Peace and Environment News — Insider, November–December 2010
by Mike Buckthought
Mining corporations have been caught up in a new gold rush, seeking to mine uranium near many communities. People across Canada have expressed concerns about the health and environmental impacts of uranium exploration and mining. Radioactive toxins can pollute rivers and lakes, contaminating water supplies for generations to come. Radon gas is released, exposing people to a known carcinogen.
In Eastern Ontario, there has been strong public opposition to the plans of mining corporation Frontenac Ventures, which has explored for uranium near Sharbot Lake, southwest of Ottawa.
In 2007 and 2008, protests by First Nations and local residents gained national media attention. Many people joined blockades at the exploration site. Ottawa, Kingston, Peterborough and 20 other Ontario municipalities passed resolutions calling for a moratorium on uranium mining and exploration. Local resident Donna Dillman started a 68-day hunger strike to call for an end to uranium exploration in Eastern Ontario.
Frontenac Ventures drilled 15 holes in 2008, but the exploration has stopped, likely due to the strong opposition from First Nations and local organizations such as the Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU).
“Fifteen holes were drilled during the time that we were told that no activity was happening,” says Mireille LaPointe, Co-Chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation. She says people were trying to come to an agreement with the government at the time. The company went ahead, despite assurances that no exploration was taking place.
The company has halted its activities, a positive development that shows that public opposition does have an impact. However, there are still some environmental concerns, related to the removal of vegetation and soil.
“With mining companies they drill holes and then they take off. They don’t cap them properly,” LaPointe says. “Nothing is replanted, the damage isn’t repaired. And they have no right to do that, but they are given the right to do that.”
LaPointe talks about the need to think about how future generations can be affected by uranium exploration and mining. There is a lack of balance, she says, with too much emphasis placed on supporting the profit-making enterprises of corporations.
“Once the water is polluted, where are we going to live? This is where we live, this is our home. We need to start thinking in those terms,” she says. “Things are out of balance… our quality of life is going to start being eroded.”
LaPointe expresses her optimism about recent efforts to oppose uranium mining, and says politicians need to pay more attention to what the citizens are saying. “I think that the issue is not one of involvement, so much as one of politicians not paying attention to what the people are saying. They’re paying more attention to what the corporations are saying,” says LaPointe.
She talks about the need for people to become engaged, and to educate themselves.
“People can become more informed citizens of their own country, and people can also become more informed about the health of indigenous communities, and why these communities — if they are unhealthy — why are they unhealthy.”
“People need to become more active citizens, and by becoming more active citizens, this country becomes a healthier place,” she says.
Meanwhile in Québec, many citizens have become active. They are voicing their strong opposition to uranium exploration and mining, and the refurbishment of the Gentilly-2 nuclear plant. The northern Québec city of Sept-Îles has been a focal point for public opposition. Hundreds of people have joined demonstrations to call for a halt to uranium exploration and mining near the city.
Across the province, a total of 200 municipalities representing over 590,000 citizens have passed a resolution calling for the Québec government to abandon its support for nuclear energy. The resolution proposes shifting to sustainable sources of power, such as wind and solar energy.
Gaëtan Ruest is mayor of Amqui, Québec, and spokesperson for the campaign « Le sort du nucléaire Québécois, un choix de société ».
Ruest says there is a need for increased public involvement to counter the nuclear industry. “A strong civic engagement is essential if we wish to convince the government to reconsider its decision to follow the nuclear adventure and to enact a law that would exclude the establishment of a permanent nuclear waste site on the territory of Québec,” he says.
“The opposition to the exploration and extraction of uranium, demonstrated in an unequivocal manner by municipalities in many regions of Québec, should lead to solidarity and vigilance among us.”
Here in Ontario, you can help support calls for a province-wide moratorium on uranium exploration and mining. Please write to: Premier Dalton McGuinty, 1795 Kilborn Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario K1H 6N1, firstname.lastname@example.org.
For further information, visit:
• The Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU), www.ccamu.ca.
• Uranium Citizens’ Inquiry, www.uraniumcitizensinquiry.com.
• MiningWatch, www.miningwatch.ca.
• Sortons le Québec du Nucléaire, www.sortonsquebecnucleaire.org.
Mike Buckthought writes about environmental and human rights issues.
Peace and Environment News — Insider, Volume 25, Number 6, November–December 2010, page 1.