Canada Uranium updatePublished by MAC on 2007-09-07
Canada Uranium update
7th September 2007
The Algonquin Nations continue refusing to end a blockade at a proposed uranium site near Sharbot Lake in Ontario, despite a court order and the looking threat of arrests. Non-native residents near the proposed mine site have also declared that they won't pay taxes until their municipal government takes a stand on the mine. The Toronto Star looks at the past, present, and future of uranium mining in Canada.
Meanwhile, contamination problems force Cameco's uranium processing facility to remain shut down longer than expected.
Concerns are being raised about a secretive plan on the agenda of the APEC Summit in Australia. The proposed plan includes repatriating used nuclear fuel to original uranium exporting countries for disposal.
This has huge implications for Canada, it being the world's largest uranium producer.
Closure of Cameco's Port Hopep lant to be longer than expected
6th September 2007
A Cameco Corp. uranium processing facility that was shut in June after the discovery of ground contamination will remain shut for longer than expected, the company said Thursday.
The firm initially said that its uranium hexafluoride conversion plant at Port Hope, Ont., would be shut for at least two months, but Cameco said there is not enough information to estimate when production will restart.
The company said sufficient data to support an estimate is anticipated by early November.
"While Cameco will make every effort to find alternative assignments for employees affected by the [plant] shutdown, it may not be possible to avoid layoffs for part of the workforce at the Port Hope conversion facility," the company said.
Cameco said it currently has enough uranium hexafluoride on hand to meet demand through the end of the first quarter of 2008.
Elsewhere, at its northern Saskatchewan Cigar Lake mine, which flooded last year, the company said it will take six to 10 more weeks to pour cement and inject grout into the rock fall pile and up to the source of the water.
Cameco said the effectiveness of the plug will not be known until dewatering is underway.
The company also announced plans to buy back up to five per cent of its common shares.
After hitting a 52-week high of $59.90 in June, Cameco's shares started losing ground amid concerns over uranium demand and the fate of Cigar Lake. Amid the August turmoil in stock markets, Cameco shares fell below $40.
The stock has rebounded modestly since then and closed Thursday trading on the TSX at $43.68, up $1.17.
Harper's Tories mum on uranium proposal
Bruce Chenelle, Canadian Press
4th September 2007
OTTAWA - When Prime Minister Stephen Harper departs for Australia today for a summit of pan-Pacific leaders, he'll be carrying with him a secret agenda that is quite literally radioactive.
Harper will face questions from both Australian Prime Minister John Howard and U.S. President George W. Bush over Canada's participation in a sweeping American-led initiative still in its infancy.
The initiative, called the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, proposes that nuclear energy-using countries and uranium-exporting countries band together in a new nuclear club to promote and safeguard the industry.
Central to the plan is a proposal that all used nuclear fuel be repatriated to the original uranium exporting country for disposal.
That should be big news in Canada, the world's largest uranium producer. But to date, the Canadian government's response is a closely guarded secret. In fact, there's been virtually no public debate at all.
In Australia, where Harper has an ideological soulmate in Howard, the debate over the plan has raged for more than a year. Australia and Canada are the world's biggest uranium exporters and the policy threatens to become an election issue this fall as opposition parties charge the country is in danger of becoming a "radioactive dump."
Yet Harper's minority Conservative government clearly does not want to engage the Canadian public in discussion about the initiative.
At a briefing last week before the Pacific meeting, one of the Prime Minister's most senior officials, flanked by his director of communications, Sandra Buckler, carefully skirted a question on the uranium policy. "It doesn't feature on the APEC agenda, per se," said the official. "Whether the initiative has disappeared off the global agenda or the U.S. agenda, I really can't say."
The next day, in response to a separate and unrelated media inquiry, a spokesperson from Foreign Affairs confirmed Canada has been invited to a Sept. 16 meeting in Vienna to discuss the initiative.
The carefully neutral comments stand in contrast to earlier draft "talking points" obtained by The Canadian Press under an Access to Information request. Those heavily censored documents show much greater enthusiasm. "Canada is very interested in examining potential areas for partnership in the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership given that we are the world's largest uranium producer," said one undated talking point from 2006.
The same memo continues: "Canadian officials ... have begun discussions with their counterparts in the U.S. to consider possible parameters of Canadian involvement."
Liberal MP David McGuinty, the Opposition environment critic, excoriated the Conservative government for its secrecy. "This is the kind of subterfuge and hidden agenda that the government has on such an important issue," said McGuinty. "We've never had notice of it. There's been no White Paper. There's been no discussion.
"It's time for them to come clean on this."
Stop uranium mining, says coalition
Letters, The Hill Times
3th September 2007
Mining companies are staking claims and actively exploring for uranium in populated areas of the Mississippi Valley watershed east of Bon Echo and Crotch Lake, about 15 km north of Sharbot Lake and about 100 km upriver of Ottawa. This unwelcome activity has our communities on edge. We have formed a citizens' group called the Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU) to fight this threat.
The vast majority of eastern Ontario residents, businesses and associations are against exploration and mining because of the possibility of serious health and environmental damage such as has already occurred in Elliott Lake, northern Saskatchewan and other uranium mining areas in the world. If allowed to develop, uranium mines and processing sites could affect air quality and drinking water sources for up to 3.5 million people, including major centers like Kingston and Ottawa.
Contamination could also affect the Rideau Canal system (a UNESCO World Heritage site), and the Thousand Islands-Frontenac Arch (a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve). The City of Ottawa is doubly exposed since uranium exploration is also going on near Wakefield and La Pêche, Que., just north of the Ottawa River.
The CCAMU is calling for the Ontario government to follow Nova Scotia's lead and initiate an immediate commission of inquiry and a moratorium against uranium exploration/mining in eastern Ontario. Over 4,000 people have already signed a petition and a growing base of politicians and organizations at the federal, provincial and local levels of government have signed letters of support. Frontenac/Lanark is a wonderful area of rivers, lakes and wetlands. It is popular for its tourism and agriculture and a haven for cottagers and retiring baby boomers. It doesn't make any sense that exploration for uranium should take place there.
Premier McGuinty has stated that his government wants to protect environmentally sensitive areas of our beautiful province. We challenge the Premier to act on this promise by protecting the Mississippi Valley against uranium mining.
Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium
Snow Road, Ont.
Cautious confrontations: The latest stalemate in Ontario over aboriginal land claims tells a familiar story
by Joseph Brean, National Post
1st September 2007
Canada's latest standoff over aboriginal land claims became official at 3:04 p.m. yesterday, when a sheriff read out a judge's order for protesters to leave the site of proposed uranium exploration near Sharbot Lake, north of Kingston, or face immediate arrest.
The protesters, who have been there since June to enforce a self-declared moratorium on uranium mining, stayed put as expected, and the Ontario Provincial Police, fearful for public safety, did not immediately remove them. An OPP spokesman said the force is there to react and preserve public safety, and is assessing its discretion in carrying out the order.
"Tensions are higher," Constable Paige Whiting said. "It was very noisy."
