MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Canada Uranium update

Published by MAC on 2007-11-04


Canada Uranium update

4th November 2007

The Ottawa Citizen has featured a story on Donna Dillman, currently staging a hunger strike against a uranium mine on Algonquin land.

The owner of the closed Denison mine at Elliot Lake announces that the mine will not re-open. The company reckons its got better things going for it at uranium mines in Zambia, Mongolia, Australia he US and elsewhere in Canada.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is calling on Canada to take more responsiblity for its underground radioactive waste.


Rock and Soul

It would be easy to dismiss Donna Dillman as a flake, but you shouldn't. For 28 days near Sharbot Lake, the 53-year-old has been on a hunger strike to protest uranium mining. Janice Kennedy finds out why

Janice Kennedy, The Ottawa Citizen

4th November 2007

SHARBOT LAKE, Ont. - The lake country west of Perth, a landscape of clear waters and boreal forests, could be a postcard for the True North Strong and Free. On the road up from Highway 7 into the interior, its sides defined by crags and dark outcroppings, travel is not so much across the Canadian Shield as through it. Precambrian rock, old as time, holds the planet's secrets.

One of those secrets is uranium, the heavy-metal element that offers new power sources through nuclear reactors -- and the dark possibility of destruction, through weapons and radioactive pollution.

It is uranium's dark side that has a 53-year-old woman spending hard days and nights by the side of a county road in the area, stubbornly cold and without food. For 28 days now, Donna Dillman has been on a hunger strike.

"It was something I felt I could do," she says simply, explaining this particular protest. "It was an attention-getter." She plans to take no food until the provincial government declares a moratorium on uranium mining in Eastern Ontario.

Dillman's home these days is a roadside patch of the rugged terrain 12 kilometres north of Sharbot Lake. A stretch of gravel and grass, it is dotted with flags, temporary shelters and signs announcing that "Our spirits will not be broken." The site is outside gates opening on to more than 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) marked for uranium exploration and open-pit mining by Frontenac Ventures. Nineteenth-century provincial legislation allows the company to enter private and Crown land without permission and mine underground minerals -- like uranium, whose market popularity has skyrocketed in recent years.

The project exploded into controversy when a private landowner was outraged to discover last fall that Frontenac had staked some of his property and, subsequently, when the area's First Nations communities set up a blockade June 28. In a letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty, Chiefs Doreen Davis and Paula Sherman pointed out that the land is unceded Algonquin territory, and, "while we generally permit activities by non-Algonquins in our territory, and indeed welcome settlers and the development they bring, we cannot accept uranium exploration."

Their concerns are understandable. When released from the rock that encases it, radioactive uranium can contaminate both air and water. The tailings, pulverized rock left over after extraction, possess elevated concentrations of radioisotopes. They release radon gas into the atmosphere and seepage water contains radioactive material and other toxins. From the proposed mine area, that water would end up in the Mississippi River watershed and ultimately in Ottawa, where it could filter into the capital's water supply.

Frontenac Ventures, which says its extraction method is safer than earlier methods, claims its mine would have no measurable impact on an environment that already has plenty of natural uranium contamination.

Native protesters temporarily left the blockaded site two weeks ago to await the outcome of legal wrangling between them and the mining company. But Dillman is in for the long haul.

She has spent her nights in a sleeping bag inside a cramped camper van and, more recently, a hut. During the day, she walks about the small area or sits by a fire that warms shins and little else.

Even in the crisp sunshine of a late fall day, it is cold, with gusts of wind funnelling up the road to the site. This is the worst part of it, she says, this cold that penetrates her five layers of clothing and seems to come from both outside and in.

Matter-of-factly, she reports that she has headaches, sleeps poorly and gets dizzy if she stands or turns too quickly. To maintain her strength, she drinks herbal tea, juice and a concoction of maple syrup, lemon juice and cayenne pepper, which neutralizes stomach acid. She has dropped more than 12 pounds.

But she is awash in support. A nurse checks her every two days, and there are always people around to offer warm socks, fruit juice and companionship.> down the road, Hedy Muysson, 68, drops by three times a week. A former Torontonian who once worked with refugee children, she is profoundly opposed to uranium mining and hopeful about Dillman's protest.

"It has to work," she says. "There's no maybe about it. We can not have a mine here." The protest signs outside homes up and down the road echo her words. The Green Party, to which Dillman and her husband belong, has publicized her hunger strike, and leader Elizabeth May called her "inspirational."

Outside the area, and outside the environmentalist community, reactions to Dillman vary. Many are impressed by the obvious courage of her convictions, but others view her in a less kindly light.

She angers defenders of nuclear power and critics of newer alternative power sources, who see her position as unreasonable and extreme. She gets under the skin of people put off by the implied arrogance of her action, by the suggestion that one ordinary person should make a difference, by the maddening persistence of her self-denial, by her unspoken reproach to the comfortable. Some people just call her a flake.

