Canada and U.S. uranium updatePublished by MAC on 2008-01-04
Canada and U.S. uranium update
4th January 2008
Exploration in an area of Nova Scotia, known to have rich uranium deposits, is sparking concerns by residents that a moratorium on uranium activity may be lifted in the province.
The world's largest uranium producer, Cameco, has resumed mining at Rabbit Lake in the province of Saskatchewan less than two months after the underground mine was flooded. This ignored concerns expressed by local Dene that radioactive pollution will affect Wollaston Lake, as contaminated groundwater from the underground mine makes its way through faults in the rock
A landowner in the state of Virginia, US, hopes to mine a 200-acre site, despite concerns that unearthed radioactive material could contaminate land, air and sources of drinking water.
Residents of New Brunswick's Cambridge-Narrows, threatened by staking on their properties, are organizing to oppose uranium mining. The Globe and Mail, in late December reported that, not only Cambridge Narrows, but numerous other communities were either affected or threatened, by uranium "power".
Uranium-mining ban in trouble: opponents
Company prospecting in Hants County told its operations must cease if uranium is found
BRIAN FLINN, Halifax Daily News
4th January 2008
Mining opponents say they don't need to see results from test holes in Hants County to know Canada's only provincial uranium moratorium is in trouble.
Hants resident Gillian Thomas said prospecting by Tripple Uranium Resources Inc. around the largest known uranium deposit in the Maritimes will almost undoubtedly find the banned mineral.
"Unfortunately, we are probably going to have to do the same thing we did last time," said Thomas, who was involved in the fight for the moratorium in the 1980s.
"The government is signalling plainly who they're listening to. The fact they are coming out with these kinds of statements suggests to me they will want to lift the moratorium before too long."
Environment Minister Mark Parent indicated last month he has an "open mind" about the ban, and Premier Rodney MacDonald said Nova Scotia needs to consider energy sources that don't produce greenhouse gases.
Tripple is not allowed to look for uranium, and must stop digging if lab results are positive. Dennis van Dyke, president of Tripple's parent company, Vancouver-based Capella Resources Ltd., said he hopes to see the moratorium lifted.
The test site is near Millet Brook, between Windsor, New Ross and Chester. Another company was planning a mine in the same place when public uproar led to the 1982 ban.
Opponents fear mining will contaminate air and water with radioactive waste. Thomas said the plan last time was to dam nearby Falls Lake and use it as a leaching pond. Falls Lake empties into the Avon River, 15 kilometres upstream from Windsor.
Canada is the top uranium producer in the world. Most comes from remote areas of Saskatchewan. With the price of uranium up to US$90 per pound, mining companies are increasingly looking at new sites, some near populated areas.
Capella is also digging in Nova Scotia's Wentworth Valley, as well as in New Brunswick and Labrador.
An Ontario woman ended a 66-day hunger strike last month that she hoped would stop a proposed uranium mine north of Kingston in that province. In the United States, Virginia is considering lifting a moratorium that also dates to 1982.
The Council of Canadians passed a resolution last month, calling for a Canada-wide ban on uranium mining and exploration. Its South Shore chapter is planning a public meeting Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. at Forest Heights Community School in Chester Grant to talk about the danger posed to Nova Scotia's moratorium.
"The rest of the country that's opposed to uranium mining is holding Nova Scotia up as a model," chapter chairwoman Marion Moore said. "The flip side of that would be that people who want uranium mining would like this model to disappear." firstname.lastname@example.org
They're exploring, but not for uranium
Although company hopes moratorium will be lifted if it happens to finds some
BRIAN FLINN, Halifax Daily News
4th January 2008
Rock emerging from test holes in Hants County this month could land with a thud on Nova Scotia's political agenda later this year.
Tripple Uranium Resources Inc. is prospecting next to the largest and best-documented uranium deposit in the Maritime provinces, located between Windsor and Chester.
Technically, it's not looking for the raw material used in nuclear power and atomic weapons. That would be illegal in Nova Scotia, which has had a moratorium on uranium exploration and mining since 1982.
"We know that there's a moratorium. We're also exploring for base metals," said Dennis van Dyke, president of Tripple's parent company, Vancouver-based Capella Resources Ltd.
"If we do find uranium, under the law, the property will have to be withdrawn from further exploration."
Natural Resources Department spokeswoman Jennifer Gavin said the company did not have to declare what it was looking for to obtain exploration permits. If it finds uranium in concentrations greater than 100 parts per million, it must report those results and stop digging.
That's when the lobbying would begin.
"It's our hope that ultimately the moratorium will be lifted," van Dyke said. "I think public opinion is swaying generally towards nuclear energy. It's the only green energy we have right now that's economically viable."
