(Mistissini, Eeyou Istchee) Last night, following a long day of presentations to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), Chief Richard Shecapio of the Mistissini Cree called on the Commission to turn down Strateco Resources’ request for a licence to construct a test mine and called for a moratorium on all uranium projects in the Cree territory of Eeyou Istchee and across Quebec, saying Mistissini will do ‘whatever it takes’ to interrupt this project and stop uranium mining in the region.
The Deputy Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees of Quebec, Ashley Iserhoff, followed with a statement indicating the Grand Council’s support for Mistissini’s position. The statements were greeted with loud applause and standing ovations from the large crowd in attendance.
MiningWatch Canada shares the Crees’ concerns about the lifecycle impacts of uranium mining and the nuclear fuel chain. As per its 2007 position paper on uranium mining, MiningWatch has also called for a moratorium on new uranium mines.
Despite conducting exploration activities in the Otish Mountains north of Mistissini since 2006, Strateco Resources has completely failed to gain the trust and acceptance of the people of Mistissini for their proposed uranium mine. In an earlier hearing in November 2010, Chief Shecapio stated the community’s opposition but later opened the door to dialogue with the Company through a communications agreement signed late in 2011. It would seem like the door is now firmly shut against uranium mining in the region.
MiningWatch has expressed concerns about the significant gaps in Strateco’s Environmental Impact Statement, in particular the lack of a comprehensive effort to model the hydrology of the proposed exploration ramp. Despite the opposition and a long list of deficiencies in Strateco’s Environmental Impact Statement, the federal government approved the environmental assessment and allowed the project to proceed to the licencing stage.
“The fact that this project has arrived at a licencing hearing with so many fundamental issues unresolved indicates a clear failure of the earlier review processes,” commented Ramsey Hart, who represented MiningWatch at the hearings. “We are in full agreement with the Crees’ position that this project can not be reviewed as just an exploration project but as the first step towards one and possibly several uranium mines in the Lake Mistissini watershed,” added Hart.
Chief Shecapio also stressed that Mistissini’s position was not just about this project, but also the door it opens to other such projects in the region. During the hearings a CNSC staff person indicated that there were 20 active uranium exploration projects in the area. The potential cumulative impacts of these projects are not being considered in the current hearings.
It remains uncertain whether or not the CNSC will acknowledge the Crees’ right to withhold consent for the project. CNSC president and CEO Michael Binder indicated yesterday that his interpretation of the CNSC mandate does not include consideration of the social acceptability or social impacts of proposed projects. “It would seem that the CNSC does not take its obligations to respect Free Prior Informed Consent, or the honour of the Crown, seriously,” commented Hart.
The Quebec government has yet to make a decision about the provincial approvals for the project. Nor has Quebec released the report of the provincial review committee, whose work was completed last year. While CNSC may be able to dodge the issue of social acceptability by narrowly interpreting its mandate, this is not an option for Quebec. With the Cree, the Innu, and 320 municipalities calling for a province-wide moratorium, there would seem to be little space left in the province for uranium mining – a fact that the Quebec government would do well to recognise.
Ramsey Hart: (613) 298-4745 (cell); ramsey(at)miningwatch.ca