MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada/US uranium update

Published by MAC on 2008-04-13

Inuit halt Aurora in Labrador

Andy Hoffman, The Globe and Mail

9th April 2008

Aurora Energy Resources Inc.'s hopes of extracting uranium in Labrador were dealt a crippling blow after Inuit in the region imposed a three- year moratorium on uranium mining.

The Nunatsiavut government voted 8-7 in favour of the ban which will prevent Aurora or any other mining firm from producing the radioactive metal until at least 2011.

Shares of Vancouver-based Aurora plunged almost 34 per cent in response to the vote results, which became effective immediately.

The people of the area 100 kilometres north of Goose Bay were concerned about potential environmental damage and health risks.

Exploration can continue and Aurora said it will carry on with an in- fill drill program at its Michelin and Jacques Lake deposits in Labrador as well as a prefeasibility study on the Michelin project, which Aurora says has more than 100 million pounds of uranium.

"We are committed to continue working closely with the Nunatsiavut Government, Inuit Community Government members and beneficiaries on such things as tailings management and environmentally safe mine closing plans.

"We strongly believe that we can demonstrate to the Nunatsiavut Government that uranium mining can be safely carried out, with the utmost care for the integrity of the environment," Mark O'Dea, Aurora's president and CEO said in a statement.

Spot uranium prices soared to record highs of $135 a pound last summer and Aurora's market value peaked at over $1-billion. Since then, the spot price has slipped to $71 a pound and Aurora's market capitalization has plunged to $255-million. Yesterday's stock slide saw roughly $100- million shaved from the company's market value.

Labrador Inuit vote for uranium mining ban

CBC News

8th April 2008

Labrador's Nunatsiavut government narrowly passed a controversial bill Tuesday that prohibits uranium mining on Inuit-owned land for three years.

The moratorium, which passed 8-7, goes into effect immediately and will stay in place until March 31, 2011 when it will be revisited, according to a news release.

The ban applies to the working, production, mining and development of uranium in Nunatsiavut, the land settlement area in northern Labrador. However, the Nunatsiavut government said it will still allow uranium exploration, and is willing to work with mining companies while the ban is in place.

First reading of the bill was passed back in March, but further debate and voting was postponed until this week when the assembly met in Hopedale so members could have more time to consult their constituents.

After the delay was announced in March, energy companies had warned that if the bill passed it would kill the mining industry in the region. More than $70 million was spent on exploration in Labrador in 2007.

Shares of Aurora Energy Resources, which explores and develops potential uranium properties in coastal Labrador, plunged 34 per cent following the vote ‹ dropping $1.77 to $3.50.

"We strongly believe that we can demonstrate to the Nunatsiavut government that uranium mining can be safely carried out, with the utmost care for the integrity of the environment," Aurora CEO Mark O'Dea said in a release.

Lands and Resources Minister William Barbour said after Tuesday's vote that the moratorium is not meant to be anti-uranium mining legislation ‹ it's about being responsible.

It gives the newly-formed government more time to get its own land use plan and environmental assessment act in place, he said.

In the news release, Barbour acknowledged that the decision wasn't an easy one.

"The majority of those surveyed and consulted told us they are not comfortable, at this time, with seeing a mine and a mill developed. They told us they want assurances that the environment will be protected and there will be no risks associated with a mine and a mill," he said in the statement.

Statement by FUME (Fight Uranium Mining and Exploration)

8th April 2008

After months of discussion between council and community members, Highlands East Municipal Council (in the province of Ontario) has passed a resolution supporting a moratorium on uranium mining and exploration in Highlands East.

It's time to ban uranium mining

Times & Transcript

5th April 2008

The public has overwhelmingly spoken on uranium mining in New Brunswick, and it has a lot of indisputable evidence and legitimate concern on its side. It is time for the provincial government to heed their wishes and put an outright ban on uranium mining, just as Nova Scotia did 25 years ago.

Nova Scotia obviously knows, or accepts, something that New Brunswick's government doesn't and it is not willing to sacrifice its environment and quality of life for the sake of jobs and development, even though they need jobs as much as New Brunswick does.