This is an all too common stalemate. Mining privileges at the Robertsville Mine Site have been granted to Frontenac Ventures, a company that wants to drill bore holes to measure the uranium content of the underlying rock, and has brought a $77-million lawsuit against the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, claiming the delay from the protest could force it out of business.
With more than 800 active land claims still unsettled across Canada, and the settled ones taking more than a decade on average to get there, frustration with aboriginal land disputes can easily turn to despair. Because, for all the commissions and inquiries that have waded into this legal and moral morass, all sides in this latest case agree it is the same old story.
For example, it is almost exactly the same thing that went on at Big Trout Lake in Northwestern Ontario earlier this year, when the uranium mining company Platinex sued a local First Nations band after it blocked access to their exploration sites, and ultimately won the right to go ahead, so long as it provided a full consultation.
Then, as now, the Mining Act is being called antiquated and unconstitutional for allowing Ontario to assign mining rights to land that is the subject of an unsettled claim. As ever, this dispute turns on the precise and practical meaning of "duty to consult," which the Supreme Court says is an obligation of provincial governments, but which, significantly, is not a duty to reach agreement.
With its disregarded court orders, native boycott of legal proceedings and the ever-present risk of violence, the conflict also recalls the high-pressure sieges of Caledonia, Ipperwash, even Gustafsen Lake, which led to the largest police operation in Canadian history.
The Ardoch Algonquins have pledged non-violence, but their lawyer, Chris Reid, declared this week in open court that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of like-minded protesters -- other natives, environmentalists and non-native local residents -- who are not bound by that promise, and who will come to defend the Ardoch Algonquins if they are "attacked."
"What could happen, if there are no negotiations, and if at some point the police decide that they have to enforce this injunction and start arresting people, you know, all bets are off," Mr. Reid said in an interview. "This could turn from a very peaceful situation into chaos very very quickly ... If that happens, it will be 100% the fault of the government of Ontario, which has done nothing, absolutely nothing to resolve this."
According to a CBC report, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has said, "No doubt this situation also implicates the federal government And if we have a role to play, we will play the part."
"If things escalate at the site and confrontation happens, that will be a direct result of [Mr. McGuinty's] failure to live up to his election promise to follow the recommendations of Ipperwash," said Ardoch co-chief Paula Sherman in an e-mail. A key recommendation of the Ipperwash Inquiry, published in May, was to keep these disputes out of the courts, where battle-lines get drawn early and do not easily shift, and into an independent tribunal focused on building a consensus.
As it is now, aboriginal land disputes tend toward premature confrontation, both legal and physical. If agreement breaks down at the conference-table, the next logical is into the courtroom.
This might be about to change. In June, the federal government announced plans for an independent land claims tribunal to be set up by next year, funded with $250-million a year under legislation to be tabled in Parliament this month.
"The better path is to create solid and efficient alternatives for resolving these disputes so that people have less incentive to put themselves in situations of confrontation," said Michael Coyle, an assistant professor of law at the University of Western Ontario who has mediated several land disputes and been an expert witness at government inquiries. Despite the familiarity of the present case, he sees cause for optimism.
"I think there is a momentum now to create a process that's other than just hit-or-miss discussions, and I think once we have that kind of process, you will see far fewer of these kinds of confrontations, and if there are confrontations, there will be obvious answers that can be given to the people involved," Prof. Coyle said.
In 2004, in ruling on a logging dispute between the Haida Nation of B.C. and the province's minister of forests, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that it is the Crown, not the corporation to whom it has granted logging rights (or, for that matter, mining or development rights), that has an obligation to consult with aboriginal peoples who might be affected.
This duty to consult "is grounded in the principle of the honour of the Crown, which must be understood generously," the court ruled. But while consultation must be "meaningful," there is no obligation to reach agreement.
Neal Smitheman, lawyer for Frontenac Ventures, said the company "has done as much as it can do ... What is a company supposed do? Just sit on its hands and effectively go out of business because there hasn't been adequate consultation?"
But this is a unique and complicated case in at least one way, since the Ardoch Algonquins are not signatories to the Algonquins of Ontario, and the uranium exploration is not even an exclusively native grievance. Although the Ardoch Algonquins refused to even argue against Frontenac Ventures' application for the order to remove the protesters, Mr. Reid says they will file a statement of defense next week, which will include a counter-claim against Frontenac Ventures and a cross-claim against the province, arguing the natives were not adequately consulted.
In the meantime, the lines have been drawn at Sharbot Lake, and no one seems willing to budge.
Echoes of the past
A look back at earlier troubles around Sharbot Lake
Andrew Thomson, Ottawa Citizen
31st August 2007
A group of entrepreneurs backed by Ontario government permits on one side, the Algonquins of Frontenac County and their local supporters on the other, clashing over land ownership, the environment, and economic development.
It's a familiar tale to anyone following the dispute over 5,000 hectares that Frontenac Ventures Corp. wants to drill in search of lucrative uranium deposits.
Police and others with a vested interest are closely watching the standoff on a country road north of Sharbot Lake. It's been 12 years since Dudley George was fatally shot by police during a protest at Ipperwash Provincial Park on Labour Day weekend, and just two months since Tyendinaga Mohawks wreaked havoc on roads and rail lines in Deseronto.
Algonquins with long memories are celebrating another anniversary this week. Twenty-six years ago, they fought the province and a group of businessmen to regain control of a natural resource the natives considered their own - the wild rice patch at Mud Lake.
And anyone doubting their tenacity over uranium mining should pull off the road north of Ardoch, a tiny hamlet about 150 kilometres west of Ottawa.
A white slab of rock holds a three-year-old plaque marking the "rice wars" of August 1981, a 27-day protest against the province's plan to issue commercial licences for the rice growing nearby.
Ardoch Algonquins, who had overseen the crop for generations with canoes instead of machines to protect the lake's fish and waterfowl, joined hands with their non-native neighbours to protect their "manomin," or "gift of the creator."
Harold Perry led the protests in 1981 as the Algonquins' rice steward; a century earlier his ancestors planted the seed imported from Rice Lake near Peterborough.
Now 77, and a former Ardoch Algonquin co-chief, Mr. Perry sees parallels to today's standoff over uranium mining, reminiscing in a soft voice outside the protest gate in a camouflaged baseball hat and checkered shirt.
"At that time it was the will of the people, the same as today," he said.
Mud Lake, on provincial Crown land, is one of the highest points between the Ottawa River and Lake Ontario and a historic native meeting point. Aboriginals from Alderville, Curve Lake and other nearby communities would visit to help with the harvest. It was a cultural event as much as an exercise in seasonal agriculture.
Wild rice harvests declined during the 1950s and 1960s. But a careful reseeding project, supervised by Mr. Perry, had rejuvenated the crop by the late 1970s.
At the same time, the Ontario government faced growing calls from commercial harvesters to open up such lands traditionally reserved for native cultivation.
Mud Lake's 45-hectare crop could produce up to 2,700 kilograms of rice annually.
Outsiders saw a lucrative staple under-harvested by the area's Algonquins and Mississaugas, who cultivated the rice for personal consumption.
