MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada Uranium update

Published by MAC on 2007-10-25

Canada Uranium update

25th October 2007

Labrador's Inuit government is considering suspending all uranium mining and development on its territory, concerned about the dangersy of radioactive uranium mine waste. Meanwhile, a grandmother in Ontario is protesting Frotenac's proposed uranium mine in Sharbot Lake by staging a hunger strike. Lia Tarachansky writes about the growing opposition to uranium mining in Canada, particularly on Aboriginal land, and Janice Harvey conveys the concerns of people in the province of New Brunswick. The B.C. Uranium Free Coalition writes in support of the Algonquins continuing their blockade against the proposed Frontenac mine, as it draws to an end because of mounting legal fines.

Labrador Inuit considering suspension of all uranium mining and development


18th October 2007

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Labrador's Inuit government is considering suspending all uranium mining and development on its territory because of concerns over the safe disposal of the radioactive element's waste.

Nunatsiavut, an Inuit settlement in Labrador the size of New Brunswick, boasts vast deposits of the highly lucrative metal and has attracted the eye of mining companies eager to explore and develop.

But the push to drill for uranium in the region could be thwarted after the Nunatsiavut government introduced a motion last week that would implement a moratorium on uranium mining.

"The tailings disposal is a very big concern. How do you dispose of it and store it for hundreds and hundreds of years afterwards safely?" said William Barbour, Nunatsiavut's minister of land and resources, in an interview Thursday.

"None of us, including beneficiaries, have been up to now totally convinced by anyone who is an expert in the area."

Aurora Energy Resources Inc. (TSX:AXU) has proposed to mine for uranium at Michelin and Jacques Lake, two ore bodies in a heavily rocky and coniferous area about 40 kilometres southwest of Postville.

The proposal would involve the construction of an open pit and underground mine at each location. Combined, the two projects are expected to yield 97 million pounds of uranium.

John Roberts, vice-president of environment for Aurora, said the company is well aware of the Nunatsiavut government's concerns over the disposal of tailings, the fine granular waste that arises from ore development, and is willing to hear them out.

"We see it as part of the ongoing process that needs to be had when you're discussing any major development such as uranium mining," Roberts said from Toronto.

Roberts said he is confident the company can allay the Nunatsiavut government's concerns, noting the approval of other, larger uranium projects in Saskatchewan.

"Canada has some of the most stringent regulations for mining uranium of any country in the world," he said.

"We'll be bringing in the very best of engineers and designers to design good, solid long-term operational and closure designs for those facilities."

Last month, an Inuit land claims organization in Nunavut reversed its long-standing position against uranium development. The move by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. was hailed by mining investors, but ignited fears from some community members of the potential repercussions of radioactive waste on water quality and surrounding environs.

The desire to mine uranium has grown within the last decade due to its meteoric rise in value.

Seven years ago, a pound of uranium was worth about US$7. It hovered at the US$78 mark last week.

Barbour said while he is hesitant to approve uranium development, he recognizes what it could mean for members of his community.

"We could also use this good-paying employment," he said.

The Nunatsiavut assembly has until Dec. 15 to pass the motion, though Barbour said he would request an extension if more consultation is needed.

Aurora plans to register the projects for an environmental assessment with the provincial and federal governments before the end of the year.

If approved, the developments would be the first uranium projects in the province.

Message from Mike Nickerson

17th October 2007:


You may have heard that my wife, Donna Dillman, started a hunger strike outside the gate of the uranium mine proposed for up river from Ottawa. Donna stopped eating Thanksgiving morning, October 8, and aims to continue until there is a moratorium placed on uranium exploration and mining, at least for Eastern Ontario.

Needless to say I am concerned about the woman I love shrinking away in a camp on highway 509 without running water or electricity. This story, however, has much more to do with the grandchildren. Donna & I have four, two of which live 30 km. down wind from the proposed site. If drilling and mining were to go ahead, these young people would be subjected to the various radioactive dusts and gasses that inevitable drift up when steel and dynamite, crushers and sorters break up uranium bearing rock.

Bring Gramma Home!

Aged between one and a half and eight years, the grandchildren are oblivious of the problem their grandmother is boldly calling public attention to. They only want her to come home.