We have been watching and listening to the uranium mining debate carefully and several things are clear. While it may be true that the current regulatory system makes it difficult to open a uranium mine, it is not impossible. There is a disconnect between government and industry statements that just because uranium exploration is going on, it doesn't mean the province will ever have a mine. What lies below the surface and the economics of extracting it will determine that.

That is true, but so is an obvious fact: mining companies would not be investing large sums in exploring and drilling test holes if they did not hope to start a mine. That is the end goal of all the activity -- including in municipal watersheds that could be ruined for many years should they be contaminated by a mine. It is disingenuous to suggest nobody should worry, it is just exploration.

It is also hard to fathom why the province would allow exploration in watersheds if it is also true they would never allow a mine in one.

Just as disturbing are the mining policies in New Brunswick which leave property owners with few rights and a type of reverse onus to demonstrate harm, and gives mining companies extensive rights to explore whether there are objections or not. There must surely be a better balance of interests that can be achieved.

The uranium mining industry's track record is not positive. We cannot allow our province to become the dumping ground for questionable and possibly highly hazardous mining just because we are hungry for development. Our region and province is not without environmental problems, but it is simultaneously also a region that has much in the way of relatively unspoiled nature and this is one of our biggest assets. Why would we want to even consider putting all that at risk, not to mention the health of our citizens and security of essential water supplies, for a few jobs? As other jurisdictions say 'no' to the industry, it is looking to New Brunswick. It is time to protect the only home we have; time to ban uranium mining in the province.

Chester wants uranium mining ban made law

Worried about health hazards, council asks N.S. to enact legislation

By BEVERLEY WARE South Shore Bureau, The Chronicle Herald

11th April 2008

CHESTER - Chester municipal councillors want the province to permanently ban uranium mining. A retired emergency room doctor spoke to council about the health hazards of uranium Thursday morning. After that, the seven-member council voted unanimously to ask the provincial government to enshrine a ban in legislation.

"At this point, to lift the moratorium literally requires nothing more than a stroke of the pen," Dr. David Maxwell said in an interview after his presentation to council. "There is no legislative ban on anything."

Nova Scotia is the only province or territory to have such a moratorium. It has been in effect since 1982. Premier Rodney MacDonald has asked for a review of the ban, given the growing demand for nuclear energy.

Spokeswoman Jennifer Gavin said the Natural Resources Department isn't directly reviewing the moratorium. A committee of Nova Scotians working under Voluntary Planning will speak with people across the province, then develop a new natural resources strategy governing minerals, forests, parks and biodiversity. Those meetings will begin next month.

Ms. Gavin said it will take three years to put a new mineral policy in place.

The issue is of particular concern in the Chester area because Tripple Uranium Resources Inc. has found uranium in its search for gold and base minerals in Wentworth and in Millet Brook, near New Ross.

The company reported April 1 it found significant concentrations of uranium in five of 11 drill holes. The find was not unexpected - the Mining Association of Nova Scotia has said the province's geology indicates there are large uranium deposits - but Tripple's exploration licence does not allow it to search for uranium.

"The province is still enforcing the moratorium," Ms. Gavin said.

Cheryl Scott is the councillor for the New Ross area. She said a number of residents already buy bottled water because there is uranium in the groundwater and their wells. And they're worried about what will happen to them if the ban is lifted.

Dr. Maxwell said uranium and the mining process are hazardous. "We're not against mining. Uranium mining is particularly dangerous and different."

"The waste products remain hazardous for tens of thousands of years," he told council. "You cannot get rid of them. . . . Radioactivity damages cells, period. There's no way around it. There is no safe level."

He said uranium and waste products from its mining damage chromosomes, cause miscarriages, birth defects, cancers and fertility problems and damage kidneys.

Dr. Maxwell said radon gas is also released in the mining process and it breaks down in the lungs into polonium, lead and bismuth, which damage cells.

"It causes lung cancer, very simple."

Uranium mining would create only a few jobs that would last little more than a decade, he said.