In 1979, the Ministry of Natural Resources issued a licence to the Lanark Wild Rice Company, operated by Steve and Ken Richardson of Perth, and Cliff Zarecki, a Manitoba harvester. That September, they took 816 kilograms of wild rice, cleaning out Mud Lake with a noisy, paddle-wheel mechanical boat.
Furious residents felt blindsided. They thought a moratorium on provincial licences was still in place. They claimed there was no public consultation and that commercial harvesting had already ruined crops at Mississippi and Calabogie lakes.
No such licence was issued for 1980. But the following year was a different story. Lanark Wild Rice was offered a licence to harvest one-third of the lake's rice.
Outrage again ensued over the alleged secrecy of the ministry's decision. Ardoch was awash with signs - on porches, garages, lawns, fences and the community's only general store - reading "Save the Wild Rice." The Algonquins and their allies forged a media and letter-writing campaign.
A small group of protesters quickly mobilized, stationing themselves as 24-hour guards around the lake one day after the announcement. A week later, they erected log barricades at access points and launches.
Company officials needed police escorts to scout the lake. Their first harvesting attempt on Aug. 29 was blocked by residents in their cars.
The OPP set up roadblocks around Mud Lake on Aug. 30, halting traffic for five hours - residents included - to make sure Lanark Wild Rice wasn't obstructed. All told, there were at least 20 cruisers, a helicopter and four tow trucks along with police and natural resources officials.
In response, protesters took to their canoes and boats to block access. They had been joined by residents and natives from Golden Lake, Deseronto, St. Regis and other nearby bands.
Lanark Wild Rice thought they had located a launch spot for their mechanical harvester. But a Windsor couple claiming ownership of a one-metre strip of land bordering the lake told Mr. Zarecki and Steve Richardson they were on private cottage property and ordered them off.
The OPP pulled back, and violence was averted. Protesters and area politicians later complained excessive force was dispatched to Ardoch; media reports alleged officers pushed their way through residents at a roadblock and detained two people in a police van before being released.
"I don't like calling it a war," Mr. Perry said this week. "The risk was there of people getting hurt, but we were very fortunate."
Then-natural resources minister Alan Pope consented to a public hearing under the Wild Rice Harvesting Act, where scientists were divided on Mud Lake's future capacity, according to Susan DeLisle, who wrote about the standoff as a Queen's University graduate student in 2001.
In 1982, the province abandoned its management claims over the rice crop, and control reverted back to the Algonquins and their supporters, who had formed an association to oversee the harvest.
Hence the plaque, unveiled 22 years later.
The more recent controversy gained steam once the Ardoch and Shabot Obaadjiwan Algonquin First Nations' occupied the entrance to Frontenac Ventures' gated base camp at the property's main entrance on June 28.
Most Ardoch and Shabot Obaadjiwan are non-status Indians, meaning they never signed a treaty to extinguish their land rights in exchange for reserves and services. The apparent confusion over land ownership comes at a time when several Algonquin communities in Ontario are engaged in land claim negotiations with the province. Frontenac's staked land is just part of a vast territory in dispute, stretching from Algonquin Park to the front lawn of Parliament Hill.
Frontenac Ventures says its claim was approved by the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines. Several attempts to forge a compromise in court have failed, even though the company pledged to limit its drilling to 20 holes instead of 200, and to carefully place them to limit the effects on groundwater and nearby trapping lines.
The Algonquins argue they weren't consulted about the uranium drilling. A non-native resident tipped them to tree-cutting and road-building on the property.
On Monday night, a Kingston judge issued an injunction ordering the blockade to end. Justice Gordon Thomson ruled that the group of Algonquins and their supporters had to immediately leave the site and allow Frontenac Ventures "unfettered and unobstructed access." He authorized the police to arrest anyone contravening the order, but left matters to their "discretion."
The Ardoch Algonquins, led by co-Chief Paula Sherman, have vowed to remain with their tents and trailers until a uranium moratorium is declared and the provincial government assigns land claim negotiators to Frontenac County. They've appealed to Premier Dalton McGuinty and other senior government officials.
Last week, they also pulled out of injunction proceedings, but vowed to fight a $77-million lawsuit by Frontenac Ventures.
Neal Smitheman, the company's lawyer, sympathizes with the Algonquins' frustration, but said "self-help" isn't the proper remedy while land negotiations continue.
"This (process) takes a long time, and in the meantime cottagers have to drill wells and put in septic tanks, and exploration companies have to do exploration," he said.
"And if you don't like that, there are remedies in law available. To simply take the law in your own hands and occupy a property that does not yet -a nd may not ever - belong to you is just not the way it's done in a free and democratic society."
Six premiers and seven prime ministers have held office since the 1981 rice wars. But those memories remain strong for many Algonquins implanted at the protest site between Clarendon Station and Robertsville.
Robert Lovelace, a former Ardoch Algonquin chief, said the lack of government consultation before issuing Frontenac's mining claim reminds him of the rice standoff. As a community legal aid worker he played a pivotal role, though in 1981 they had the opportunity to call for public hearings under wild rice legislation. And the police didn't bother with court injunctions.
"In those days the (Bill) Davis government pretty much treated the OPP as the palace guard," Mr. Lovelace said this week at the camp. "I think the OPP have recognized that as an organization they have to be very vigilant in terms of reputation and viewing themselves as keepers of the peace."
And much like 1981, area residents have rallied to the Algonquin cause; some vow to go to jail if necessary. Many Frontenac County residents want Ontario's 19th-century laws on subground mining rights updated. Most are concerned that uranium drilling will harm water and soil in the Mississippi River watershed.
"NO URANIUM MINE" signs have sprouted up across the county, and hundreds are involved in fundraising efforts to offset legal costs. More than 4,000 have signed a petition opposing uranium exploration. A smaller group has erected tents outside the camp gate in support.
Residents plan to make the dispute a major election issue, said John Kittle, a retired Ottawa technology worker living along the Mississippi River in North Frontenac. The area Conservative, Liberal and NDP candidates in October's provincial election have all agreed the Algonquin land claim needs resolution before a final solution about mining can be found. Green Party leader Frank de Jong visited the blockade on Monday in a show of support.
While the Algonquins claim to remain unarmed, according to Ms. Sherman, the potential for an Ipperwash-like standoff hasn't been dismissed. OPP officer Ken Deane shot Dudley George, who was unarmed, on Sept. 6, 1995, two days after natives occupied Ipperwash Provincial Park on the shores of Lake Huron near Sarnia. The land claim, over territory the natives said was a sacred burial land, sparked years of controversy.
"There's always the possibility of violence," Mr. Perry admitted. "It's something we have to face up to."
The debate now swirls around a lucrative, potentially radioactive metal - the price of which has skyrocketed in recent years - rather than the tall grass sprouting from Mud Lake that helped fight starvation during the Great Depression and remains a powerful symbol of the Algonquin relationship between man and nature.
The principles, however, remain clear to those refusing to budge from their camp, 25 kilometres from the plaque on the white rock.
"We're not going to allow our land to be destroyed," Mr. Lovelace said.
Uranium mine protesters use drums, voices to drown out words of injunction
Order demands blockade be shut down immediately
By Ciara Byrne , Ottawa Citizen
21st August 2007
The banging of drums, cheers and chants of the Algonquin First Nations and their supporters drowned out a sheriff as he read an order Friday demanding they vacate the land at Sharbot Lake immediately.
