(Saskatoon) For the last three days MiningWatch Canada’s Canada Program Coordinator Ramsey Hart has been participating in a delegation examining the uranium mining industry in Saskatchewan. The group of thirty made stops in Regina, Saskatoon, at the Rabbit Lake Mine and at a mill in northern Saskatchewan.
The Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources and Wildlife organized the delegation. Delegates included the Minister Delegate for Mines, Serge Simard, ministry staff, regional and Quebec health representatives, and elected officials and staff from the North Shore and James Bay regions. The Coalition Québec Meilleure Mine (Better Mining Coalition) invited Mr. Hart to participate in the delegation as their delegate.
Uranium mining and Quebec’s continued use of nuclear power are controversial issues in the province. With a number of groups, including the Coalition Québec Meilleure Mine, calling for a moratorium on uranium exploration. There has never been a uranium mine in Quebec, but the federal and provincial review committees are currently completing a report on an advanced exploration project in the Mont Otish Region. It and other exploration projects in the North Shore, Ottawa River, Mont Laurier and Gaspé areas have met with stiff opposition.
During the visit to Saskatchewan, presentations were made by provincial government officials, a medical doctor and industry. Delegates also had a chance to tour the Rabbit Lake Mine operated by Cameco and meet members of the local Dene community. Local community representatives expressed appreciation for employment created by the mines, which have relatively high employment rates for Aboriginal people. They also, however, expressed their frustration that there is no agreement for community benefits and revenue sharing with the province or company. Furthermore, they remain concerned about protecting the area's water supply and about rising cancer rates in the community. The doctor responsible for regional health indicated that there are more likely causes for high cancer rates, but the concern persists among some community members. Unfortunately, no Indigenous participants from Quebec were part of the delegation.
“The trip provided important information about the risks and regulation of the industry,” commented Hart, “however, most presenters only provided general information. They made references to studies, but did not show concrete results, nor did they describe the environmental impacts that have occurred at the mine sites.”. Each of the mines must carry out Environmental Effects Monitoring, but none of the data from these studies was presented to the delegation.
During the mine tour, delegates learned that in recent years Cameco has taken steps to substantially reduce contamination flowing into nearby Wollaston Lake. The expertise and expense required to reduce uranium, selenium, molybdenum and arsenic pollution arising from uranium mines is significant. “It raised concerns for me about smaller junior companies operating in Quebec and seeking to exploit much less rich deposits that those in Saskatchewan (the richest in the world). Do they have the expertise and financial capacity to invest in these kinds of systems?” questioned Hart.
In discussing waste management and decommissioning, emphasis was placed on covering and planting the waste piles with grass, including pictures of attractive rolling hills. The complex and challenging issues of managing water movement and drainage through wastes, which retain 85% of the original ore's radioactivity, along with many other toxics, were not discussed in detail with the delegation. “I don’t think this kind of oversimplification does justice to the efforts companies are undertaking nor does it provide a complete picture to the delegates,” added Hart.
Risks associated with uranium mining are just one of the reasons groups are seeking a moratorium on uranium mining. Additional concerns pertain to additional risks associated with processing, managing (?) high-level nuclear waste, and the uses of uranium, such as nuclear power, nuclear arms, and depleted uranium weapons.
As the delegation leaves Saskatchewan, questions remain about the implications of uranium mining and these other issues that Quebeckers must grapple with to arrive at a decision about uranium exploration and mining.
Ramsey Hart, MiningWatch Canada (613) 614-9937, ramsey(a)miningwatch.ca
Ugo Lapointe, Coalition Québec Meilleure Mine (514) 708-0134