MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada Uranium update

Published by MAC on 2007-11-29

Canada Uranium update

29th November 2007

The Harper Administration announced this week that Canada would join the U.S.-led Global Nuclear Energy Partnership- which could see the country, the world's largest uranium exporter, taking on a huge responsibility to deal with nuclear waste from around the world.

Cameco announced a temporary shut down of its underground Eagle Point mine operations because of increasing water flow. Cameco's Cigar Lake uranium mine in northern Saskatchewan has also been shut down because of flooding.

Letters to the editor in New Brunswick continue to convey opposition to uranium exploration in the province. The Yukon News touches on uranium mining in Canada and includes an analysis by Mining Watch Canada.

Canada to join international nuclear group despite waste disposal concern


29th November 2007

OTTAWA - The Conservative government announced Thursday that Canada is joining an international nuclear club that's drawn fierce criticism from environmentalists.

The unexpected public declaration follows months of stone-walling and denials by government ministers and departmental officials, who refused to comment on Canada's assessment of the U.S.-led Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.

And it could spell the end of Canada's heavily government-subsidized, decades-old relationship with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

"Canada is recognized for its commitment to (nuclear) safety and non-proliferation," Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier said in a release.

"By joining this partnership, we are making sure Canada can continue to be an effective advocate for those ideals."

But the partnership - or GNEP - has many critics, both in the environmental movement and scientific circles.

The partnership, first pitched early in 2006 by U.S. President George W. Bush, proposes expanding and promoting nuclear energy worldwide by developing a new and unproven breed of "fast reactors" that can burn nuclear waste.

The concept would see nuclear energy-using countries and uranium-exporting countries band together to promote and safeguard the industry.

But the plan is highly controversial because it proposes re-using nuclear waste, a practice effectively banned in Canada and the United States since the 1970s for security reasons.

Moreover, the original GNEP concept proposed that all used nuclear fuel be repatriated to the original uranium-exporting country for disposal.

As the world's largest uranium exporter, Canada could be taking on a huge responsibility to deal with nuclear waste from around the world.

"It's totally undemocratic and unaccountable of this government to take such an enormous decision to re-import nuclear waste into our country without involving Canadians," said NDP environment critic Nathan Cullen.

An official in Natural Resource Minister Gary Lunn's office insisted the GNEP model no longer includes repatriating waste.

"There is nothing in the GNEP statement of principles that compels Canada or any other country to take back spent fuel," Louise Girouard said in an e-mail. "Canada does not import spent fuel and we will not do so."

Dave Martin of Greenpeace Canada said that sounds like "GNEP Lite" and called it "definitely without question the worst of both worlds" - nuclear proliferation without control of the fuel cycle.

The issue was central to last week's Australian election, where long-standing prime minister John Howard was turfed from office after signing on to the GNEP without public debate in September.

The technology issue alone is a major headache for Canada.

Internal government documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act suggest AECL's CANDU technology was shut out of initial GNEP discussions.

Lunn announced Thursday, in concert with the decision to join GNEP, that AECL's future is up for grabs.

"It is time to consider whether the existing structure of AECL is appropriate to the changing marketplace," Lunn said in the government release.

He announced a review of the Crown corporation.

Opposition critics immediately denounced that as the road to privatization.

The sudden embrace of the GNEP marks a sharp reversal for a government that initially refused in September even to say whether it would send officials to an international planning meeting on the partnership.

Briefing documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the access law had shown great enthusiasm for the project, and revealed that senior Canadian officials had been in secret talks with the Americans for months.

But Harper's officials fiercely denied this fall that any decision had been taken and insisted Canada was still reviewing the matter.

Greenpeace's Martin said debate has been purposely stifled, calling the sudden announcement "outrageous."

"It's part and parcel of this government's contempt for public opinion and public involvement in important environmental decisions," he said.

"We've seen it on the climate change file and now we're seeing it on the nuclear file."

Martin argued that, "no matter which side of the nuclear debate you fall on - pro or anti - everyone should be able to agree this is something which deserves public scrutiny.

Water slows Cameco mine

Limited activity will continue at Eagle Lake operation until upgrades complete

The Canadian Press

29th November 2007

SASKATOON -- Already plagued by flooding at the Cigar Lake uranium mine in northern Saskatchewan, Cameco Corp. has temporarily reduced underground activities at its Eagle Point mine as a precaution, because water flow in the area has increased.

"Limited mining activity will continue and the mill continues to operate with a small amount of stockpiled ore," the Saskatoon-based company said yesterday.