"We can't let violence fall on our ears and that interim injunction is a very violent document," retired Ardoch First Nations chief Robert Lovelace said.
It was 3 p.m. when legal authorities descended on the area where about 300 Algonquins and their supporters manned a blockade.
"No, no we won't go," they shouted defiantly as the sheriff arrived.
As he read the injunction, he stood face to face with protesters clad in fatigues, bandannas over their faces.
The injunction demands the Algonquin community leave the blockade immediately.
Since June, the Ardoch and Shabot Obaadjiwan Algonquin First Nations have been standing toe-to-toe with Frontenac Ventures over a proposed uranium mine.
The company's plan to drill core samples ended when the First Nations people moved in and blockaded the area on June 28.
Last week, the Ardoch community pulled out of the court case in which Frontenac sought a permanent injunction to remove the blockade.
On Monday night, the community received news that Justice Gordon Thomson had issued an interim injunction ordering the people to leave.
Earlier yesterday, anxiety and anticipation was high as people mingled around the protest area.
Hugh Proudfoot stood eating watermelon. He is one of the many "settler" supporters, the name non-native protesters are adopting.
His property is also adjacent to where Frontenac Ventures wants to drill.
"Right by where their drilling is, immediately through my property, and it would more than likely be contaminated," said Mr. Proudfoot.
He recently visited a real estate agent to find out what effect all this has had on the value of his property. He was advised his land would not be sellable right now because of the threat of mining.
"I'm not paying my taxes," said Earl Recoskie, another area property owner who is demanding the mining company stay out.
He said the potential uranium mine development has reduced the value of his property, too.
Other supporters were there to protest the potential damage to the environment.
"This is about a uranium mine upstream from Ottawa and it stands to compromise the water in the Ottawa River," said Linda Harvey, another supporter of the aboriginal protest, who said a uranium mine would play havoc with the environment.
Yesterday, supporters of the protest brought in boxes of bananas and muffins for the protesters.
"Anyone who's even supporting our position, giving flyers, fundraising, our lawyers, anyone bringing food, water or medicine can be arrested," said Paula Sherman, co-chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation. She spoke with the OPP yesterday.
And as children climbed hay bales and danced along to the drums, Ms. Sherman said the police have even told her the Children's Aid Society could be involved if children are there when police remove protesters. "Any support of our position is committing an illegal act, apparently," said Ms. Sherman.
But for the time, yesterday's events were peaceful. People wore neon shirts that read "No Uranium Mining." They chatted; some knitted.
And after the authorities gave the order, many were smiling.
"They looked intimidated," Mr. Proudfoot said of the authorities who were met by the yelling protesters.
"We executed a position here on our side that we would not hear those words, that we would drown them out so that they did not fall on our ears, and that they did not invade the security of that gate," said Doreen Davis, chief of the Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation, after police left.
While the Algonquins and their supporters bide their time, the police are preparing to come in soon.
A pow-wow is scheduled for the weekend, and many people said they did not expect police to disrupt the protest until after the event.
"It's the same old, same old," said Ms. Davis. "We're not going anywhere."
Arrests loom at uranium site after court injunction served
21st August 2007
A court injunction allowing police to arrest Algonquin protesters blocking the site of a potential uranium mine in eastern Ontario was formally served Friday afternoon, as required by a legal deadline.
The order that protesters have been anticipating arrived before 3:30 p.m. Friday, confirmed CBC Radio's JC Kenny from the scene.
A day earlier, Const. Paige Whiting of the Ontario Provincial Police, would not specify what action police planned to take after the order was served.
"We'll certainly be approaching it cautiously," she said.
Police met with protesters from the Ardoch and Shabot Obaadjiwan Algonquin First Nations Thursday to discuss what could happen in coming days at the protest camp near Sharbot Lake, about 60 kilometres north of Kingston, Ont.
There, protesters have installed a locked and guarded gate that bars entry to outsiders including Frontenac Ventures, a mining exploration company that wants to do test drilling for uranium at the site.
The protesters have occupied the site since late June, saying they fear uranium mining could pollute and damage their ancestral lands. On Thursday, protesters could move freely in and out of the site, but that was expected to change shortly, said Robert Lovelace, former chief of the Ardoch First Nation.
Anyone coming onto site could be charged: Ardoch chief
"Once the injunction is served, they told us free movement in and out will no longer be permitted," Lovelace said. "Anyone coming out of the site would be subject to potential charges."
Police said non-aboriginal people who have been bringing medicine and food to the protesters could also be arrested for aiding in illegal movement.
On Thursday, the judge who granted the injunction met with Frontenac Ventures, but it was still unclear whether the company will be able to bring its equipment onto the site after the injunction is served.
The court order is the result of court action launched by Frontenac Ventures against the protesters, which includes a request for an injunction that would give them full access to the site as well as a lawsuit for $77 million in damages.
Tax revolt brewing; Mine's neighbours withholding property dues
Frank Armstrong, The Whig
31st August 2007
Local News - Non-native neighbours of a proposed uranium mine north of Sharbot Lake are showing that area Algonquins aren't the only people who have resorted to civil disobedience to push for government action.
A number of North Frontenac Township residents have visited their local government office recently to tell staff they won't pay their municipal tax bills until the township council takes a stance on the prospect of the uranium mine.
"All we're asking is for them to say if they stand for or against this mine, but they're sitting on the fence," said Earl Recoskie, who lives most of the year next to the proposed mine site on Highway 509.
Recoskie, who is opposed to the mine, is one of three local residents who visited the township offices in Plevna on Wednesday, the deadline for the latest instalment of municipal property taxes, to tell staff they won't pay their property taxes.
Word is quickly spreading about the tax revolt started by Recoskie and his neighbours, Bob Johnson and Winton Roberts. Some residents who have already paid their property taxes are vowing to refuse to pay their next instalment in October.
Snow Road resident John Kittle is one of those residents.
"It [the tax revolt] will spread very quickly," Kittle said yesterday. "It's starting small, but we know there are literally thousands in the area against mining in the area and are looking for council to support us."
Thousands of people have already signed a petition against the mine, so it's not a big leap to think they would be willing to do more, he said.
The issue has divided the community and its township council between those who support the idea of a mine and those who fear it will destroy the local watershed and devalue properties.
Members of the Ardoch and Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nations have occupied the proposed mine site since June 29, the national aboriginal day of action.
Oakville-based Frontenac Ventures has been prospecting for uranium there, but has been blocked from entering by the Algonquins.
They say the provincial government shouldn't have allowed Frontenac Ventures to prospect there before consulting with them because the land belongs to them.
According to an agreement signed by the British in 1763, any land not sold to or surrendered to the Crown belongs to their native allies.
Frontenac Ventures is suing the Algonquins for $77 million and is seeking a court order that would permanently force the protesters off their land.
Last week, Ontario Superior Court judge Gordon Thomson issued a temporary order for the Algonquins to remove all their gear from the site, but didn't specifically say they must go.