"It does not justify poisoning our environment for the next 10,000 years. I mean it's utterly ridiculous."

Coun. Marshal Hector said while he supports legislating the ban, council should hear from the mining industry. He said council listens to both sides of the argument on other issues and should on this, too.

But Coun. Gail Smith didn't agree.

"I am adamant in the fact we don't need to hear at this point from mining people. . . . There is no second side to this story."

A spokesman for Tripple Uranium was unavailable for comment Thursday.

Probe finds uranium mine violations

By Dustin Bleizeffer, Star-Tribune

4th April 2008

What has been considered Wyoming's "model" in-situ uranium mine, and the only operational uranium facility in the state in recent years, is under scrutiny by state regulators for what they describe as an alarming volume of environmental violations.

Following an investigation last fall, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has issued a notice of violation to Power Resources Inc., which operates the Smith-Highland Ranch in-situ leach uranium mine north of Douglas.

The six-page investigation report details several "long-standing" environmental concerns at the mine. Among them are delayed restoration of groundwater, "routine" spills, and a seriously inadequate bond to cover restoration.

"Given that PRI's operation has for many years been the major uranium producer in Wyoming, there is an expectation that the operation might serve as a model for excellence in (in-situ leach) mining. Unfortunately, this is not the case," DEQ land quality District 2 supervisor Mark Moxley wrote in a Nov. 21, 2007, report.

On March 10, DEQ issued a notice of violation to Power Resources Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Cameco Corp., detailing alleged violations pursuant to two permits.

"Upon reading this report, it's clear a lot of the issues raised are based on documentation, which is not a good reflection of our environmental performance," Cameco Corp. spokesman Gord Struthers said Thursday.

Cameco is committed to keeping better records and documentation, Struthers said.

He said the company is in the process of updating timetables for restoration and other aspects of operations at the mine to accurately reflect actual progress. The company is also "in a very sound financial position," so it can easily increase its bond to adequately cover restoration of the mining activity, he said.

"It's real hard to trumpet our values in this situation," Struthers said. "But I think that over the years it's pretty clear the company has been a solid performer. The environment is one of our top priorities."

The in-situ mining process involves a series of closely spaced wells that flush uranium material through water aquifers. The technique has been touted as a more environmentally friendly way of mining uranium than underground or surface strip mining.

Moxley's report concluded that the mine routinely extends production times for some well fields. "Well field C," for example, was in production for 10 years instead of the planned one to three years. Underground water restoration is supposed to occur simultaneously with ongoing production, but that rarely happens at the mine, according to the report.

Production and restoration time frames have doubled and tripled, yet the mine still proposes to bring additional well fields into production, according to the report.

Currently, Power Resources Inc. is bonded for $38.4 million to cover the cost of restoration at the mine, according to DEQ. That's based on a calculation of a staff of 26 people, 22 of them on a salary of $34,000 per year.

"If their current operations require a staff of 100 people then it will take at least to 2/3 of that staff to conduct restoration," Moxley stated in the report. "Retaining competent staff will require that wages and benefits be at least $50,000 per year."

"All those well fields are going to be restored to a point acceptable to federal and state regulators," Struthers said. "There is some acceptance within the company that we could be more proactive in our restoration activity."

Cameco's Smith-Highland Ranch mine is currently the only producing uranium mine in Wyoming. It produced a record 2 million pounds of uranium oxide in 2006, and was expected to produce at about the same level in 2007.

Cameco is the world's largest producer of uranium. It has four active mines in North America, including the Crow Butte mine in Nebraska.

The alleged years-long, routine violation of environmental standards at the Smith-Highland Ranch in-situ uranium mine revealed that the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality's oversight of the operation failed, according to DEQ Director John Corra.

But Corra insists that DEQ staff was not "asleep at the switch."

"We were inspecting this place, we were looking at the reports," Corra said, adding that he's not making excuses.

"Had we exercised the proper level of oversight, it wouldn't have gotten this far," Corra said.