You can help. Make a sign that says "Bring Gramma Home" and put it in your window, on your lawn, or wear it on your lapel. When anyone asks what's up. The conversation is started & you can tell them.

More Than a Family Concern.

While the personal story of grandchildren asking for their grandmother has popular appeal, the stakes of this issue are far more profound.

The danger of radioactive contamination and other environmental degradation is shared by more than a million people who live downwind and downstream from the site (Sharbot Lake to Ottawa). Hundreds of millions more face similar dangers from other such sites around the world.

Sooner or later we are going to have to pay respect to what the Earth and Sun offer on an ongoing basis. Nuclear energy is only tempting us to think that we can ignore this responsibility. Were we to shift our electricity demand to nuclear power, uranium reserves would be depleted in 30 to 40 years. Then, the grandchildren would find themselves saddled with the same problems we are trying to avoid today, except that the problems would be far worse. The resources available for working on solutions would be diminished and there would be quantities of radioactive waste, here, there and about, to haunt them for tens of thousands of years to come.

Both the Earth and the Sun are hugely abundant. Together they have enabled life to thrive for thousands of millions of years. Humans are fully capable of being successful here. By saying yes to living within the natural process of life on Earth, we can avoid freeing the genie of uranium from the rock in which it is trapped. Civilization is now at the height of its possibilities, if this generation cannot meet the challenge of sustainability, how do we expect the grandchildren to do so when it comes to be their turn?

As countless generations have cared to deliver a better world for those who followed, we are responsible to the grandchildren of today.

Help bring Gramma home.

Thank you.

Yours, Mike N.

Other ways you might help.
* Contact your local media and tell them to cover this courageous stand to protect the entire next generations of grandchildren.
* Forward this email to your associates and ask them to help bring Gramma home.

To stay informed about Donna's hunger strike, she posts a regular blog at, the web site of the Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium CCAMU. For regular updates subscribe to "The Uranium News." by writing to: of by joining on line.

• See "Ongoing Projects" at for other possibilities

Much Ado about A Lot: Uranium Mining in Canada

by Lia Tarachansky , MOnthyl Review

13th October

Monthly Review,

Opposition to uranium mining has once again become a major topic of coverage by the media. From Australia to Canada, people are taking a stand against corporations that mine uranium and in particular against their mining on Native land. Today, the Ardoch and Shabot blockade brings attention to the potential uranium mine opening between Kingston and Ottawa. To make it clearer why so many are objecting to the mining of uranium, I have decided to investigate why so many are mining it in the first place.

Processed uranium is used for nuclear energy and weapons. Previously it was recycled, largely from old Soviet nuclear weapons. This source has now run out and in recent years the price of uranium skyrocketed from $7 to $145 per pound, according to the Colorado Springs Business Journal. In North America, U.S. uranium mining is concentrated in Colorado while Canadian mining in northern Saskatchewan and Ontario. Its processing, called "enrichment," leaves behind a depleted form of uranium (DU), used both for military and non-military (civilian) purposes. These include anti-tank artillery and coating of medical equipment such as x-ray and gamma radiation technology. The American military used DU in Iraq, the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, and in Afghanistan releasing close to 900 tones into the environment.

The radioactive toxicity of weapons-grade and energy-grade uranium has now seeped into common knowledge. Beyond radioactivity, though, uranium has enormous impacts on human health and has faced brutal criticism from the scientific community. Similar criticism was given to the disposal and the processing of uranium. Nonetheless, little media and government attention has been given to the effects of uranium mining in particular.

While decaying, uranium emits alpha, beta, and gamma radiation. When this radiation enters the body it lead to an increased risk of cancers, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). By releasing this radiation, uranium decomposes, but so slowly that it takes over 760 million years to half in size. With a footprint like that, the effects of its mining, processing, use, and disposal have an unfathomable and effectively permanent impact on all life.

Unlike popular belief, uranium is mostly dangerous in its gross form, not because of its radioactivity. Once it or its depleted form enter the body through airways or the digestive tract, a number of harmful medical effects begin. In fact, visualizing this is easiest at sites of uranium mining, as miners are directly exposed to the resulting silica dust, and residents in areas neighboring the mines are exposed to contamination from the pollution of their water or air. "Aboriginal communities suffer very distinctly from the mining because they are remote from urban centres and experience the effects firsthand," informed me Marlene Laroque of the National Aboriginal Health Organization. "These communities don't have as many resources as urban centres do to clean up the pollution."