Premier Rodney MacDonald already said he's open to changing attitudes on nuclear power. When the NDP asked him to reaffirm the uranium moratorium last month, he said the province has to consider "new options" to fight global warming. Nova Scotia Power currently relies on coal-fired power plants.
NDP environment critic Graham Steele said the Tory government us using "subterfuge" to allow Capella to build a business case for a mine.
"What the company is doing might not technically be uranium exploration, but it's the next-best thing," Steele said. "Our government is aware of this and seems to be behind it."
The new exploration site is next to Millet Brook. When uranium, copper and silver were found there in the 1970s, public backlash led to the province-wide moratorium.
Tumbling uranium prices at the time probably meant a mine wasn't viable anyway, van Dyke said. Now, demand is up and a lot of marginal deposits are worth mining.
Rudy Hasse called for the initial moratorium and chaired a citizens group called Citizens Against Uranium Mining, which demanded an extension. The Buchanan government complied in 1985, after a boisterous public inquiry.
Hasse said citizens will organize again to fight uranium mining. The Council of Canadians is planning a public meeting in Chester Jan. 18.
Nuclear weapons and nuclear power are important concerns, he said. Nova Scotians should be concerned about mining itself. Uranium has to be leached from rock. He said that would create toxic ponds near the headwaters of the Gold and Avon Rivers.
"Nova Scotia is too small a place for uranium mining," Hasse said. "It's just going to affect too many people."
Cameco's Rabbit Lake mine back in operation
Reuters, Globe and Mail
2nd January 2008
TORONTO — Cameco Corp. said Wednesday its Rabbit Lake mine has resumed normal operations “well ahead of schedule,” after the world's biggest uranium producer was able to seal off the source of a water inflow that had halted mining.
Cameco said an old exploration drill hole was the source of the increased water inflow that first occurred in late November. It plans to install a permanent plug in the next few weeks and said it will provide a 2008 production estimate for the mine when it issues its year-end financials.
Cameco had also built four concrete bulkheads at the mine, located in Saskatchewan, and is completing their installation “primarily as a precautionary measure,” the company said.
Uranium Lode in Va. Is Feared, Coveted
Landowner Wants to End Ban on Mining Radioactive Element Sought for Energy
By Anita Kumar, Washington Post Staff Writer
2nd January 2008
CHATHAM, Va. -- Underneath a plot of farmland used to raise cattle, hay and timber in south central Virginia lies what is thought to be the largest deposit of uranium in the United States.
Now, three decades after the deposit was found, landowner Walter Coles has set his sights on mining the 200-acre site despite concerns of environmental groups and residents about unearthed radioactive material that could contaminate the area's land, air and source of drinking water.
As the United States searches for alternative energy sources, Virginia has a geological discovery in its back yard that could drastically change the nation's reliance on foreign oil. The estimated 110 million pounds of uranium in Pittsylvania County, worth almost $10 billion, could supply all of the country's nuclear power plants for about two years.
There's a hurdle to clear before an ounce of the element can be mined: It's illegal to dig for the stuff in Virginia. But the General Assembly is considering changing that.
Coles, 69, who recently retired from the federal government and moved from the Washington area back to the family farm, said mining companies have been offering to buy his land. Instead of taking the money, he decided to stay. He said he wanted to make sure that the mining was done safely and that it would benefit the community through jobs, taxes and economic development.
"There's too much uranium here. Somebody's going to mine it," Coles said. "I felt like while I was alive, it was my duty to make sure it was done right."
This month, Coles's company, Virginia Uranium, will try to persuade the General Assembly to take the first step -- approving a $1 million study that will explore whether uranium can be safely mined in Virginia. If the study shows that it can be done, the company will ask the legislature to lift a state ban on uranium mining.
The issue is dividing lawmakers, who will begin their 60-day session Jan. 9, but company officials have reasons to be optimistic.
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) supports a study, and a state energy report released this fall recommends one. Coles's brother-in-law, Whitt Clement, who served as a legislator and as state transportation secretary, is heading what is expected to be a strong lobbying effort. Henry Hurt, an investor and a childhood friend of Coles's, has a son Robert, a Pittsylvania delegate who won a state Senate seat in November.
Virginia banned uranium mining in 1982, but Coles's company recently got a state permit to drill 40 holes to examine the material.
A growing coalition of environmental groups and concerned residents, some of the same residents who helped institute the ban 30 years ago, have started spreading the word about their opposition and are planning to travel to Richmond to fight Coles.
Elizabeth Haskell, a former state secretary of natural resources who served on a board that studied uranium mining in the early 1980s, said Coles is thinking about money, not safety. "He has got dollar signs in his eyes," she said.
Uranium has never been mined in Virginia or on the East Coast, confined instead in the United States to drier, less populated areas such as Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming and Nebraska, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Uranium mining is more common in Canada, Australia, Eastern Europe and Africa.
