MAC: Mines and Communities

Church group wins fight against uranium mine

Published by MAC on 2002-09-25

Church group wins fight against uranium mine

By Luma Muhtadie and Allan Robinson

Toronto Globe & Mail

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

A small interfaith group including Mennonites and aboriginals has won its battle to quash the operating licence of a Saskatchewan uranium mine, leaving the future of the facility and its 178 employees in doubt.

A federal court judge yesterday ruled in favour of the Inter-Church Uranium Committee Educational Cooperative and compelled Cogema Resources Inc. to conduct a new environmental-impact study of its McClean Lake uranium processing plant 700 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.

The mine has been in operation for more than three years.

"It's quite fair to say that we're puzzled by the decision," said Robert Pollock, vice-president of environment, health and safety for Cogema, which operates the mine.

Mr. Pollock said the facility underwent nearly 10 years of environmental assessments and licensing reviews beginning in 1991 and exhibited excellent performances since it started to process uranium ore in 1999.

The court decision was a result of a judicial review of the project requested by the Saskatoon-based group.

The group called for a new assessment, citing a recent study that showed contaminants from uranium mining move faster in groundwater than was believed at the time the original assessments were done. The group says that legislation introduced after the assessments of the mine began should apply to the facility.

"Our argument was that the Atomic Energy Control Board, now known as the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, should have triggered the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which requires an environmental assessment prior to such a license being issued," said the inter-church group's lawyer, Stefania Fortugno.

The act took effect in 1995.

The court ruled that the Atomic Energy Control Board did not have authority to issue the operating licence. The judge accepted the inter-church group's argument that the nuclear safety commission should have ordered a new environmental assessment under the new act.

When uranium ore is dug, other contaminants, such as arsenic, are brought up. Toxic chemicals are also added to the radioactive ore as part of the extraction process, leaving 80 to 90 per cent of the radioactivity behind in the tailing pit.

Cogema is appealing the decision and requesting the decision to close down the mine be stayed throughout the appeal process.

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