Matoush Advanced Exploration Project Brings Uranium Debate to Northern Quebec

Jamie Kneen Communications and Outreach Coordinator responsible for: strategic research, social media, and public engagement; our Africa program, environmental assessment, and uranium mining.

Uranium mining and the nuclear industry have been high profile issues in Quebec in recent months, with the community opposition that developed in response to a possible uranium mine near Sept-Iles and the planned refurbishment of the Gentilly reactor 100 km northeast of Montreal. A number of Quebec organizations including the Coalition pour que Quebec ait meilleure mine (the Coalition for Better Mining in Quebec) are calling for a province-wide discussion about the nuclear industry and Quebec’s part in it. To date there has been no such debate.

Absent a province-wide dialogue, opponents of further entrenching Quebec in the nuclear fuel chain are focusing their efforts on confronting specific proposals. This fall an advanced exploration program in the James Bay region is a focus of concern.

During the uranium price bubble of 2007 a lot of effort and money was put into exploring uranium deposits that had been uneconomical at the lower prices of the previous decade. One of these deposits is in the Otish Mountains, north of Mistissini, the largest Cree community in Quebec. Active mining claims stretch 250 km northeast from Lake Mistissini in a 25 km wide belt. Those holding claims are mostly juniors but major producer Cameco also holds claims in the area.

Strateco Resources is the furthest along in efforts to mine the Otish Mountains deposits and has applied to conduct advanced exploration for its Matoush project. The company is proposing to construct an underground ramp to gain access to the ore deposit with the intent of better defining the deposit and surrounding geology. It’s also possible that the company thought that an EA on an exploration program would draw less interest and scrutiny than a proposal for a full blown mine and that it would be a way for them to move incrementally towards approval for a mine. If that was their strategy it doesn’t seem to have worked.

The application triggered federal and provincial environmental assessments. The review of the project falls under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, which gives the Cree the authority to designate representatives to sit on the federal and provincial panels. The guidelines for the review process clearly state that the proponent must consider not just the exploration activities but also the mine and mill that could follow if approvals and price signals are favourable. It also means that another EIS will be necessary if the company does move forward. For now, joint hearings in Mistissini and Chibougamau are to be held in late November and MiningWatch will be participating.

We’ve contracted Dr. Gordon Edwards, founder of the Canadian Centre for Nuclear Responsibility, to review Strateco’s Environmental Impact Statement and comment on their portrayal of the risks associated with uranium mining. We’ll also be continuing to encourage the Cree Regional Authority to consider the proposed exploration project in the context of the full nuclear fuel chain and the long term implications of uranium mining in their territory.