Because of the location of the mines, there have been a disproportionate number of aboriginal workers as compared to those in other industries. Aboriginal communities are not only the ones suffering the brunt of the damage, but are also demonstrative of the significance of the effects. Navajo Aboriginals in the U.S. for example historically had a significantly low incidence of lung cancers. In their population the skyrocketing of lung cancers in uranium miners of the 1950s really brought home the point. Further, a 1949 discovery in the United States linked the elevated lung cancer rates with inhaled radon gas particles. This, though, did not push the government to create regulations or impose bans on the mining industry even though studies have been demonstrating these results since the 1920s and 1930s. Over 20% of the miners in that period were Navajos as are Métis in Canada today.

Along with the environmental pollution that ensues, social and political effects follow. This is especially true of aboriginal communities as their lives are more directly linked with nature. According to Marlene Laroque, this means that their lives are directly impacted by resource extraction. [The corporations] "clear-cut for roads, and go into lakes and rivers. This leads to degradation of the traditional living and hunting territories because the food supply is contaminated and access is limited."

The food cycle leads to people internalizing the extracted compounds through consuming contaminated fish or game. Once inside the body, uranium changes physiology beginning with kidney damage (termed "nephrotoxicity"). Medically it works something like this: a toxic substance enters the body, the body tries to get rid of the substance, and the body's drainage system becomes disrupted and clogged up. In the case of uranium mining, this substance is often radon, a byproduct of the mining itself. Radon has a long ugly history in medical research for causing multiple myelomas: otherwise called Kahler's Disease. Here, immune cells of the bone marrow, normally producing antibodies, become cancerous. 1 The effect of this, according to the Canadian Cancer Society, is infection of organs, weakness, confusion, bone pain, anemia, and potential loss of bowel or bladder control. Other symptoms are carpal tunnel, diseasing of the body's nerves, and leukemia. 2

When dust produced from mining uranium is inhaled the first impacted organ is the lung. Cancerous effects are particularly significant here because cells reproduce often and continuously. Interrupting this delicate balance means cells begin forming tumors, which explains the high level of lung cancers among uranium miners. 3 Other organs demonstrating elevated cancers in uranium miners are gallbladder and bile duct. 4 Studies on animals have been confirming the human trends. Multiple international laboratories have shown that uranium builds up in the brain. 5 This buildup leads to the brain's chemical messengers, thanks to which the brain gets thrown completely out of balance.

Other studies, such as that performed by Spanish scientists of the Rovira i Virgili University confirmed others' results. Their experiment on rats has shown not only the previously studied kidney damage but also that uranium disrupts the chemical balance of the body. 6 An interesting outcome of their research is not only confirmation of almost 90 years of scientific inquiry but their discovery of melatonin as treatment for uranium toxicity. Though remarkable, it is a band-aid solution that reduces kidney damage in rats exposed to contaminated water but fails to restore the chemical balance disrupted in the first place. This damage is irreparable.

Also worrisome is contamination passed through water. A contaminated water-well in rural Northwestern Connecticut from which young children had accidentally drunk. Levels of uranium in the water were measured to be almost 40 times higher than the EPA classifies as toxic. Some children took over 3 months to recover. 7

Colorado's Navahos have spearheaded resistance against such pollutions. The only tangible reprieve for their suffering came in 1952 when the Atomic Energy Commission recommended mining ventilation, but it has done nothing to pressure corporations to obey. Ventilation of uranium mines only begun in 1967 at Union Carbide and did not become universal as even the government agencies claimed it was too costly. Legal battles took decades to resolve. Some of these include lawsuits against the Nuclear Regulatory Commissions for its neglect of the miners' health despite its knowledge of the danger of their occupational exposure. For consolation, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act was created, which allocated $100,000 to each of the miners' families. This caused a temporary drawdown in Colorado's uranium mining industry and shifted some of the production to Canada. According to Natural Resources Canada, we now produce 29% of the world's uranium.