"This mine has encountered similar situations in the past and dealt with them successfully.

Cameco said there are no safety or environmental issues associated with this problem.

Increased water inflow is estimated at 40 to 50 cubic metres an hour.

"The mine has more than sufficient pumping capacity to deal with these levels," the company said.

"However, the capacity of the surface water-handling system is temporarily reduced because of the previously planned upgrading that was already under way.

Planned upgrades to the surface water-handling system are expected to be complete in about one week, and the mine is to return to normal operations at that time.

The water flow increase was from an area being mined about 90 metres below surface. All mining activities appeared normal until additional water began flowing into the area.

"The rock around the area is stable and Cameco's geotechnical engineers have found no evidence of weakness," the company said.

In 2007, Cameco has produced 3.6 million pounds of uranium at Rabbit Lake and estimates annual production will be 3.8 million to four million pounds.

The flooded Cigar Lake mine won't start production before 2011.

The company recently reported a 25-per-cent rise in third-quarter profit to $91-million on an 89- per-cent increase in sales to $681-million, but trimmed its outlook for full-year revenue growth to reflect moderating prices.

Uranium exploration could open Pandora’s box, critics fear

By Chris Oke Special to the Yukon News

28th November 2007

Cash Minerals’ application to build a winter road along the Wind River Trail to further its search for uranium deposits concerns tourism and environmental groups.

Most troubling is the very mineral the exploration company is searching for.

For the past four years, Cash Minerals has been hunting for the radioactive metal.

“I see no reason why they shouldn’t mine uranium,” said Yukon Chamber of Mines president John Witham.

“It’s being mined successfully and safely in Northern Saskatchewan.

“It’s like any other metal ­ I fail to see the differentiation between uranium, cobalt, copper or iron. They’re naturally occurring metals.”

But there is a difference, according to MiningWatch Canada national co-ordinator Joan Kuyek.

“Uranium is particularly awful because of the length of time that it lasts and the insidiousness of things like radon gas,” Kuyek said.

“You take out the uranium, which is the least radioactive of all the materials there, and put all of the rest of it, ground into a fine powder, into a tailing pond.

“It’s absolutely stupid.”

Mining uranium involves getting a small amount of the expensive metal out of a huge chunk of rock.

The problem is that in any body where there’s uranium you’re likely to find radium, polonium and various isotopes of lead ­ all of which are radioactive.

“One of the most serious for humans is an isotope of radium called radon gas,” said Kuyek.

“If you breath radon in, it lodges in you lungs and it causes enormous damage.”

Decommissioning a uranium mine means either putting up a dry cover or having to keep it covered with water.

Dry covers haven’t been holding up and the wet covers need to be kept consistently underwater, which is very difficult to maintain for 100,000 years.

“The Yukon should know better than anyone that tailings don’t hold, they leak,” said Kuyek.

“It just doesn’t make sense to be saddling the future with these kinds of responsibilities.”

“Until they can prove that they have some way to maintain tailing ponds and tailing facilities safely 100,000 years into the future, we’d advise people not to get engaged in uranium mining,” she added.

The potential dangers of uranium lie not only in the actual mining of the metal.

Uranium exploration can open up wells, or avenues for radon gas to reach the surface.

“The problem is that if you don’t have stronger regulations on exploration, these guys can cause a lot of damage,” said Kuyek.

“Strong reclamation guidelines should be put in place, if not a full moratorium.”

NDP Leader Todd Hardy agrees and has called for a moratorium on any uranium exploration or development activities in the Yukon.

Hardy tabled the motion at the Yukon legislature on November 19th.

Nova Scotia is the only province or territory to have a moratorium on uranium mining at this time.

The British Columbia government also imposed a moratorium, but it has since expired.

“It’s somewhat of a moot issue because there’s been no success in identifying uranium potential in Nova Scotia,” said Greg Komaromi, assistant deputy minister of oil and gas and mineral deposits.

In the Yukon, uranium potential is no more than speculation, he said.

“Generally speaking, there is no concern about uranium when it is in concentrations of less than one per cent.

“There have been no concentrations yet reported in the Yukon that exceed that threshold where we’d need to think about extraordinary conditions.”

Rock formations in the Wernecke Mountains have led geologists to suspect that it may contain uranium deposits.

This, and the soaring price of uranium over the last year has enticed exploration firms, such as Cash Minerals, to set their sights on the area.

Besides uranium, they are also looking for other metals, such as copper and gold.

