Calling for an End to Uranium Mining

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,

For further information, visit:

• The Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU),

• Uranium Citizens’ Inquiry,

• MiningWatch,

• Sortons le Québec du Nucléaire,

Mike Buckthought writes about environmental and human rights issues.

Peace and Environment News — Insider, Volume 25, Number 6, November–December 2010, page 1.

Pulling the Nuclear Plug

You wouldn’t think they’d want to build a nuclear power plant near an active earthquake fault. They almost did until the Turkish government pulled the plug.

Briarpatch, September 2000
by Mike Buckthought

The year is 2020. At the turn of the century, a now-defunct corporation called Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) urged Turkey to buy nuclear reactors, at a time when other countries were shutting them down.

Chernobyl can’t happen again, they said. But it has. On a warm summer day, an earthquake struck a nuclear power plant on the Mediterranean seashore.

During the first week, radioactive fallout headed southeast, silently sowing destruction in Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel.

Over the next month, it spread to other countries around the Mediterranean. Over the decades, tens of thousands of people could develop cancer — and thousands of babies could suffer from birth defects caused by radiation.

This scenario is based on atmospheric modelling conducted by scientists at the University of Athens. Researchers looked at what could happen if an earthquake damaged a nuclear power plant at Akkuyu Bay in southern Turkey, if one were built there.

Devastating earthquakes are common in Turkey. Over 18,000 died after last year’s quakes, and this year there have been more quakes north of Ankara, the country’s capital. This hasn’t stopped the Turkish government — along with three international consortia — from trying to build a nuclear plant at Akkuyu Bay.

AECL has offered to sell Turkey two CANDU reactors in its bid, along with a $1.5 billion loan from Canadian taxpayers, courtesy of the government-owned Export Development Corporation.

Competing bids came from two international consortia: Nuclear Power International, which includes Siemens (Germany) and Framatome (France) — and another consortium, consisting of Westinghouse (USA) and Mitsubishi (Japan).

Fortunately, there is now some doubt that the plant will ever be built. As a result of mounting opposition to nuclear power, the Turkish government repeatedly delayed announcing a decision about a bidder. Finally, on July 25, Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit shelved the project, citing its enormous costs.

“It would be better if we consider building nuclear power stations after we have solved our economic problems,” says Ecevit in a newswire from the Anadolu Agency. He says Turkey will now concentrate on alternatives, and reconsider building nuclear plants ten to 20 years from now.

Anti-nuclear activists have played a crucial role in exposing the dangers of reactor exports — and have helped raise awareness through demonstrations, press conferences, and postcard campaigns.

“A nuclear plant at Akkuyu will be a ticking time bomb,” says Dave Martin, research director for Nuclear Awareness Project. “A large earthquake near the site could spread radioactive contamination through the eastern Mediterranean, affecting 130 million people.”

Critics like Martin warn of the environmental dangers, and point to alternative sources of energy such as wind and solar power, and natural gas — as well as the possibility of increased efficiencies in the transmission and use of electrical energy.

“Nuclear power really isn’t a sustainable energy option, and is really not a viable one for Turkey,” says Martin. “It’s risky, it has serious safety and environmental problems — not just the risk of a catastrophic accident, but there’s still the unsolved problem of radioactive waste management.”

Officials from AECL dismiss the risks, saying CANDU reactors have safety systems to deal with earthquakes. We are told that there are independent monitoring systems that would shut down a reactor affected by an earthquake — and nuclear plants are said to be carefully sited away from seismically active areas.

“AECL does not build nuclear reactors on active faults. If we were to build a reactor that was broken open by an earthquake, that would be the end of our business,” says AECL spokesperson Larry Shewchuk.

AECL says the Akkuyu area is safe, but it refuses to release its study of the area. Another report has shown that the proposed site is indeed near an active fault. In 1991, scientists from Turkey’s Dokuz Eylul University published the results of a geophysical survey, identifying the nearby Ecemis fault as an active one.