The growth of the Canadian industry is a response to commercial profit-making opportunities. A decrease in supply plus an increase in demand equals higher prices. In the face of the horrendous, effectively permanent destructiveness to current and future generations, the continual extraction of uranium is dumbfounding. It is a demonstration of the corporate world's war against nature and marginalized communities. This war, destructive to all communities, is exemplified by a classist separation between those who benefit from uranium mining, the corporations, and those who significantly suffer from it, the working class and aboriginal communities. From Russia to China, Australia to Canada, uranium is mined globally, and its impact on the world accumulates. In response to this, the struggle of those who dare to rise up against all odds is to be celebrated and supported. The resistance must spread faster than the pollution.

1 L. Tomasek, E. Kunz, S.C. Darby, A. J. Swerdlow, V. Placek, ";Radon Exposure and Cancers Other than Lung Cancer among Uranium Miners in West Bohemia," The Lancet 341.8850 (April 1993), pp. 919-923.
2 Ibid.
3 A. V. Malashenko, "The Lung Cancer in the Uranium Miners of Sedimentary Deposits," Meditsinskaya Radiologiya i Radiatsionnaya Bezolasnost 60.6 (2005), pp. 10-12.
4 Tomasek, et al., op. cit.
5 V. Linares, D. J. Sanchez, M. Belles, L. Albine, M. Gomez, J. K. Domingo, ";Pro-oxidant Effects in the Brain of Rats Concurrently Exposed to Uranium and Stress," Toxicology Journal 236.1-2 (July 2007), pp. 82-91.
6 M. Belles, V. Linares, M. Luisa-Albina, J. Sirvent, D. Sanchez, and J.L. Domingo, ";Melatonin Reduces Uranium Induced Nephrotoxicity in Rats," Journal of Pineal Research 43.1 (August 2007), pp.87-95
7 H.S. Magdo, J. Forman, N. Graber, B. Newman, K. Klein, L. Satlin, R. W. Amler, J. A. Winston, P. J. Landrigan, ";Grand Rounds: Nephrotoxicity in a Young Child Exposed to Uranium from Contaminated Well-Water," Environmental Health Perspectives 115. 8 (August 2007), pp.1237-41.

Algonquins Will Leave Robertsville Site if Province Agrees to Mediation Terms

by Jeff Green, Frontenac News

11th October 2007

The occupation of the Robertsville mine could be coming to an end.

As of late Tuesday night, October 9, the Shabot Obaadjiwaan (Sharbot Lake) and Ardoch Algonquins had agreed to amended wording in an agreement to set up a 12-week mediation process with the government of Ontario, and were waiting to see if Owen Young, the lawyer for the Attorney General of Ontario, could coax his client to accept the wording as well.

The latest round of legal wrangling began almost a week earlier, when Frontenac Ventures Corporation, the uranium exploration company that has been prevented from accessing their 30,000 acre exploration property since June 28, filed a motion with Justice Cunningham of the Ontario Superior Court. Cunningham had already released a draft ruling ordering that the occupation end, and the motion asked not only that the ruling be formalised, but that arrests and substantial financial penalties be imposed on the leaders of the two communities and any other individuals who are either occupying the site or supporting the occupiers.

The company proposed fines of $5,000 for each breach of the court order and $50,000 in punitive damages, to be paid to Frontenac Ventures.

Last Thursday, October 4, lawyers for all of the involved parties (the Ontario government, Frontenac Ventures, the OPP, Shabot Obaadjiwaan and Ardoch) spent most of the day in the judge's chambers, and on Friday, October 4, they were joined in the chambers by Chief Doreen Davis and retired Chief Robert Lovelace of the two First Nations.

Out of these protracted meetings, a tentative agreement was reached. It called for the two First Nations to leave the mine site, and for Frontenac Ventures to be allowed back in. A mediation process was to be set up, involving representatives from the Ontario and Federal governments, the two First Nations, and a mediator. This process would have 12 weeks to work on several issues, during which time the company had agreed they would carry on only non-invasive exploration, and would not drill any test holes to confirm uranium deposits. Frontenac Ventures had provided a 40-week schedule for proposed activities on the land in question to Justice Cunningham in late September, and it did not call for drilling to commence until the 13th week. Contempt of court proceedings were to be stayed while this process unfolded.