“Exploration firms are always hopeful that they’re going to find large deposits but that has not happened yet,” said Komaromi.

“We would look at imposing more specific terms of conditions on a licence should those one-per-cent conditions be found.”

Uranium mining is overseen by the federal Nuclear Safety Commission because it is considered a military material.

A full federal environmental assessment would have to be completed before any mining could be done.

These tighter regulations and review processes would make uranium mining in the Yukon difficult to justify economically, said Komaromi.

“To do something in North Yukon with uranium, just given its location, you’d have to have a pretty attractive proposition.”

An advanced uranium exploration project in the Northwest Territories was recently turned down by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact review board.

The board’s decision was based on objections by the Lutselk’e Dene First Nation, said Kuyek.

After hearing about the environmental impacts it could have on their land they decided it was in conflict with their cultural and spiritual values.

“There’s never been a scientific study that didn’t say that uranium exploration and uranium mining aren’t dangerous to human health and the environment,” said Kuyek.

“The dispute is overall risk analysis.”

Canada is the world’s largest exporter of uranium ore with the bulk being mined in the Athabasca Basin in northern Saskatchewan.

“In Saskatchewan they’ve got uranium values that go up to 60 per cent of the ore body,” said Kuyek.

“That’s so dangerous that some of it has to be mined by robots.”

During the Second World War, radium was mined on the eastern shore of Great Bear Lake, in a place that came to be known as Port Radium.

People now call that community the village of widows because most of the men have died from working at the mine.

Uranium is primarily used to make military weapons and for nuclear power.

Kuyek doubts whether uranium mining is even necessary, given its dangers.

“You can re-mine nuclear arsenals so any of the uranium we need could probably be recycled from nuclear weapons,” said Kuyek.

“Cameco Corp., the world’s largest uranium producer, is getting a lot from depleted uranium.”

“Another thing that has me concerned is that it’s Cash Minerals, who I tend to think of as being a pretty flighty operator,” added Kuyek.

Cash Minerals deals in mining exploration and has yet to develop a single mine.

“Big mining companies use them as a kind of farm team ­ if they find something good then the big companies buy it,” said Kuyek.

“In the long run they’re not going to be responsible for much.”

Officials must listen to concerns of those opposed to uranium mining


For The Daily Gleaner

28th November 2007

I do not support uranium mining.

I am fundamentally opposed to it. It matters not where it is, for wherever it is, it should not be.

The fact that it is being considered anywhere shows that society has been in a constant devolution since settlers came to this land and assumed false power over its stewards.

A ban on uranium mining is needed in New Brunswick. Actually, a world-wide moratorium is needed, but we should all start with our own backyards to clean things up.

I heard my community being offered up to be bought and sold on the stock market recently.

But I am opposed to mining and most certainly opposed to uranium mining.

Does that really not matter? Does it matter not that none of us want it here?

What about we who choose to make a life instead of making money and a living? Why do we have no say in all of this?

My great-grandfather warned of the politicians with silver tongues and golden promises. He surely would have included corporate reps had they been an entity then.

I heard them wagging their tongues at a meeting about uranium mining. They answered nothing of importance and wasted our time.

We do not have the right to tear up and abuse the Earth as we do. Just because we can, doesn't mean we should. Did we not learn this as children?

It is atrocious that our democratically elected government is selling out from under us our future and our children's right to life with clean air, water and earth.

How can any part of the mining process be in the best interest of the people?

Only those with investment or corporate connections think this to be good. And that is due to the money they will make. It is good for no living thing.

Premier Shawn Graham should not think for a moment that he speaks for me, my family, my community or any of our needs. He and his government and the Opposition think of profits, not people.

Not one person I have spoken with is in favour of uranium mining coming to New Brunswick, yet they still pretend it is a positive thing.

The greedy, who are seeking more money, more power, more stuff see the Earth as a commodity, something one can own.

But I do not, so how are we to agree on the importance of it existing in its natural way? And how do you not see how sacred the Earth is?

We don't even know the difference between luxury and necessity anymore. How many acknowledge and appreciate the luxury of electricity anymore? We have been separated from our natural relations and place within this creation.

We are told to trust government and businesses with our lives, the Earth, the children and our sustenance. But how could they act in our best interests? They do not even know who we are.

An Indian elder once said, "Only when the last tree has been felled, the last fish has been caught, and the last river poisoned, will man realize we cannot eat money."

Eat money? Not a chance. No one can.

Stand up for what truly supports us, the Earth.

Kelly Newman lives in Hoyt, N.B.

Mining for uranium not welcome in N.B.