He also didn't authorize the provincial police to remove anyone who disobeyed in hopes the two sides would work out a solution.
When it appeared neither side would negotiate, Thomson issued the interim injunction, which tells the protesters to leave and authorizes police to arrest or remove anyone who contravenes the order.
As of yesterday, the OPP had taken no action.
Recoskie, a retired aircraft mechanic and pilot, bought 60 hectares (150 acres) of property 12 years ago. He was about to expand the small cottage he and his wife, Wanda Recoskie, inhabit and was planning to install a wind turbine and solar panels so they could be self-sufficient.
They're hoping to retire on the property and sell their home in Kemptville, but the Recoskies have put their plans on hold due to concerns that a uranium mine will emerge next to them.
Recoskie has looked into selling his land and visited a real estate agent yesterday to find out how much he could get for the property. "They told me ... they wouldn't be interested in listing it because they're almost certain they couldn't sell it anymore," he said. "I'm paying property taxes on land worth $150,000, but I can't sell it." North Frontenac Township has not taken a stance on the uranium mining issue because council is just as divided on the issue as the community.
Deputy mayor Jim Beam said about half of the people he speaks to are for the mine and half are against. Another large group is against the mine, but is unhappy about the blockade.
Unlike neighbouring councils in Central Frontenac and Addington Highlands, which don't want a uranium mine in the area, North Frontenac has reserved judgment because it believes that responsibility lies with the provincial government.
"Individual councillors have expressed their opinions, but we're still maintaining it's a problem with the Mining Act, which is a provincial act," said Beam, adding that he personally doesn't want to see a uranium mine in the area.
He said tensions are mounting in the community as residents worry about a repeat of Caledonia or Ipperwash.
In Caledonia, police, natives and non-native protesters have clashed over a 17-month aboriginal blockade to protest a housing development that was being built on land local natives claimed as their own.
During the 1995 Ipperwash crisis in Ipperwash Provincial Park, several members of the Stoney Point Ojibway band occupied the park in order to assert their claim to the land.
The occupation led to a violent confrontation between protesters and the OPP, who killed protester Dudley George.
Representatives of Frontenac Ventures and the protesters both spoke at a special township meeting Wednesday and tried to win support from councillors, but Beam said the council will continue to take no official stance.
When he refused to pay his August property taxes Wednesday, Mississippi Station resident Bob Johnson told township staff this would be the first time in almost 40 years that he hadn't paid his taxes on time.
He hopes other local residents will follow his lead in hopes of forcing some level of government to take a stand.
"Nobody wants to own this," said Johnson, a semi-retired businessman and jack-of-all-trades. "Why have we got into this mess? Because we have no ownership."
He doesn't understand why council won't take a position.
"It makes no sense for a township that has been promoting recreation, tourism and retirement for 30 years," he said.
Harold Perry, honourary chief of the Ardoch Algonquins, believes the tax revolt is growing as news of the men's refusal to pay their taxes spreads by word of mouth and the Internet.
"They can't have it both ways," Perry said. "They have to express their position right now."
The Algonquins and their non-native neighbours have been calling upon the premier's office to intervene in the matter, fearing that an attempt to forcibly remove them could lead to violence.
A spokeswoman from the premier's office has said they won't comment specifically on the mine site case because it is before the court.
Anne-Marie Flanagan, press secretary to Aboriginal Affairs Minister David Ramsay, said she can't comment for the same reasons.
However, Flanagan said Ramsay and Minister of Northern Development and Mines Rick Bartolucci, sent a letter to the Algonquins on Wednesday.
In it, the ministers said they couldn't talk about the issue because it's the subject of a legal dispute.
The letter also said the most appropriate forum to discuss the matter would be through ongoing land claims negotiations between a larger Algonquin group that does not represent the Ardoch or Shabot Obaadjiwan Algonquins.
The larger group has been negotiating with the federal government since 1992 over a land claim that encompasses 14,000 square miles of land, including the Parliament buildings and the City of Ottawa.
STANDOFF AT SHARBOT LAKE
Governments urged to end native blockade
Algonquin leaders fear confrontation 'very, very likely' between Ontario natives and uranium mining company
BILL CURRY, Tornto Globe & Mail, 30 August 2007
SHARBOT LAKE, ONT. -- Algonquin leaders are urging the federal and provincial governments to diffuse an escalating standoff in this rural Eastern Ontario community before violence erupts.
Doreen Davis, Chief of the Shabot Obaadjiwan Algonquin community, said the group of aboriginal and area non-native demonstrators will continue to block a uranium mining prospecting company's access to land she says was never surrendered by the Algonquin people.
This follows an injunction this week from Mr. Justice Gordon Thompson of the Ontario Superior Court authorizing police to arrest and remove the demonstrators.
"We feel that this [injunction] places us at war," Ms. Davis said. "To come in here and force us out of here when we're standing on our Algonquin land puts us in a position of being at war."
Ms. Davis said she has been in contact with Mohawks from the Six Nations communities and they are ready to arrive on site should there be a confrontation, which she predicts is "very, very likely" to occur.
"There's no solution to this except for Ontario and Canada to come here on site and sit in that circle with us and smoke the pipe and pass our feather," she said.
About 40 non-native demonstrators were on the scene yesterday, standing outside the access gate to an area that had been used by a mining prospecting company called Frontenac Ventures. Behind the gate were about two dozen natives, some identifying themselves as Algonquins while others wore Mohawk shirts. The site is 10 minutes off of Highway 7, north of Kingston.
The OPP say the injunction gives police discretion on whether to make arrests. It has promised to inform the demonstrators before any action is taken.
A lawyer representing the mining company said the province must either send in the police or compensate the company for lost revenues, as occurred with a private company involved in the heated land dispute in Caledonia.
Neil Smitheman, of Toronto law firm Fasken Martineau, said his client has the legal permits to use the land and is the real victim.
Given that Algonquins have a continuing land claim covering a massive swath of Central and Eastern Ontario that includes the national capital and much of Algonquin Park, he warned that allowing the blockade to continue would set an unwieldy precedent.
As an extreme example, Mr. Smitheman said, the Algonquins could block people from digging a septic tank in their backyards.
"If we don't want any violence and the OPP don't want to go in [because] we want to avoid violence, somebody write us a cheque," he said. "Why are we supposed to be the sacrificial lamb on the altar of collective guilt and political expediency?"
The company is suing the demonstrators for $77-million, arguing the company will lose its financial backers if its prospecting is halted.
The two sides have been battling in court this summer, but Ms. Davis said they are now boycotting those proceedings. The recent public inquiry report on the Ipperwash standoff concluded that these disputes can be resolved only at the political level, she added.
The non-native demonstrators on site say the company has already damaged the environment and they fear any drilling could contaminate the water supply.
Many residents also found out that they do not hold the subsurface rights to their own property, meaning mining companies can obtain provincial approval to mine in their backyards.
"Any thinking person, if you ask 'Do you want to live next to a uranium mine?' Nobody wants the mine. Nobody wants the exploration," area resident Liisa Rissanen said.
Unlike most tribes in Canada, the Algonquins never traded access to their lands for Indian reserves and services. Two comprehensive land claims are slowly being negotiated with the Algonquins in Ontario and Quebec.