One of the issues that would be discussed during the mediation talks, according to lawyers for the First Nations, is the possibility of a "moratorium" on uranium exploration on the traditional territory of the two communities. Another is the question of whether the Government of Ontario breached their "duty to consult" the two communities before they issued the exploration permits to Frontenac Ventures Corporation. These lands, along with all of the land on the Ontario side of the Ottawa River Valley, have been the subject of broader land claims negotiations that have been underway in fits and starts for the past 17 years.

In order to put the mediation into effect, the Algonquin communities had to ratify what had been discussed in the judge's chambers, and the Government of Ontario had to sign on as well.

The proposal to leave the site and allow Frontenac Ventures to return was something that the leaders of the two communities spent the Thanksgiving weekend discussing with their respective councils and others, and with the non-aboriginal supporters who had established their own camp outside of the mine gates.

By Monday afternoon, Ardoch and Sharbot Lake had agreed to the proposal. A "good news" press conference was arranged for Tuesday morning on the steps of the Frontenac County Courthouse in Kingston, even though the Algonquins had not yet heard if the Government of Ontario was on side.

Monday evening, that all changed when they received an-email from Owen Young, which outlined Ontario's interpretation of what the mediation process would look like.

The email said that the government would discuss "un-staked lands" in the subject area, and did not include any direct reference to a "moratorium" of any sort.

Retired Chief Robert Lovelace and Chief Paul Sherman of the Ardoch Algonquins said, "The amended agreement proposed by Ontario on Monday evening limits the scope of mediation and reduces the potential for resolution of the key issues." Of particular concern was the word "unstaked", which was taken to mean that the 30,000 acres of land that is at the centre of the dispute would not be open for discussion during mediation talks.

The message that the occupation was to continue was communicated to the public through CBC radio reports on Tuesday afternoon.

Meanwhile the wording of the agreement was being bandied about in emails between Stephen Reynolds, the lawyer for Sharbot Lake, and Owen Young.

Early Tuesday evening, new wording was proposed that brought the Frontenac Ventures exploration territory back into the mediation process, although the government was still balking at discussing anything as broad as a moratorium.

Late Tuesday evening Robert Lovelace told the News that Ardoch had joined Sharbot Lake in accepting the amended wording.

Approval from Ontario was still pending.

Donna Dillman is a Nova Scotia native; she grew up in the Musquodoboit Valley area. You are asked to offer her your support in obtaining a moratorium on ranium exploration/mining. Call, write, email , talk to your friends and please pass this mail along to all of your personal contacts, as well as any contact lists you may be members of.


On October 8th, Lanark area resident Donna Dillman began a hunger strike in a personal effort to affect a moratorium on uranium exploration and mining in Eastern Ontario. She is camped out outside the gate at the blockaded site at Robertsville, 12 km. north of Sharbot Lake on hwy 509, and plans to remain there until the moratorium is in place.

Thirty thousand acres have been staked by Frontenac Ventures for uranium exploration in North Frontenac, Central Frontenac and Lanark Counties. The mine site at Robertsville has been blockaded by the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and Shabot Obaadgiwan First Nation since June 29 this year.

While on book tour last month, Donna visited several tailing sites in Elliot Lake and came home convinced that she must act. The tailings - the waste left behind after mining - stretches on for miles, in some cases filling lakes, and rising 30 or more feet into the air. The waste remains radioactive, and turns the water passing through it into sulphuric acid. According to the environmental assessment conducted on the tailing sites, they must be looked after "in perpetuity."

"We can live for a long time without food, but clean water is essential to all life," says the 53 year-old grandmother. Mother of four, aged 17 to 31, Donna last year witnessed 'hands-on' the birth of her youngest granddaughter. That further fueled her desire to act on behalf of grandchildren everywhere.