"Hmm," she says, her smile wry. "I don't consider myself a flake. And I don't think what I'm doing is crazy. I'm here to make a statement."

Wife, mother of four, devoted grandmother, entrepreneur, all-round busy bee, Dillman lives a full, rich life she has no desire to endanger. Nor does she enjoy creating anxiety for her family who, she says, are torn about what she's doing, both proud and worried.

"But I believe in it. I wouldn't be able to keep going if I didn't."

Every second day, she writes Premier McGuinty, who has not yet responded. She wants him to know that uranium and nuclear energy are not benign. That area real estate values are being threatened. That the proposed mining project could endanger a million of his constituents, including family and friends in his home town of Ottawa.

Yes, she admits calmly, her politics and lifestyle probably belong to the "loony left." "But maybe it's time people started listening to the loony left. They've been saying things about cancer and asthma since the '60s, and it's all been proven to be true."

She met her current husband, environmentalist Mike Nickerson, at a 2002 Green Party convention. She has the gentle speech of the "alternative healer" she is in her other life. She practises reiki in the Lanark County home she shares with Nickerson and her youngest daughter.

But the strike and uranium fears transcend polarizing politics, she suggests. "We're doing this for our grandchildren. We could have the Band-Aid solution of power for 30 years, then we'd run out of uranium, too -- except we will have left a lot more hot spots behind and gene damage going into forever. It's not the legacy we want to leave, and I don't think it's the legacy McGuinty wants to leave."

She's willing to give an inch, though. If the government even announced an inquiry into a moratorium possibility, she'd start eating.

"Beyond that, I don't have an end date," she says, wind whipping her words, ancient rock beneath her feet.

"I'm here for the duration."

Janice Kennedy is a senior writer at the Citizen.

* A video filmed and edited by Liisa Rissamen, featuring the music of Terry Tufts is to be found at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbgf7IDmb4I


Denison Mines has no plans to open in city anytime soon, says CEO

Kevin McSheffrey, The Standard, Elliot Lake

1st November 2007

Denison Mines will not be back in Elliot Lake to mine conventionally for a long, long time.

That was the message Peter Farmer, CEO of Denison Mines, delivered to the business community at the Elliot Lake and District Chamber of Commerce's 17th Annual Excellence in Business Awards Dinner on Oct. 24.

The main reason - cost, says Farmer.

Denison history

Denison Mines got its start in Elliot Lake in 1954, and ceased mining operations on March 11, 1992.

"You folks should all be very proud of the beauty you have around you. We have worked very hard in the post-mine closure to make sure that beauty was restored and maintained," Farmer told the near capacity crowd.

"I think we've done a good job with Ian Ludgate and Denison Environmental Services. We're very proud. As a matter of fact, its a showcase for the world. It's one of the best decommissioned uranium mines in the world."

He says two years after Denison closed in Elliot Lake, the company was virtually bankrupt.

But it has come a long way since then.

Currently, Denison has no debt. When Farmer joined the company in 1985, he says Denison's bank debt was about $160 million, plus preferred shares were worth about $350 million, which had to be redeemed but the company could not do it.

"In spite of all that, we spent about $45 or $46 million cleaning up Elliot Lake."

In the first half of this year, Denison had a consolidated income of more than $35 million. And a year ago, they merged with a company that had uranium interests in the U.S.A.

He says Denison has varying levels of interests in a number of uranium companies in different countries including Zambia, Mongolia, Australia, the United States as well as in Canada, all of which are richer and promise much higher returns than if they began mining in Elliot Lake.

Denison's primary uranium production interests are in Saskatchewan.

At its McClean Lake operation in Saskatchewan, for the most part, they plan to have an open pit mine.

"We like lower risk, and open pits don't flood. If they do you just pump them out. You don't have to worry about worker safety underground, unlike Elliot Lake. Underground you have more ventilation and more expenses."

In Saskatchewan, the grade of uranium is a lot higher than in Elliot Lake. The low-grade ore there is running at about .4%. In Elliot Lake it is about .1%.

At the Midwest Deposit, to the west of McClean Lake, the ore body is running at about 100 pounds (5.5%) per ton, compared to between one and three pounds in Elliot Lake.

He added that in some places in Saskatchewan the ore body has up to 25% uranium.

Farmer says the full cost of operating there is less than $20 per pound.

When Denison Mines closed in Elliot Lake, the production cost was about $43 per pound. Today, it would certainly be more than $60 per pound.

This year, they expect to produce about 300,000 pounds from the U.S.A. and 400,000 pounds in Canada.

Next year, they plan to increase that to 2.9 million pounds in the U.S.A. and up to 900,000 pounds in Canada. By 2011, the company expects to produce three million pounds in the U.S.A., 2.2 million pounds in Canada and 1.5 million pounds in Zambia, says Farmer.

He explains that the reason for Denison Mines' major expansion in Elliot Lake in the 1970s was because it had a cost-plus contract with Ontario Hydro.