OPP hesitates after judge's ruling; Police take no immediate action on uranium mine blockade
Frank Armstrong, The Whig,
29th August 2007
A group of natives and police officers huddled inside a screened tent yesterday to discuss a judge's order to remove protesters barricading a proposed uranium site near Sharbot Lake.
All eyes were fixed on Insp. Garry MacPherson, head of the OPP's Aboriginal Relations Team, as he spoke to the group in slow, measured words.
Dozens of non-native onlookers crowded around the tent's perimeter to listen to the man in the dress shirt and tie and to the native leaders around him.
MacPherson arrived yesterday morning at the scene of the blockade by local Algonquins who have been preventing a uranium prospecting company from entering the site since June 29.
A judge on Monday ordered the Algonquins to leave the site or risk being forced off by police.
MacPherson said OPP lawyers haven't gone over the written order, which was released Monday, and didn't yet have any plans to act. If it's determined the OPP must follow the judge's order, the OPP will warn the protesters ahead of time, he said.
"We're not going to sneak in. We're not going to come in en masse or anything like that," he told the Algonquins around him.
The hour-long meeting involved three OPP officers, including MacPherson, and six Algonquins, leaders of the Ardoch and Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nations. It was held in the form of a traditional First Nations pipe ceremony and telling circle, a native tradition that is meant to provide courage and encourage people to speak the truth. The person who is speaking holds an eagle feather, which is passed from person to person.
A few metres away, more than 30 cars lined both sides of the road, the vehicles of dozens of area residents and Algonquins who had heard the news about the judge's order and came to lend their support.
The Algonquins took over the entrance to the site between Clarendon Station and Mississippi Station on June 29, the national day of aboriginal action.
Oakville-based Frontenac Ventures has been prospecting for uranium there, but has been blocked from entering by the Algonquins who fear a uranium mine could destroy the region's water table.
They say the provincial government shouldn't have allowed Frontenac Ventures to pros-pect there before consulting with them because the land belongs to them.
According to an agreement signed by the British in 1873, any land not sold to or surrendered to the Crown belongs to their native allies.
Frontenac Ventures is suing the Algonquins for $77 million and is seeking a court order that would permanently force the protesters off their land.
Last week, Ontario Superior Court judge Gordon Thomson issued a temporary order for the Algonquins to remove all their gear from the site, but didn't specifically say they must go.
He also didn't authorize the provincial police to remove anyone who disobeyed in hopes the two sides would work out a solution.
After it became apparent neither side would negotiate, Thomson issued the interim injunction, which tells the protesters to leave and authorizes police to arrest or remove anyone who contravenes the order.
Algonquins and non-natives yesterday said they won't let Frontenac Ventures onto the site and said Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty must step up to the plate to end the standoff.
"We will keep this as peaceful as possible, but we will not be pulling down the barricade," said Shabot Obaadjiwan chief Doreen Davis.
A spokesperson from the premier's office said yesterday they could not comment specifically on the Clarendon mine site case as it is before the court.
Some protesters voiced fears of a repeat of Ipperwash or Caledonia, where native land claims disputes have led to violence.
In Caledonia, police, natives and non-native protesters have clashed over a four-month aboriginal blockade to protest a housing development that was being built on land local natives claimed as their own.
During the 1995 Ipperwash crisis in Ipperwash Provincial Park, several members of the Stoney Point Ojibway band occupied the park in order to assert their claim to the land. The occupation led to a violent confrontation between protesters and the OPP, who killed protester Dudley George.
MacPherson said the OPP have learned from those two experiences and don't intend to repeat history.
He told the protesters that the interim injunction could probably arrive in the hands of a sheriff within a day and at some point the sheriff would visit the site.
"That may be today," he said. "If that does occur, our intent would be simply to maintain the peace for everybody and that the order would be read, period."
MacPherson wouldn't speak to reporters after the meeting.
Snow Road resident Carolyn Hudson, a United Church minister, said she's impressed by the diplomatic efforts of the provincial police. "It was very reassuring to hear the OPP talking about the need for communication before anything happens," said Hudson, who has helped lead a letter-writing campaign to politicians.
Harold Perry, honourary chief of the Ardoch Algonquins, said he's pleased that the OPP have kept open lines of communication, but he's wary of what's to come.
"It's great to have those conversations and dialogue going on, but at the same time, we can't be totally trusting of what they say," Perry said. "We have to assume they're going to come in and try to move us out."
He hopes this struggle will go more smoothly than the last time local Algonquins asserted their native rights.
In the 1980s, when the federal government decided to allow a Manitoba businessman to harvest the wild rice plants that the local Algonquins had harvested by hand for centuries, hundreds of people came together to block the access roads.
Tensions mounted and police arrived in the small community of Ardoch by the dozens.
"There was a lot of hostility and pushing and shoving," Perry said. Police brought two helicopters, hired tow trucks and brought in paddy wagons to haul people away, recalled Perry.
Nonetheless, the Algonquins held their ground for 27 days and in 1982 the federal government reversed its decision.
The hearing for the permanent injunction application will begin Sept. 20.
Another native protest gathers steam
28th August 2007
KINGSTON, Ont. - Aboriginal protesters blocking access to a proposed uranium mining site in eastern Ontario are calling for the provincial government to settle the dispute after a judge ordered them to leave the property.
Ardoch Algonquin First Nation co-chiefs Paula Sherman and Randy Cota again called on Premier Dalton McGuinty or Aboriginal Affairs Minister David Ramsay to step in and help resolve issues that led to the protest.
Justice Gordon Thomson of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Kingston issued a new injunction on Monday, after Frontenac Ventures asked the court to remove the protesters from the land.
The company, which is prospecting the property for uranium, is also suing the protesters for $77-million.
Members of the Algonquin and Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nations have been camped out since June at the entrance to the land near Sharbot Lake, about 80 kilometres north of Kingston.
The Algonquins say the land is theirs because in 1873 the British government signed an agreement proclaiming land not sold to or surrendered to the Crown belongs to their First Nations allies.
The protesters say the provincial government shouldn't have given Frontenac Ventures the rights to prospect there and should have consulted with them first.
They say they're afraid a uranium mine could destroy the local water table, and they won't budge until the provincial government talks to them.
First Nations protest over uranium mining continues
Andrew Thomson, CanWest News Service
28th August 2007
CLARENDON STATION, Ont. -- A group of First Nations reaffirmed their vow to remain outside a controversial uranium site north of Sharbot Lake Tuesday, with police keeping their distance one day after a judge ordered an end to the two-month protest.
Justice Gordon Thomson of the Ontario Superior Court has instructed members of the Ardoch and the Sharbot Obaadjiwan Algonquin First Nations to leave immediately and allow Frontenac Ventures Corp., "unfettered and unobstructed access" to the land near Clarendon Station, 125 kilometres west of Ottawa.
The injunction allows the Ontario Provincial Police to remove protesters and break the blockade. But both sides played a waiting game for much of Tuesday.
