities of other actors.

Aboriginals Cameco Canada Documentary Moviemaking Researcher Saskatoon Uranium

Challenges for the mining industry in Saskatchewan

On his trip to Canada, Johan took the chance of placing professor Greg Poelzer in front of the camera (arranged and managed by Max Poelzer) to talk about the challenges to the mining industry in northern Saskatchewan. The emphasis on capacity building in the north, particularly in aboriginal communities, is strong and not something that we experience back home in the north of Sweden.

Cameco Canada Management Uranium Worker

Down the uranium mine

Follow Johan underground in the McArthur River uranium mine (MCA).

Safety first. I’m taken to a locker room where I get the gear and the information necessary to be allowed underground. I then meet my guide, Curtis, a maintenance foreman. He used to work with oil sands in Alberta, but the long hours commuting to work meant too much time away from home and family in Saskatchewan. He has now been with Cameco and at MCA for about six years and is glad he made the change.

Curtis explains how the mine works by drawing on the whiteboard in his office above ground. He’s a good educator. At MCA, the methods they use are raiseboredrilling, blasthole stoping and boxhole boring, a unique combination for a uranium mine. One thing that strikes me and that I didn’t know a priori was that every hole they drill and extract from is filled with concrete, making Cameco a very large producer and user of concrete.

There are no roads to take you underground. Everything – humans, tools and machines – are transported with the hoists (more or less big elevators) down the mine, at about 600 metres underground. Given the size of the machines that work underground, it was a bit mindboggling. I rode the hoist with about a dozen people and it was crowded.

When underground, it is wet and greasy and the ‘artificial’ winds are cold and strong in some areas, given the ventilation system (the air in the mine is renewed about every 15 minutes). There is basically no traffic, which is a big contrast to the Kiruna mine and its 600 km roads underground. There is still a rather complicated road system at MCA. Curtis estimates that it takes about six months to learn how to get around underground (but we still got lost, sorry Curtis :-). He says that visitors are usually surprised that there are light and concrete roads in the mine. I’m not.

The first thing Curtis do when arriving underground is to sign workers’ safetycards. This is a routine, every day, sometimes two times a day. Every worker has a card and has to fill it in every day. Part of the card asks the worker if he or she has done anything to improve safety today. I look at Curtis with some skepticism. He picks up on it and says that it doesn’t have to be big things. It can simply be to make sure that work stations and walkways are free from rubbish. My impression is also that the card-checking seems to be a rather old-fashioned type of management control, but from what I could observe, the control of the cards also meant that a face-to-face conversation between manager and worker took place in which other work-related things also were discussed (I’ll come back to the relation between worker/manager at a fly-in/fly-out site such as MCA in another blogpost).

We take coffee with a group of workers. Curtis introduces me and the project, and all go silent. I guess I’m used to the reaction by now, but eventually the ice is broken and I get to talk to a couple of workers about their experiences working at MCA. Curtis then sets us up in a small truck and we start the tour of the mine. Everywhere we go there is a mix of meeting machines/technology (”every machine is a million dollar down here”) and different workers. Curtis does a good job introducing me and I get to talk to Ray from Prince Albert, Steve from Cumberland, Ralph from Saskatoon, a worker from Nova Scotia, and many more. I get to see the raisebores and the stopeblasting, learn the underground signal system for vehicles (green and red lights, ropes to pull to switch the light), see the officer who walks the mine measuring the air quality (see picture “Air quality”), see the loaders (which is semi-automated so that contact with uranium is minimized; see the pictures “The remote” and “Driving by distance”), meet with a mine rescue team practising (as in most mines, the biggest risks are fire and water) etc.

Talking to Shane, a young, aboriginal worker who has worked his way up the underground hierarchy, now operating the most advanced machines, Curtis points to the road we’re standing on: “There’s uranium”. Shane brings out the hose and clears the uranium from other material, and for sure, there it is, on the road, black and thick, like oil on the ground (see the picture “Uranium”). I ask Curtis about radiation and he shows me his meter, a slight reaction but nowhere near any risks to us.

We make our way back to the hoist. Time to go up.

Cameco Canada Saskatoon Supplier Uranium

Arriving at the McArthur River uranium mine

Hosted by Cameco Corporation, Johan spent four days in November at the McArthur River mine site. Below, a short text about his first impressions.