Support for a Study
Two uranium deposits, which begin at the ground's surface and run about 800 feet deep, were found in Coles Hill, near Chatham, a town of 1,300 residents where old Victorian houses line the streets. Tobacco was once a booming business on nearby farms but has given way to soybeans, hay and cattle.
A Canadian company, Marline Uranium, found the deposits in the late 1970s after the federal government had encouraged a search for alternative energy sources. It spent millions of dollars trying to get permission to mine the land, but interest waned after uranium prices dropped.
Geologists think that smaller amounts of uranium can be found along the Piedmont from North Carolina to New York. Virginia Uranium is not interested in mining other parts of the state, but officials are passing nonbinding resolutions supporting the state ban for fear that another company might try to mine their land.
Still, with accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl a distant memory and a growing global demand for alternative fuels, interest in uranium mining is peaking.
"I believe we need to explore expansion of nuclear power," Kaine said in a recent interview.
Dominion Virginia Power has four nuclear plants in Virginia that provide about a third of the state's energy, but the uranium used at the facilities is imported. The situation in neighboring states is similar, including in Maryland, which gets 31 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, according to the federal government.
Virginia Uranium wants to mine and mill uranium that would eventually be sold to companies for use at nuclear power plants.
The company was formed about a year ago by the Coles and Bowen families, which own adjoining property. Norman Reynolds, a former Marline president, was hired as chief executive.
Thirty other people have invested in the company, several of whom live in the area, including Henry Hurt, a former editor for Reader's Digest.
Hurt's son Robert served three terms in the House before winning his Senate seat. Coles's son Walter, who is executive vice president of Virginia Uranium, and Reynolds together donated $1,500 to Hurt last year, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Robert Hurt, a Republican whose House and Senate districts include Coles Hill, said he supports a study but does not have enough information to know whether he favors mining. He said he does not need to recuse himself from a vote on the study because no profit is at stake for his father.
"I take the responsibility given to me to represent 170,000 people very, very seriously," he said. He said he would not recuse himself from a vote and "leave those people voiceless without a very good reason."
Virginia Uranium says it would pay for the study but would allow it to be conducted by an independent group or university.
Del. John M. O'Bannon III (R-Henrico) said he supports a study and has spoken to Coles about sponsoring a bill in the House. "I don't think we should summarily dismiss utilizing that type of reserve," he said. "It makes sense to take a look at it in a responsible way."
Environmental groups, including the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Southern Environmental Law Center, say uranium should not be mined in Virginia's highly populated areas and relatively rainy climate. They say they are worried that radioactive materials could contaminate natural resources, cause cancer or other illnesses and have long-term effects on plants and animals. The Coles Hill area supplies drinking water locally and to parts of Hampton Roads and North Carolina.
Del. Clarke N. Hogan (R-Charlotte), whose district gets some of its drinking water from the area, said Virginia Uranium has to prove how mining can be done safely.
"They have a long way to go," he said. "They need to show what is different from 30 years ago."
Company officials say that safeguards have been put in place since mining at Coles Hill was first considered and that the federal government regulates all mines and mills with regard to safety and homeland security. Uranium can be mined three ways: through an open pit, by miners underground or through a technology that involves pumping liquid underground and bringing it up to be processed.
Company officials said they will not know which method would work best in Pittsylvania until a study is completed, although open-pit mining is the least expensive. They will not say how much money has been invested, but they estimate they will need at least $500 million to build a mine and mill.
Jack Dunavant, a civil engineer who leads Southside Concerned Citizens, said Coles "keeps talking about new technology that can make it safe. There is no new technology. It's a pipe dream."
No matter how the uranium might be mined, it would need to be processed at a local milling facility. The result, a sandy substance called "yellow cake" uranium, would be packed into 55-gallon drums for shipping. Company officials say the processed uranium is not hazardous. It doesn't become dangerous until it undergoes a later process that would be done elsewhere.
Coles, whose family has lived in a historic brick house on the property for two centuries, said he and his family have never had health problems, although tests show the area has higher than normal levels of radioactivity.
He said he plans to continue living at Coles Hill regardless of whether the uranium is mined.
"I could have sold the land and moved to Florida. But I didn't," he said. "I want to stay and do something good for the community, something good for the state."
Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.
Citizens concerned about uranium mining
Strike committee against Newfoundland company starting work
The Canadian Press
28th December 2007
Some residents of the New Brunswick community of Cambridge-Narrows are fighting any move to mine uranium in their community.
People are concerned about the aftermath of uranium mining, which could include radon gas, contaminated watersheds, lingering radioactive elements and cancers.
The residents struck a committee after Tripple Uranium Resources Inc. of Newfoundland staked numerous claims in the area earlier this year.