Two officers visited the site for nearly two hours to clarify the injunction at a pipe ceremony and talking circle underneath an open tent. Holding an eagle feather, they told the crowd the force had no exact timeline for enforcing the order and needed more time to study the injunction's language.
Once they left in the early afternoon, the nearest police presence was a cruiser about 300 metres north of the blockade.
The relationship between protesters and police has been peaceful and trustworthy, said Robert Lovelace, a former Ardoch Nation co-chief, adding the OPP told him they would advise the group if or when their instructions change.
"People are here to defend their land, not cause a disturbance," Lovelace said at the blockade. "We have no other place in the world to look to our origins, our customs, our way of life."
Residents also worry about the environmental impact of proposed mines on soil and the Mississippi River watershed.
Plans by Frontenac Ventures to drill the land for core samples ended when a blockade was erected on June 28. The company has staked more than 5,000 hectares nearby as part of its "Frontenac Project," and is suing local First Nations for $77-million.
The Ardoch Algonquin repeated their calls for Premier Dalton McGuinty to assign land claim negotiators to the region.
Their supporters outside the gate swelled to a few dozen Tuesday -- mostly supportive local residents wearing fluorescent green T-shirts opposing the uranium venture.
Any protester inciting violence would be asked to leave the blockade, said Mitchell Shewell, another Ardoch Algonquin.
Algonquin on 'red alert' after order to end blockade
Ciara Byrne, The Ottawa Citizen
28th August 2007
An order demanding the Algonquin community quit its blockade at Sharbot Lake immediately has put members on "red alert."
"We're filling this place up," said Paula Sherman, co-chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, who said she's surprised the events have turned sour so quickly. The community now awaits a possible confrontation in what they said they hoped would be a peaceful protest.
Since June, the Ardoch community and Shabot Obaadjiwan Algonquin First Nation have been battling Frontenac Ventures over a proposed uranium mine. The company's plans to drill core samples ended when the First Nations people moved in and blocked the area on June 28.
Last Thursday, Christopher Reid, a lawyer for the Ardoch, said his clients had pulled out of the case, in which Frontenac sought a permanent injunction to remove the blockade.
A judge said the Algonquins should remove all signs and vehicles, but he did not mention removal of the protesters.
Then last night, Mr. Reid received notification from Justice Gordon Thomson of the Ontario Superior court of an interim injunction. The injunction stated that any representative or supporters would have to leave immediately. It also stated that Frontenac would have "unfettered and unobstructed access" to the property.
The OPP had expressed reluctance to get involved. But the injunction gives them authority to arrest and remove any person who contravenes the order.
"This is the result of what happened in the court after we left," said Mr. Reid. "As far as the Ardoch are concerned, there's no change."
Ms. Sherman added: "The bottom line is we won't be leaving here. We will continue to secure this entire area. People have already begun to flood in here when the news went out."
Ms. Sherman said the court was warned the increasingly tense situation could turn ugly.
"We said if this was to transpire and to escalate, hundreds of people would pour into this site and that's exactly what's happening."
Reviving Uranium City's nuclear past
How Ontario's energy future may depend on bringing scattered ghost towns back to life
Murray Whyte, Toronto Star
26th August 2007
Uranium City, Sask. Spindly alders strain and crack underfoot as Don Hovdebo trudges through the thick bush. Then he finds it, on a soaring ridge above the Cracklingstone River valley: a rusted steel slab, roughly the width and length of a car, covering a rough pit in the ground.
Hovdebo, burly and soft-spoken, with a thick brown moustache flecked with grey, seizes a fist-sized rock and rolls it through an ominous gap between the steel and solid ground. "Wait for it," says the 48-year-old, smiling. One one thousand, two one thousand ... At six there's a distant splash, echoing up from below.
Hovdebo taps the slab with the toe of his boot, and there's a hollow echo. "Kind of an emergency patch job," he says, grinning. "That's a long way to fall."
Here at the site of the long abandoned Cinch Lake uranium mine, across the river from Uranium City in Saskatchewan's far north, the task is industrial archaeology with, at long last, a mind to more than a quick fix.
Hovdebo, a consultant with SRK, an engineering consulting firm, has two scientists from the Saskatchewan Research Council in tow. Together, they're assessing 37 such sites here officially slated for cleanup and reclamation, left for dead in the wake of nuclear disarmament and a subsequent uranium industry collapse through the 1970s. All told, with federal and provincial money, the cleanup will cost $24.5 million.
But reports of the industry's death have been, as the saying goes, greatly exaggerated. In January 2002, the price of uranium, nuclear energy's radioactive fuel, was set at $9.60 (U.S.) per pound. A year ago, it surged to $48.60. This month, it's $120, and some projections have it hitting $200 next year.
And in a deliciously ironic twist, the forces driving the new-era uranium boom mean to save the planet, not destroy it: the quest for clean and more energy is slowly shaping an international governmental consensus that nuclear power, finally, is the solution.
According to the World Nuclear Association, 250 new nuclear reactors are either in the planning or proposal process worldwide (435 are currently in operation). In 2005, U.S. President George W. Bush signed an energy bill that provides loan incentives, tax credits and federal risk insurance for companies willing to build new nuclear plants none of which have been built since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.
In Ontario, where more than half of our electricity already comes from nuclear power, coal-fired plants are scheduled to be phased out by 2014. Environmental groups are livid at the nuclear surge, but despite their urgings, the provincial liberals have committed about $5.2 billion to refurbishing nuclear reactors, which will add about 2,000 megawatts of nuclear power capacity.
The growing fascination with nuclear power China alone will build 50 reactors over the next few years, increasing its nuclear load fivefold is dramatically bumping up demand for uranium, which is already in short supply. Only 55 per cent of the global uranium supply comes from mines; the rest is culled from dismantled warheads, government stockpiles and reprocessing.
And so the hunt is back on, in forgotten corners of the country and around the world, where long-silenced drills are boring into bedrock in search of new or abandoned veins in Elliot Lake, Ont., which gave up hope as a mining centre decades ago and reinvented itself as a retirement community; in the parched high plains of Mongolia, where Canadian-based Khan Resources is reinvigorating an old Soviet-era claim; in the thick boreal forests of Frontenac County, north of Kingston; in the rich, river-veined Gatineau region of Quebec; in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Labrador, Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and, of course, here in Uranium City, where it all began.
"The best place to go looking for new ore is in an old mine," says Zbiegniew Wytrwal, 61. He moved to Uranium City when he was nine years old, and became a geologist at Eldorado, the biggest mine there, through the boom. He left in 1980, just before uranium began its freefall into economic oblivion. Twenty-seven years later, much to his own shock, he's come full circle. "It was a dead industry," he says. "I never thought it would come back."
Uranium City, in the far northeast corner of Saskatchewan and connected by road in winter across frozen lakes, began as a tented outpost in 1950. Just a few years later, bathed in uranium's glow, it was a thriving hub of 5,000, complete with hotels, department stores, a dance hall, a curling rink and a movie theatre. In 1959, even Prince Philip dropped by. Just a few kilometres away from the Uranium City hub, the mine towns of Eldorado and Gunnar counted another 2,000 and 1,200 people, respectively. By the early '80s, though, anti-nuclear sentiment was gaining momentum. Even with détente looming, a near-disaster at Three Mile Island in 1979 coupled with a public weary of their cold war anxieties was cooling the prospects of a nuclear-powered future.