"We did not have to bet on uranium prices. We had a guaranteed return."

He adds mining at Denison's Elliot Lake operation was very expensive because it was so deep, about 1,500 metres (4,900 feet).

And there are other problems.

"For us to open a new conventional mine in Elliot Lake, it would take five, seven or nine years of regulatory process to do.

"Would you spend $250 million, devote a lot of time to bet on markets being sufficient to get your capital out and make a profit?"

Then there is the issue of how badly do people want a uranium mine.

In Zambia, they are wanted and the productions costs are quite low, about $30 per pound.

"I've got an $85 million capital expenditure; I'm going to do 1.5 million pounds per year. The government desperately needs us, the place is poorer than a church mouse. We're going to throw a hospital in and a schoolŠ, all of which isn't going to cost us a whole lot; and it means so much to these people.

"They absolutely want us.

"And that's the other question with Elliot Lake. Do you really want it? Do the retirees want it? Do the new cottage owners want it?"

He adds that environmental groups do not want it, which is a problem uranium producers face across North America.

"They'll be all over anybody's butt who wants to try to license a facility here."

He says every time they want to expand in Saskatchewan, a group objects and slows the process down by a year.

"If somebody stands up with credentials and makes a claim, you have to disprove it."

In Zambia, "as long as they are convinced you are responsible and people of your word - our reputation is good in this business - it works. They want us."

He admits that the uranium spot market price went "a little bit crazy" over the last year, and hit more than $136 per pound this summer.

Five years ago, the spot price was about $7.10 per pound.

Now the spot market price is at about $80 per pound. However, Denison's long-term contracts today, the bulk of the business, are for $80 to $90 per pound, he says.

The problem was demand outstripped supply for a time.

"We've had a rapid escalation over the last two yearsŠ primarily because utility inventories had been reduced and they had to get out and buy again."

In addition, companies have had production problems around the world. Globally, in 2006, uranium production actually dropped because of the problems, even though demand had doubled.

"So if you folks are all fired up that Denison is going to start conventional mining in Elliot Lake again, don't expect it. At least not today."

However, they are looking into the possibility of a small operation at its former mine.

"We've got a huge underground out there, and half of that is filled with water. We are looking at a small operation that might involve 10, 20 or 30 people to take uranium out of the mine water. We don't have to blast the rock, ventilate underground. We don't need to leach the rock, it's already leached. We just pull the water out."

He added that he would love to come back to Elliot Lake to mine, but at this time it is out of the question.

Copyright © 2007 Elliot Lake Standard


Canada's nuclear industry should take more responsibility for waste: expert

The Canadian Press

26th October 2007

MONTREAL - Canada's nuclear industry should take a more active role in dealing with the issues related to storing atomic waste underground, says a U.S. environmentalist.

In recent years, the industry has promoted nuclear energy as an important source of carbon-free energy and an easy way to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

But Canada, like other nuclear energy producing countries, has yet to develop long-term management plan for the waste, said Thomas Cochran, nuclear program director for the American Natural Resources Defense Council.

"It's incumbent on the industry to have developed a solution to the waste before they produce a lot of it," Cochran said Friday at a climate on conference change.

"This simply hasn't occurred in any country."

Cochran was among 400 participants from around the world attending the Climate 2050 conference, a meeting of academics and decision-makers to discuss action on climate change.

Ottawa announced last June that it was accepting an industry-led proposal that Canada develop the capacity to store spent fuel underground.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn has said the government was "decades" away from drafting concrete details on how and, more contentiously, where to store it.

Spent fuel from the country's reactors is currently stored on site, first in cooling pools before being moved to dry-cast containers.

According to the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, the industry group behind the underground proposal, Canada's nuclear waste only fills about five hockey rinks.

"It's not like you have piles of coal ash," said the organization's director of environment, Anda Kalvins, following a plenary on nuclear energy.

"The amounts of used fuel that are created can be contained in the pools and dry-storage areas."

While there is no urgent need to build long-term processing capabilities given the present output of nuclear energy, Cochran suggested it was time for the industry to stop passing the buck on the issue.

"Canada... has failed to develop its repository early, and is sitting here 40 years later with no repository," he said.

"The industry will make the argument 'Oh we can store this safely on site,' and push this issue off to future generations, but if you were to triple the global capacity of nuclear power, you would need a new geological repository for waste every few years."

Many environmental groups including Greenpeace have already expressed opposition to underground storage, fearing radioactive leaks or accidents.

That opposition could become more vocal should Canada choose to join the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, a U.S-led initiative to group nuclear energy using countries and uranium exporting countries.

The partnership, which counts such countries as Russia and China among its 16-member states, includes a proposal that could see Canada storing and refining used nuclear fuel from other countries.

The idea would be to send the spent fuel back to the original uranium exporting country for disposal, and Canada is the world's largest uranium exporter.

 

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