MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Minister bullish on uranium mines

Published by MAC on 2007-07-24

Minister bullish on uranium mines

Natural resources chief keen to take advantage of promising mineral finds

Daniel Martins, Telegraph-Journal

24th July 2007

With uranium prices through the roof, New Brunswick must seriously consider taking advantage of any deposits prospectors may find, says Natural Resources Minister Donald Arseneault.

"We can't just let this boat pass by," he said.

"We want to be open for business, we want to attract investment. These are tremendous economic opportunities for the people of New Brunswick that we're trying to create here."

Arseneault said that if uranium prospectors find what they're looking for, he has no doubt about the outcome.

"The objective is to develop a mine," he said.

"In terms of uranium, if there was enough uranium to develop a potential mine site, the province would be definitely willing to proceed in that area."

Uranium prices have skyrocketed from US$10 a pound to $136 a pound by mid-June '07, spurring a sharp rise in the number of claims staked across the province. Usually the province sees only around 3,000 new claims a year, but more than 12,000 have been staked in 2007 so far, an estimated two-thirds of which are for uranium.

Arseneault says any potential uranium mine would mean jobs and economic opportunity for New Brunswickers, as well as contribute to the Liberal government's self-sufficiency agenda.

In June, New Brunswick signed a $4-million deal with CVRD Inco Ltd., giving the Canadian uranium giant exclusive five-year prospecting rights on a 136,000-hectare area between Sussex and Moncton. Inco is one of several companies seeking the mineral in New Brunswick.

But controversy erupted in June when Moncton residents objected to prospecting in their area, fearing that a potential mine could seriously contaminate the watershed.

At the time, Environment Minister Roland Haché refused to ban mining in the area, saying that it was far too soon to tell if there was enough uranium to make a mine feasible.

Uranium mining is under federal jurisdiction, but the Department of Natural Resources still requires uranium mining companies to undergo a provincial environmental assessment process.

That process could take between 90 days and two years, depending on what the assessment entails.

But that is not enough for David Coon, executive director of the New Brunswick Conservation Council.

He called the province's environmental impact assessment process "outdated" and "inadequate" and, given the enthusiasm of the government for economic development, questioned whether serious reform was possible.

"Any improvements in the environmental assessment process would make it less subject to political interference," he said.

Mount Allison University political science professor Geoff Martin, who specializes in public policy, also said that successive provincial governments have traditionally been lenient with mining companies.

But he also warned property owners sitting on large quantities of uranium to watch out.

By law, all minerals beneath private property belong to the Crown and although mining companies are required to reach an equitable settlement with property owners, they can still proceed with prospecting and mining activities in cases where minerals are not directly underneath houses or back yards.

Arseneault says the province will come to a fair settlement with property owners whose land would be included in a future mine, but Martin says those who don't wish to sell may be obliged to.

"When push comes to shove, I think the provincial government will decide in favour of economic development, even if it means sacrifice on the part of property owners or neighbours."

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