As a society, our goal is economic expansion, regardless of the devastation to the environment and the community. Nuclear power simply postpones a mature choice, while producing numerous radioactive hot spots to add to the problem. "Sooner or later," Donna says, "we will have to learn how to live responsibly within planetary limits. I am taking this action to say that we should accept that responsibility, rather than leaving it for our grandchildren to deal with. I am hoping that people will get behind me and demand this moratorium, so that our future in Eastern Ontario, and elsewhere, remains viable. People can write to their MPP and MP, to the Premier of Ontario, to Prime Minister Steven Harper, their local newspapers, blog about it, email their lists and talk to their friends and neighbours and support the groups that are dedicating their time to keeping the water we drink and the air we breath safe for generations to come." For ongoing information on the hunger strike and the blockage at the mine site, please see

contact info after Oct 8th:
Lynn Daniluk
Maberly, ON
K0B 2B0

Uranium Free B.C. Coalition (UFBCC)

NEWS RELEASE Penticton, B.C.

4th October 2007

Okanagans Support Algonquins on Uranium Blockade

Thirty delegates to the Uranium Free B.C.Coalition (UFBCC) met September 29th in the Penticton Indian Band Hall.

The UFBCC has called for a moratorium on uranium exploration and mining in British Columbia and for all party agreement in the BC Legislature to ban uranium mining.

The Coalition gave unequivocal support from the people of the Interior of B.C. and from Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Chiefs to the Algonquin people and Ardoch First Nation Chiefs Paula Sherman and Randy Cota, who are blockading the Sharbot Lake proposed uranium mining site in the Ottawa River valley near Kingston, Ontario.

"These courageous First Nations people have been stationed at the entrance to the proposed uranium mine site since June 2007 while Frontenac Ventures Corporation is suing them for $77 million while continuing to prospect for uranium ", said Peter Chataway of Kelowna who chaired the UFBCC meeting.

"The government should be protecting the environment and the health of people from radioactive contamination by prohibiting uranium exploration and mining", Chataway said.

"Uranium exploration and mining liberates large quantities of dangerous radioactive materials into the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat, resulting in cancers and other diseases", Chataway said.

The delegates voted to join the Canadian Peace Alliance, an organization representing more than 180 social justice and environmental groups with international connections

"We have now joined regional, national and international opposition to uranium exploration and mining ", said Laura Savinkoff, of Grand Forks, B.C.

Recently, the municipality of Summerland in the Okanagan Valley initiated an indoor radon gas monitoring program to determine the background/baseline levels of radon, a breakdown product of uranium and the second biggest cause of lung cancer after smoking.

All levels of government must be accountable and responsible for measuring radiation before and after the projects," said Mayor Dave Gregory of Summerland at the UFBCC meeting.

"All land disturbances in known uranium areas such as logging roads, highway expansion and residential land development may impact the environment and people's health" Gregory added.

Former miner and now rancher, Joe Falkowski ,from the Committee for a Clean Kettle Valley in Rock Creek, B.C. stated that all geologists, miners, loggers and construction crews should be issued with Geiger counters to measure radiation and be trained how to use them as part of their on-going work throughout the known uranium areas in the interior of B.C.

"The Big White ski resort seems more concerned about the aesthetics of an open-pit mine nearby than the air-borne hazards from uranium exploration and mining," said Wayne Fipke another former miner and now a rancher in Beaverdell, B.C.

"Leaking exploration drill holes and proposed uranium mining impacts may be invisible but are deadly", said Fipke.

In May 2007 when the UFBCC delegates met with then Minister of State for Mines, Bill Bennett, promises were made by the B.C. government to repair and monitor leaking drill holes and those are now broken promises", concluded Fipke.

"Nuclear weapons need nuclear power plants for supplies, which need uranium mining from exploration and our purpose is to stop this devilish nuclear cycle before it starts ", said Dave Cursons an organic farmer from Cawston, B.C. and secretary of the UFBCC.

"Radioactive wastes which cannot be neutralized, radon gas which is the second largest cause of lung cancer after smoking and contaminated water and soils are all good reasons to prevent this immoral industry from starting in British Columbia", said Cursons.

"There are literally thousands of people in BC who are now keenly aware of and actively involved in opposition to uranium exploration and mining.", concluded UFBCC Chair, Peter Chataway.

The Penticton Indian Band Hall meeting was the sixth meeting of the UFBCC since February 2006 including those in Kelowna, Rock Creek, Castlegar, Vernon and the protests in Clearwater.