They want to get Premier Shawn Graham's views on the future of uranium mining in New Brunswick.
A recent upsurge in uranium exploration is taking place in the province because of a recent spike in uranium prices.
This past summer, a number of landowners discovered that prospectors had staked claims on their properties.
Under the current Mining Act, created in 1985, minerals are the property of the Crown.
Private owners retain only "surface rights" to their land. Prospectors are under no obligation to inform landowners that they're staking claims.
Under the Mining Act, the prospector must "as soon as possible ... make every reasonable effort to notify the owner" after the land has been staked.
Prior to exploration, companies must inform landowners via a notice of planned work on private land, a form which warns that exploratory activities may damage the property.
After that, the landowner and the work-planner have 60 days to come to an agreement, after which time "the work may proceed after the planner has met certain conditions."
"The mayor and council of Cambridge-Narrows have expressed their concerns," said Sam McEwan, director of minerals and petroleum development for the Department of Natural Resources.
"We are going to be looking at the way we stake ground. We try to ensure that companies are following the law and respecting owners' land. We need to strike a balance between landholders' rights and companies' opportunities for development."
Cambridge-Narrows is one of several communities being staked by uranium prospectors.
Uranium exploration plan stirs health fears
KENYON WALLACE AND DAVID EBNER. Globe and Mail
27th December 2007
Central Ontario residents are weighing perceived health risks and potential economic benefits associated with uranium exploration after the signing of a $3-million financing deal by an American exploration company to redevelop a decades-old uranium project near Haliburton, Ont.
Fuelled by the recent rise in the world price of uranium, Arizona-based Bancroft Uranium Inc. is exploring 1,080 hectares in Highlands East, a small municipality with a population of 3,000 about two hours north of Toronto.
The area produced nearly 6.75 million kilograms of uranium in the 1950s and 1960s. The company's plan to start drilling in January has sparked fears of environmental destruction and water contamination tempered by the realization that any future mine could provide hundreds of jobs to an economically depressed area.
"A new mine will be good for the area because it will create jobs and we do need the work," said Gary Stoughton, a town councillor for Highlands East. "As for perceived health risks, some people will always complain no matter what you do. We had several operating uranium mines here in the 1950s and 60s and I haven't seen any more people dying here than anywhere else."
Highlands East resident Robin Simpson, whose 40 hectares have been staked by another uranium exploration company, Vancouver-based El Nino Ventures, said he's concerned his water supply could be contaminated if companies drilling for rock samples hit an underground aquifer.
The situation in Highlands East is illustrative of similar debates taking place across Canada in which uranium-exploration companies and provincial governments are butting heads with local residents.
In Sharbot Lake, an Eastern Ontario township near the Ottawa Valley, local residents and members of the Ardoch Algonquin and Shabot Obaadjiwan occupied Crown land last summer to protest against uranium exploration by mining company Frontenac Ventures Inc. The protesters were ordered removed by a Kingston court in September, and the company is continuing with its plan to start taking soil core samples in the new year.
Anne-Marie Flanagan, a spokeswoman for Michael Gravelle, Ontario's minister of Northern Development and Mines, said the health of people living near uranium exploration sites is a "serious concern," but emphasized that no uranium mine would come into existence without a full environmental assessment and public consultation process.
Ms. Flanagan said a top priority of the ministry is to balance environmental sustainability with economic development.
In Cambridge-Narrows, N.B., residents are fighting to prevent any uranium mining in their community, citing threats of contaminated watersheds, radioactive byproducts and cancer. The concerns emerged after Newfoundland-based Tripple Uranium Resources Inc. staked numerous claims in the area earlier this year.
Controversial plans to redevelop old uranium mines and build new ones are driven by companies chasing profits in a commodity whose value has soared in recent years, pushed higher by a resurrected nuclear-power market.
The price of uranium surged as high as about $130 (U.S.) a pound by the middle of 2007, up from roughly $40 a pound in early 2006. The price has slid in recent months, but at about $90 a pound, it's still more than doubled in the past two years.
After the accidents at Three Mile Island in the U.S. in 1979 and Chernobyl in the Soviet Union in 1986, the nuclear industry went into stasis. But with higher demand for electricity and efforts to cut carbon-dioxide emissions, nuclear is in renaissance.
In Ontario, mothballed nuclear plants have reopened in recent years and the Ontario Power Authority says two new reactors are required to meet provincial energy needs in the next two decades. TransCanada Corp. has filed preliminary regulatory documents to build Alberta's first reactor. In New Brunswick, the province is looking at building a second reactor and its first is being refurbished right now.
With such a shift in demand, tensions in areas of potential uranium mines is widespread. Nunavut Tunngavik Inc, Canada's main Inuit organization, dropped a moratorium on uranium mining in September that had been in place since 1989.