At noon I arrive at Westwind Aviation hangar 3A in Saskatoon. It’s a good day. The air is high, not too cold. The bag is checked and together with three other workers, I board the plane. After a short stop in Prince Albert (“there is no paradise without PA”) to pick up a group of workers, we land at McArthur River (MCA), two hours after leaving Saskatoon.

Everybody on site are FIFOs (fly-in/fly-out). I count to 14 different pick-up spots, all in Saskatchewan (although Flin Flon is a bordertown to Manitoba), all but two in small communities in northern Saskatchewan.

My host, Ryan from HR, picks me and another person up by car. The others go by bus. The camp, where all stay, is less than five minutes away, towards the mine. From camp to the mine and the administration building is a 15 minutes walk, but buses run when shifts start and end, as well as for lunch. It is advised not to walk alone, particularly as a wolfpack has been seen nearby. Wintertime, particularly in January and February, also provides a reason not to walk. It is not unusual with temperatures well below 40 degrees. Add wind to this and it is better to stay inside or use the vehicles.

I check in at the McArthur River Lodge (well, we all do), managed by Athabasca Catering, a company owned by five first nation (aboriginal) partners. My room has a large bed, a TV and two closets. Toilet and shower are found in the corridor. Some rooms have their own bathrooms or is shared with one other room. All Camecopeople stay at the main building, whereas the contractors stay in buildings just outside the main one. Everybody shares all the other facilities in the main building, however. The restaurant, the gym, the indoor arena, the lounge etc. In a building close to the main one, there is a golf simulator and a room to practice archery (used to be a curling hall).

MCA is a dry facility. You cannot even possess alcohol. Want to make a noise? Between 5 and 9 in the morning and 5 and 11 in the evening are your windows of opportunity. Other times, schhhhh. Yes, there is wi-fi, although a slow one. The cafeteria/restaurant is always open and you can help yourself to whatever you need, whenever you need it. Hot meals are served for lunch and dinner.

Driving from the airport to camp and then to the admin building, my impression is that at MCA, everything is close. The uranium mine site is much more compact compared the Kiruna mine. Less rocks, less people, less movement, less noise. In lack of a better way of describing it, I felt like: “Is this it?”.

Arriving at the admin building, Ryan takes me through the “Safety first” rules and asks me about the project. Time flies and we go back to camp for dinner. I meet some of the other staff, have a meal, check out the lounge (icehockey game on the big TV, some watch, others just socialize), then off to bed. First day out of four starts softly. Next day takes me underground.

Cameco Canada Saskatoon Uranium

The Canadian study

The logbook for the Canadian study has been updated. Click here to there! More from this trip will be published later on!

Cameco Canada Saskatoon Uranium

The Walleye seminar

We wrote briefly about the first trip to Saskatchewan, Canada, in a post from July 5, mainly focusing on the differences in how aboriginal people were treated by mining companies. This post is a bit more “social” perhaps! The trip predominantly served to develop the relations with the people at the International Centre for Northern Governance and Development (ICNGD) at the University of Saskatchewan and the mining company Cameco. The forum for these meetings was the Walleye seminar, arranged by the ICNGD, and with participants both from corporations and academics from Sweden, Norway and Canada. The seminar started and ended on campus, but the four days in the middle were spent in Missinipe, a five hours drive north from Saskatoon. The seminar proved very valuable, both from a professional and a social viewpoint. Below is a video, remembering the Walleye:

Cameco Canada Saskatoon Uranium

Canada, mines and aboriginals

During the first trip to Canada (more info, click here), Johan participated at a four-day workshop on governance and development issues related to the north of Canada, Norway and Sweden.

The discussions were very fruitful and although none of the other participants focused on labour processes in the mining sector, a lot of relevant matters related to it were discussed. One key matter was the relation large companies in the mining and energy sector have with aboriginal people. In Canada, aboriginal people have stronger legal rights and recognitions, but they also face tougher social challenges with poverty, alcoholism etc. It was mentioned that those aboriginal communities that develop their capabilities to act as contractors/suppliers to the mine or power plant and that demand such opportunities as part of their agreement with the companies seem to be better off. This does not seem as common in Sweden, perhaps to some extent because the Samis are not recognized in the same way as aboriginals in Canada. Samis do, however, face less of the social challenges that aboriginals do in Canada. So, in Canada, many contractors are owned by First Nation bands as a direct effect of the agreement regarding the use of their land. This makes them directly involved in the labour process and highly relevant to our project!