"There was a time when people from Uranium City were real pariahs," says Jim Kermeen, a geologist at Eldorado in the '60s. "You'd tell them you were from here, and they'd take a step back."
Even though the meltdown disaster at Chernobyl was still 3 1/2 years away, economically the uranium business was all but dead. Eldorado, operated by the Canadian government, was the biggest mine in the area, and the last to operate. It announced its closure in late 1982, and proceeded to quickly erase itself buildings razed, shafts capped and filled taking most of Uranium City with it. At 77, Kermeen is back in the North for the first time in almost 40 years. On a recent morning near the Eldorado site, he pointed to an expanse of blue sky where the Eldorado mine headframe once stood.
"Costs were rising, prices were low," he says. "Usually, when that happens, you close the mine on care and maintenance and wait for things to cycle back. Here, they demolished the whole thing and buried it. My opinion, and that's all it is: it was political. The stigma against anything nuclear was so strong."
Now, fewer than 100 people call Uranium City home. "Eighty-nine, last I counted," says Carolyn Lenko, the official Uranium City clerk, postmaster and lone administrative civic employee.
Uranium City is a weathered outpost now, the remains of a town slowly being swallowed by the wilderness. What's left lingers amid thick pines and brush and endless crystal blue lakes that dot the heavy bedrock like droplets on a freshly waxed car hood.
On the outskirts of town, suburban bungalows flayed by the elements and decades of neglect squat in the overgrowth, roofs caved in, windows blown out. Fractured sidewalks lead to weed-choked cul-de-sacs where no one has lived for years.
But the 89 people who remain are seeing more activity here than they have in years. A surfeit of junior exploration companies, with names like CanAlaska Uranium, Red Rock Energy and Uranium City Resources, are drilling on their claim sites, hunting down the increasingly precious metal.
The grade of uranium here is low compared with that of newer mines to the south and east of Lake Athabasca, where the uranium concentration, or grade, in the rock extracted can be as high as 20 per cent. Here, it's closer to 0.2 per cent a fraction that, until recently, made mining it cost-prohibitive.
But times have changed, says Serge Nadeau, the chief geologist with Uranium City Resources here. "We were estimating that something like 0.02 per cent was economically viable. With the prices the way they are now, even if we get one pound per ton, we're happy."
He has been even happier to find that some of his core samples are suggesting a grade as high as 1.3 per cent. Nadeau was sniffing out gold here when uranium prices shot up last year. He switched gears, and has seen a host of new explorers rush in.
Uranium City Resources has almost completed a $1-million renovation of a government building, abandoned in 1982, that will now include living quarters, offices, a restaurant and a geology field office. "We're hiring pretty much everyone in town," Nadeau says.
With the spike in uranium prices since last summer, "the past year has been pretty crazy," says Dean Classen, 44. Classen runs the town's only gas station, Uranium City Bulk Fuel, a truck rental business, a construction company and the town's lone bed and breakfast.
Exploration has been so busy, he says, that seats on TransWest Air from the south, which flies in eight-seater planes three times a week, are hard to come by. So in July, a second airline, Pronto, started running the route as well. Classen's fuel station serves as the flight check-in desk, too.
It's a far cry from the 737s that used fly in and out daily back in the heyday. But it's something, he says.
Classen grew up here. His father was the high school teacher. When the town collapsed with the closure of Eldorado, in 1982 "December 13, just before Christmas" he stayed on despite it all.
"By the end of that summer, I'd say about 3,000 people were gone," Classen recalls. "It was a real exodus. That's why I like seeing new people in town. It means we have a chance at better services, better schooling. It means we have hope."
Out at Cinch Lake, Hovdebo and the scientists are searching for the mine's stockpile where rock containing the precious, gamma-emitting metal would be piled for hauling to the mill. Bill Olsen, one of the scientists, clutches a radiometer, which gauges gamma radiation emissions from the rock underfoot.
Hovdebo first came north in 1994, as a mine inspector for the Saskatchewan government. He has been pushing the federal and provincial governments for a comprehensive cleanup ever since.
Radiation is the least of his concerns. "If I compare the radiation I'm measuring in Uranium City, it's lower than in downtown Saskatoon," he shrugs. "You can't see it, you can't feel it, and most people just don't understand it."
The bigger problem: tailings, the waste product from refining the ore from the mills. Once the rock was extracted, it was hauled to the handful of mills that were active in the region Gunnar, Eldorado and Lorado.
Once there, it was ground to a fine sand, called slurry, from which a series of chemical processes dissolved and concentrated the pure uranium ore from the silty muck that contained it.
The by-product called tailings was let loose in nearby lakes. "Arsenic trioxide, sulphuric acid leaching into the water table that's the issue," he says. "Human beings are very good at creating molecules nature has never seen before. We've got to make sure these things don't stick around."
But as the uranium boom and its nuclear application gather momentum worldwide, so too do its detractors.
Frontenac Ventures, an Ontario company, has been exploring for uranium deposits at Sharbot Lake north of Kingston, but last month the local Algonquin First Nation occupied its exploration camp in protest and refused to leave. The company is suing the first nation for $100 million.
In New Brunswick, * [see ediorial note] where a government ban on uranium mining was enacted in 1982, CVRD-Inco is exploring for uranium near Moncton to a chorus of public outcry. There have been demonstrations in Quebec, protests in British Columbia. And controversy abounds near Baker Lake in Nunavut, where skyrocketing uranium prices prompted an Inuit land claims organization to reverse a uranium-mining ban on its lands last year.
For environmental groups, all the talk of nuclear energy as a green power panacea rings hollow. "It's basically wishful thinking that nuclear power will do anything to reduce greenhouse gases," says Emilie Moorhouse, of the Sierra Club.
Carbon emissions from mining, transporting and milling uranium offset any benefits, she says. Then there's the issue of nuclear waste spent uranium from the reactors, for which there's no long-term storage solution.
Fears of nuclear power were bluntly reinforced last month after an earthquake in Japan caused a radioactive leak at a nuclear plant there. Immediately after, the price of uranium, peaking at $136 per pound, suffered its first fall in four years, to $120.
"The industry promises `This time around, things will be different,'" Moorhouse says. "But it's not clean, it's not reliable and it's not safe."
To make the point, the Sierra Club is touring a photo exhibit called "Chernobyl: 20 years 20 lives." The images of the continuing devastation left behind by the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown disaster are grotesque and disturbing.
In the Uranium City municipal office, Carolyn Lenko sits alone at a computer, minding the town's scant affairs. Things are busier these days, she allows. But, she continues, "There's been so many ups and downs over the years, you don't want to get your hopes up."
As far as she's concerned, Uranium City's most precious resource is tranquility. But in the past year, it has become less quiet. "When you bring in the mining industry, you get a whole bunch of single guys, and you know what comes with that," she says. "You get the drinking, the fighting. And I have kids I'm raising here.
* Editorial note: It is Nova Scotia, not New Brunswick which has a uranium ban in place.