DEQ's lack of oversight comes at a time when regulators expect to receive seven or more applications for new in-situ leach uranium mining operations throughout the state. Dozens of new players intend to open production from Rawlins to the Gas Hills to the Powder River Basin and into the extreme northeast corner of the state.

The in-situ mining process involves a series of closely spaced wells that flush uranium material through water aquifers. Several landowners and conservation groups have expressed concern in recent months about whether regulators are prepared to protect groundwater and surface resources.

"Even if the state and the public receives appropriate assurances from the companies up front through permit conditions and bonding, the Department may not have the capacity to investigate and enforce violations the way you have done in this matter. We have heard these concerns echoed by department staff," Powder River Basin Resource Council organizer Shannon Anderson said in a recent letter to DEQ.

Land quality and water quality division officials within DEQ are in the process of re-evaluating procedures and staffing levels in regard to the expected increase of uranium mining in the state, according to Corra.

Those recommendations are forthcoming, he said.

Corra said it was an anonymous tip that prompted then DEQ land quality administrator Rick Chancellor to conduct an investigation of the Smith-Highland Ranch uranium mine, which falls within the division's District 1. Beginning in October 2007, Chancellor brought in the division's District 2 supervisor, Mark Moxley, to lead the investigation in order to get a "fresh set of eyes" perspective.

Chancellor has since left the land quality division to become administrator of the Abandoned Mine Lands division.

Don McKenzie is the new land quality division administrator. He said there's been no disciplinary action within DEQ staff as a result of the Smith-Highland Ranch investigation.

Of the environmental performance at the Smith-Highland Ranch mine, McKenzie said, "I have no intention of allowing this to continue."

Despite what DEQ considers grossly inadequate bonding for the mine, the mine has been allowed to continue normal operations.

Corra said it was unfortunate that it took a high-level investigation to bring the alleged scope of violations at the Smith-Highland Ranch mine to light. Staffing and a dwindling knowledge base in the uranium industry were factors, he added.

"Regardless of what the staff did or did not do best, it does not relieve a permit holder from doing what they are supposed to do," Corra said. "We're taking actions to make sure there's not a recurrence of this sort of situation."

Energy reporter Dustin Bleizeffer can be reached at (307) 577-6069 or

Why no uranium ban in N.B.?

Province says public education key to making informed decisions on exploration

Cole Hobson, Times & Transcript

4th April 2008

Amidst mounting controversy and public outcry fueled by Sunday's public information session at the Capitol Theatre, the Department of Natural Resources will be making efforts to address New Brunswickers' fears about uranium exploration and mining.

"I think the key is education here. People remember the mining practice of several decades ago and that's just not the way things are done anymore. It's a lot better, there's a lot more awareness, and a lot more scrutiny," said DNR communications director Brent Roy.

While the department doesn't currently have any scheduled times or sessions for public education, Minister Donald Arseneault said they are more than willing to meet with any individuals or groups who might have concerns or questions.

While the uranium debate continues in New Brunswick, neighbouring Nova Scotia has had a moratorium in place since 1982 which makes it illegal for a company to pursue uranium exploration or mining. Currently there is no such legislation in New Brunswick, although Moncton City Council recently called on the provincial government to employ a similar ban.

The request was denied by Environment Minister Roland Haché as he supported DNR's decision to allow the process of uranium exploration to continue.

With several mining companies currently in the midst of exploring for uranium around New Brunswick, such a ban isn't likely in the foreseeable future either.

It's news that won't sit well with the province's most persistent uranium protestors, who fear the potential for destruction of environment, human health and even financial downsides far outweigh any economic benefit.

"There's very little to suggest that when uranium has been found on your property, it will drive it up in value," said Fundy Royal NDP candidate and economist Rob Moir, who notes that public stigma alone would be detrimental enough to nearby property values. "It doesn't drive up property value -- it drives it down."

Dr. Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, said although standards in uranium mining have improved drastically over the years, there are still risks involved.

"They used to just dump (uranium tailings) carelessly into the environment, but now they dump it more carefully -- a managed dump," Edwards said. "But what happens to the managed dump when the management leaves?"