By K. WALTER MOORE, For The Daily Gleaner

27th November 2007

I am writing this as a response to the column published in the Oct. 24 Daily Gleaner, Fear not the two per cent effect of radiation.

First of all, the writer suggests radiation is harmless. I say tell that to the population of Chernobyl.

According to a UN report, since that nuclear disaster took place, there have been 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer, most of them children. The same report says 350,000 people had to be relocated. The local population says tens of thousands have died.

Health Canada, Environment and Workplace Health says: "Whether or not (uranium) mining is conducted in open pits or underground, there are environmental health hazards and impacts to workers and the general public that need to be considered."

It also says: "Inhalation of radon and radon progeny (daughter products) lead to radiation exposure of the bronchial tissue of the lung with a resultant risk of cancer."

According to the British Columbia Medical Association report to the Royal Commission on Uranium Mining, "Uranium tailings will remain radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years, and will require such expensive long-term surveillance and maintenance by government and local citizenry as to make statements about uranium mining providing revenue misleading."

The column published in the Daily Gleaner tries to convince readers that because radiation occurs in nature it is harmless. A grizzly bear occurs in nature, but I would not want to be put in a cage with one.

The article says Canada is less radioactive than India or Brazil. I do not like being compared to countries that have some of the worst environmental records on the planet.

In 1984, a gas leak at a Union Carbide plant in India killed 22,000 people. More than 100,000 people still suffer ailments caused by the accident. In 2001, Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide and refuses to clean up the mess, according to Amnesty International.

Brazil cut down 546,905 square kilometres of rain forest between 1978 and 2005, according to the National Institute of Space Research. This is an area roughly 7.6 times the area of New Brunswick.

The column in the Daily Gleaner says the bomb dropped on Hiroshima stopped the war early. This may be true, but I do not think anyone wants another one dropped.

The people of New Brunswick are not stupid. Their biggest concerns are health care and the environment. Uranium mining is detrimental to both.

New Brunswickers will not vote for any politician supporting uranium mining.

K. Walter Moore is chairman of Scare NB, Support Citizens against Radioactive Emissions. He lives in Hoyt, N.B.

Environmentalists oppose proposed Wind River road

CBC News

20th November 2007

Environmentalists in the Yukon are preparing to fight a proposed winter road in the Wind River area, arguing that it would threaten one of North America's finest watersheds.

Cash Minerals, which is exploring for uranium in the central Yukon area, included a winter road along the river in its land-use application.

The proposed road, which would lead to the company's uranium claims, would follow an old mining road north of Keno known as the Wind River Trail.

Environmental groups say building the winter road would open the river area, which is part of what they call the Three Rivers region, to year-round road access.

"You can't just say this is a winter road that's only going in there for five years. Once they upgrade that to the five-metre width that they want to upgrade it to, for the rest of your lifetime or mine, that road's going to be there," Karen Baltgailis, executive director of the Yukon Conservation Society, told CBC News on Monday.

"You can't tell me that it's going to remain a winter road. Once that's been cleared again and brought up to quality to be able to be driven on, you're going to see ATVs there in the summer. There'll be no stopping it."

The Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board is currently reviewing Cash Minerals' application and has extended the public comment period for it until Dec. 6.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society has issued an action alert to its members, saying the company's uranium mining venture is speculative and would pose huge risks for the pristine watershed.

New laws will make road safe: proponents

Cash Minerals has not commented on the matter, but other proponents of the winter road insist the project will be sensitive to the environment.

Yukon mining experts at Access Consulting Group, which is co-ordinating Cash Minerals' land-use application, say new territorial environmental laws will make sure the road deals with the concerns raised by critics.

"We have new environmental legislation, which is only right and proper that there is this level of scrutiny being placed on it," Access Consulting president Rob McIntrye told CBC News on Tuesday.

"It doesn't have to go in like Š in the 1950s. It can be done in a different way and more sensitively and people can understand that yeah, it's a treasured area."

But Blaine Walden, who has been guiding canoe trips on the Wind River for 17 years, said recent mining exploration in the area has affected wilderness tourism operations on the Three Rivers region overall.

"The Wind River specifically is kind of the jewel of the bunch because it is accessible to all levels," said Walden, who is also a vice-president of the Wilderness Tourism Association of the Yukon.

"Our clients are paying close to $5,000 for a wilderness experience. And when you're constantly, from pretty much sun-up to sundown, having low-flying helicopters coming over, it's definitely an effect. And it's also affecting the wildlife in the area."

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