For more information contact:

Chief Stewart Phillip 250-493-0048 Penticton
Peter Chataway 250-763-1334 Kelowna
Laura Savinkoff 250- 442-0434 Grand Forks
Mayor David Gregory 250-494-9030 Summerland
Joe Falkowski 250-466-2528 Rock Creek
Wayne Fipke 250-764-8789 Beaverdell / Kelowna
Dave Cursons 250-499-5417 Cawston/Keremeos

Reject uranium mining hazard



3rd October 2007

Last week, my morning radio show broadcast a phone-in session with Premier Graham from Fredericton. Most callers were likely unsatisfied with the response to their question, since most were calling with a complaint about government policy. But one caller in particular received an answer that must not be accepted at face value. This concerned citizen asked why uranium exploration is being allowed in the Turtle Creek watershed, the source of Moncton's drinking water.

A good and reasonable question. And one which should have elicited a different answer from Premier Graham, had he understood even a tiny bit about uranium exploration and mining. I paraphrase his answer this way: mining is an important economic activity which, in theory, could happen anywhere in the province, providing it passes New Brunswick's stringent environmental impact assessment process. He mentioned especially the economic benefits of the potash mines in Penobsquis.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Penobsquis mines have resulted in dried up wells and the need to truck water into dozens of homes, Mr. Graham appears not to understand three important things. Uranium is not potash; our environmental impact assessment process is not stringent; and drinking water supplies should be non-negotiable in the rush to cash out our natural resources.

Potash as a mineral appears to be relatively benign and quite stable. Uranium is different. It is a highly unstable mineral which continually breaks down or decays into what are known as decay products.

As uranium decays, it emits intense bursts of energy known as atomic radiation; its decay products, which are both solid and gaseous, are also radioactive.

Exploration and mining of uranium release these radioactive substances into the air, water and soil over long distances. These substances include, among many others, radium, radon gas, and polonium-210, the poison Russian agents used to kill Victor Litvinenko in England last year.

The market for radium, which the B.C. Medical Association described as a "superb carcinogen," dried up in the 1940s after too many people had died from exposure to it (bone and head cancer, anemia and leukemia).

Radon, released in massive quantities into the air and dissolved in surface waters, is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., according to the U.S. Surgeon General. Exploration drill holes act as chimneys to vent radon from deep underground into the air. Dispersal of radon gas into the atmosphere deposits solid radioactive particles hundreds of kilometres downwind from the drill or mine site.

Only 1 per cent of uranium ore mined is used up as fuel in a nuclear plant; 85 per cent of it ends up as radioactive mine tailings; another 14 per cent becomes nuclear reactor waste (assuming it is used in power plants. Canada's uranium mining industry was built on the U.S. nuclear weapons program).

The deadly legacy of uranium mines in Ontario, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories is millions of tonnes of mine tailings, which remain radioactive for thousands of years. The Serpent River system was contaminated with radium nearly 100 kilometres downstream from abandoned uranium mines and tailings at Elliot Lake in northern Ontario. Fibrosis of the lungs, cancer and other lung diseases have taken a huge toll on uranium miners.

Uranium exploration and mining is a dangerous business. No community, let alone a watershed that provides drinking water, should be subjected to such danger.

Being allowed to explore for uranium implies at least the potential for opening a mine should commercial quantities of uranium be found. No comfort can be taken in the environmental impact assessment process, which is designed not to prohibit development, but merely to put conditions on how it may proceed, and which provides no credible means for citizens to influence the outcome.

In 1985, the Nova Scotia government convened a commission of inquiry in response to public opposition to uranium exploration being undertaken by Shell. The commission held 44 public meetings and reviewed everything that was known about the effects of uranium mining on people and the environment. The government concluded that "it would be improper to permit exploration for uranium but withhold the right to mine what has been found." Thus a moratorium on uranium exploration was imposed, and it still stands today. British Columbia and Labrador have also banned uranium mining.

To allow uranium exploration in Moncton's drinking water source is to say that a uranium mine could possibly be approved there. This begs the question: Is there nothing in New Brunswick worth saving from exploitation? Is absolutely everything on the table?

Janice Harvey is a freelance writer, a long-time director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick and a graduate student at UNB. She can be reached by e-mail at


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