Leave uranium in the ground:
Citizens want complete ban

UPdate Fall 2008

A rise in the price of uranium has sparked new efforts to develop uranium mines in both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick over the last year. Uranium developers, like wolves in green clothing, are claiming that uranium mining is good for the environment. They also claim that nuclear energy is clean energy. But Atlantic Canadians are not behaving like sheep in response.

The City of Moncton and the Municipalities of Chester and Bridgewater have all called for a complete, permanent ban on uranium exploration and mining. So have hundreds of Nova Scotians, including prominent heath organizations and environmental groups.

On the other hand, some provincial politicians may be easily misled. Last spring, Nova Scotia Environment Minister Mark Parent told the legislature that "this government has an open mind" on the prospect of future uranium prospecting. Premier Rodney MacDonald stated that uranium mining and nuclear power could be among the options Nova Scotia adopts to cut carbon emissions. It looked like Nova Scotia’s uranium moratorium could be on shaky grounds.

At the same time, Tripple Uranium stepped up explorations in the Millet Brook area. Millet Brook, between Chester and Windsor, was the site of explorations by Kidd Creek Uranium in the 1980’s, before a moratorium on uranium exploration and mining was put in place. The area has been proven to have levels of uranium two to twenty times higher than the NS limit for exploration. Nova Scotia’s moratorium now forbids a company from drilling if samples show more than 100 parts per million of uranium. Tripple Uranium’s response to questions was that they are only looking for gold and base minerals, although the areas where they are exploring are known to have high potential for uranium. Tripple Uranium has 7,207 claims covering 115, 312 hectares of land in Nova Scotia, including areas near Wentworth and Annapolis.

As yet, the Nova Scotia Government has taken no steps to either strengthen or weaken the existing moratorium on uranium mining. The moratorium was adopted in 1985 after the McCleave inquiry into immediate and long-term dangers of uranium mining. The NS moratorium remains an “order in council”, not a law, which means it can be lifted by the government of the day at any time, without discussion or debate in the legislature

In New Brunswick, Moncton residents found out in the fall of 2007 that the New Brunswick government had given CVRD-Inco the right to prospect for uranium on about 133,000 hectares of land in southeastern New Brunswick. The area included the Turtle Creek watershed, which provides drinking water for Moncton. Inco is currently facing Canada’s largest environmental class action lawsuit for contamination related to its refinery in Port Colborne, Ontario. In 2005, the Globe and Mail gave Inco a failing grade for corporate social and environmental responsibility.

Further investigation revealed that exploration for uranium was also being carried out within municipal boundaries in New Brunswick. Moncton is not the only area affected – there are 38,000 claims for uranium throughout New Brunswick.

In spite of an outpouring of opposition to uranium mining, the New Brunswick government defeated a motion to ban uranium mining in the province. Instead, the reigning Liberals adopted partial restrictions, which fall far short of protecting people and the environment from the radioactive hazards of uranium mining. The new laws forbid uranium mining within municipal boundaries, watersheds and near private wells. As well, the law enacts a buffer zone of 300 metres around any residences or institutional building where companies will not be able to stake claims.

The Conservation Council of New Brunswick says the government’s new laws are “missing the point.” Inka Milewski, Science Advisor for the Conservation Council says, “In light of long-term radiological dangers from drill cores, trenching and bulk sampling, we want a ban on uranium exploring in New Brunswick,” Milewski also points out that “the public would be surprised to learn that quarries and exploration do not require Environmental Impact Assessments in this province.”

While Nova Scotia politicians dither, and New Brunswick politicians hope that partial measures will calm opposition, British Columbia’s government took decisive action and adopted an all-out ban on uranium. In May 2008. British Columbia became the first province in Canada to completely ban exploration for uranium as well as thorium, another radioactive mineral. The law also outlaws development of known deposits of the minerals, and imposes a "no registration reserve" to ensure no future mineral claims include rights to these minerals. BC also restated its commitment not to develop nuclear energy.

Ninety-five (95) percent of uranium is used for two purposes -- nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.

UPdate, Fall 2008, Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia

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