Cory McPhee is director of communications with Vale Inco, which is one of the companies currently contracted to do exploration work in the province. With a company history of exploration and mining around the world over a century long, McPhee said the public should feel confident the risks of their practices are very slim.

"We're very confident based on our experience and based on our experience of employees worldwide to do these projects and do them properly," he said. "I think people sometimes fear things that they don't fully understand and part of our job is ensuring we do things the right way and put people's minds at ease."

Mike Milligan is a candidate for the Beauséjour Green Party and said he wishes it was the government who was holding information sessions rather than the onus falling on concerned community members.

"The government should be the ones having these info sessions if they feel uranium is so safe. They should be the ones having the meetings at Capitol Theatre to explain it to people," Milligan said, adding that he is doubtful the province will come forward with much in the way of public education. "They won't want to have that meeting, because they can't convince anyone that this is a safe idea and safe element."

While it remains to be seen what DNR will do in terms of public education, the department maintains that the process of uranium exploration is perfectly safe and that there are significant safety measures that would first need to be addressed before a mine could be established.

After the exploration process a company would then have to apply to develop a mine with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). The applying company must also register for and successfully complete a federal environmental assessment as well as be up to par with the provincial department of environment impact assessment regulations. If any of the steps raise a possibility of environmental damage or risk to human health, the operation would be halted.

"A mine or facility cannot proceed or startup without approval from (CNSC), it wouldn't matter what we said. If they didn't have an approval from them, they can't go ahead," said Sam McEwan, director of mineral and petroleum development with DNR, noting that the federal application process is quite rigorous and in-depth.

Once the CNSC puts a stamp of approval on the project and is satisfied everything can be accomplished safely, the province must then make the final decision on whether or not the project will be allowed to proceed.

Considering the furor that has been raised by exploration, DNR knows if any of the projects get to the point where mine development is a possibility, the questions and concerns will likely only intensify.

"(Uranium mining) is not very well understood by the vast majority of people and it's not the easiest thing to understand... But we're confident that the people at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission are some of the best people in the world for dealing with this," McEwan said. "We're of the mind that there is a process in place and we believe in the process and feel it should be allowed to proceed. The design of the process is to ensure what everyone is concerned about -- the protection of citizen's health and the environment."

Uranium exploration

Times & Transcript

4th April 2008

Whether you're in favour of banning uranium mining or have an open mind to the benefits it could provide, every New Brunswicker deserves to know what is happening in their province as companies from around the world continue uranium exploration.

Cory McPhee is the director of public affairs with Vale Inco, one of the companies doing exploration in the province, including on private land near Magnetic Hill. He said the exploration process is simple and "very non-invasive" and includes the following basic steps:

- Airborne surveys are used to examine the area from above for potential signs that could point to presence of uranium.

- Sediment sampling, soil surveys and soil mapping are done to get a better idea of the local geology and where uranium might exist.

- In order to produce rock core samples for analysis, small drill holes are created in potential areas and then refilled to ensure environmental safety. "We ensure we go the extra mile to ensure no environmental damage whatsoever," McPhee said. From there, samples can be sent to be analyzed for presence of uranium.

Prior to on-site exploration and drilling, companies must also do research of area maps and receive staking claims from the government. Once on a staked site, all landowners must be informed of the procedures that will take place. Rob Krienke,

Vice President of operations for Capella Resources, who are doing explorations in the Hoyt and Harvey areas, said if there is any opposition to them being in a specific location, they accept the landowners request and move on. He said thus far they have 19 contracts signed by landowners for areas they are allowed to drill, and not once has someone objected.

Krienke says the drills used are 1.75 inches in diameter and as long as the area is properly cleaned up and mitigated afterwards, the environmental risks are minimal.

Both McPhee and Krienke say that public consultation is a big part of what their companies do and they encourage landowners to come see what it is they are doing to help calm any fears in regards to uranium exploration.

"For us to do what we do, we closely follow regulations in provincial jurisdictions. It's actually relatively simple, it's not rocket science, we're just drilling a very small hole," Krienke said. "Get the information from both sides and come out and see what's actually going on.

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