“To go ahead and build a reactor at Akkuyu Bay without further study would be a totally irresponsible, if not a criminal, decision,” states Dr. Attila Ulug, one of the report’s authors.

Back in Canada, there are more concerns about the faulty siting of nuclear plants. Ontario’s Pickering and Darlington nuclear plants are near active faults. In May, people living near Pickering’s eight reactors experienced some trepidation as a small earthquake rattled the area.

“There are faults underneath and in the immediate vicinity of the nuclear plants,” says Joe Wallach, a geologist who worked for the Atomic Energy Control Board. “There is evidence of geological movement which increases the risk of an earthquake.”

Critics of the nuclear project also express concerns about human rights abuses and the suppression of democratic freedoms in Turkey. Anti-nuclear protests are often interrupted by the police or military — with people thrown in jail for handing out pamphlets or holding a press conference. There are also concerns about Turkey’s treatment of its Kurdish minority, and the occupation of neighbouring Cyprus by Turkish soldiers.

“AECL claims that nuclear power is the power of choice. However, the people in the countries targeted for CANDU reactor exports do not have the power to choose. Countries like China, Turkey, Indonesia and South Korea — AECL’s top marketing priorities — are also top violators of democracy and human rights,” says Kristen Ostling, national coordinator for the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout.

Another concern for critics of the Akkuyu project is the danger of nuclear weapons proliferation. Canadians often think of themselves as a peace-loving people, but Canada has helped weapons programs in other countries by sharing its nuclear technology.

The United States, Britain, India and Pakistan all developed nuclear weapons with the help of Canadian nuclear exports. Could Turkey be the next country to build the bomb with help from Canada?

It seems there is at least one member of the Turkish government who supports building the bomb. In a March 9 article in the Turkish newspaper Sabah, Turkey’s Transport Minister Enis Oksuz openly expressed support for nuclear weapons.

“When you mention the atomic bomb, they are scared that it kills people. It has not been used since the Second World War. Having such a bomb in Turkey’s hand is security. It provides deterrence,” states Oksuz, a member of the right-wing National Movement Party.

“So-called peaceful nuclear power plants have the potential to contribute to nuclear weapons production, either directly through the production of plutonium, or indirectly through transfer of sensitive information,” Martin warns.

“Canada has contributed to proliferation in both India and Pakistan through the transfer of nuclear technology.”

AECL responds by saying that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) provides safeguards such as inspections of nuclear plants, and monitoring by video cameras. “Canada will export its nuclear reactors only to countries that have signed the NPT,” says Shewchuk.

Martin, however, questions the treaty’s adequacy.

“I would argue that the NPT is a very flawed piece of legislation,” Martin says. “Iraq signed the NPT but simply broke its commitments. And any signatory can opt out of the NPT with only three months notice, and do so legally.”

“A nuclear program in Turkey will inevitably reignite a nuclear arms race in the Middle East,” Martin claims. “We cannot put the nuclear genie back in the bottle, but we can help prevent the spread of nuclear weapons by stopping the sale of nuclear power plants.”

Fortunately for the people of the Mediterranean region, the Turkish government has pulled the plug on nuclear power — at least for the next few years. Around the world, there are other hopeful signs of change.

More and more people are embracing environmentally sound, peaceful alternatives to nuclear energy — some recent examples being the decision to phase out nuclear power in Germany, and the cooperation of Greek and Turkish companies to promote wind power. It is hoped that the shelving of the Akkuyu project is another step on the way to a nuclear-free future.

“Turkey has made a wise decision to forgo nuclear power and focus its electricity program on conservation, renewable energy, and high efficiency natural gas. There will be huge environmental, economic and security benefits from this decision,” Martin concludes.

Mike Buckthought is a member of the Radioactivists, an anti-nuclear collective at the Ontario Public Interest Research Group, Carleton University, Ottawa.