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Uranium rising

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Issue: 47 Section: Environment Geography: Canada, East Asia, Atlantic New Brunswick, Indonesia Topics: Mining, corporate

July 6, 2007

Uranium rising

Plan to mine radioactive ore generates controversy in Moncton, New Brunwick

by Chris Arsenault

Canadian mining company, Inco, has encountered resistance to its activities from Indigenous people, and evironmental and social justice groups all over the world. Polluting mine runoff is a key concern of many, as pictured here, at the Inco plant in Sudbury, Ontario. Photo: Jay Morrison/www.jaymorrison.com

One of the largest and most profitable mining companies in the world -- a company that received a failing grade on the Globe and Mail's corporate social responsibility survey -- is prospecting for the radioactive ore near Moncton, New Brunswick.

CVRD-Inco spent roughly $4 million to buy exclusive uranium prospecting rights for the next year on a 136,000-hectare area between Sussex and Moncton. The area includes land bordering the city of Moncton's watershed, which supplies drinking water for 100,000 residents.

New Brunswick Health Minister and Moncton MLA Mike Murphy has stated unequivocally that there will be no mine in the watershed, but according to Department of Natural Resources spokesman Brent Roy, Minister Murphy doesn't have the legislative authority to make that call.

"Prospecting just happens to intersect with the northern tip of the watershed and this is a legal legislative activity," said Roy in an interview. "In order to say 'no' [to mining in the watershed], we would have to change the law."

"The mining industry isn't in the business of taking 'no' for an answer," said Dr. Mark Winfield, a nuclear analyst with the Pembina Institute.

But they're hardly alone. Despite Health Minister Murphy's assurances that CVRD-Inco will not open a mine, Roy feels otherwise.

"The price of uranium is really high right now and we should be looking for it if we want to be in business," Roy said.

"Existing mines in northern Saskatchewan have caused severe contamination through heavy metals like arsenic, and long-lived radionuclides, along with conventional pollutants," said Winfield. In 2004, Health Canada concluded that effluent from uranium mines meets the definition of a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

"There's no such thing as 100 per cent safe," said Moncton City Councillor Steve Boyce. "We've been assured [of environmental safety] by CVRD-Inco, the same company that has been charged with dumping mine tailings into a brook in Ontario."

In an interview, CVRD-Inco spokesman Cory McPhee stated the obvious: "The ultimate goal is to explore for resources and open a mine."

So, it looks like two camps are digging in for a good old-fashioned showdown. Elements within the provincial government, and of course the mining company, are on one side pushing for the project, while Moncton City Council and environmental groups are hoping to bury it.

On the surface, it looks like the impending showdown could be characterized by what some corporate consultants call a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) campaign. But CVRD-Inco's mining plans, and government support for them, dig at something a little deeper in New Brunswick provincial politics.

In early June, Premier Shawn Graham received a standing ovation during an address to the Canadian Nuclear Society when he stated that the "possibility of a second nuclear unit at Point Lepreau is very interesting to us and will be closely examined."

It seems as though power and the desire for it, specifically nuclear power, runs in the Graham family. Alan R. Graham, father of Premier Shawn Graham, sits on the Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB), the federal agency responsible for enforcing health, safety, security and environmental standards related to nuclear energy.

As a member of the AECB, Alan Graham, a Liberal party stalwart appointed to the board in 1998, is responsible for issuing licenses for nuclear activities, one of which may come from the N.B. government, led by his son.

Unearthing a little more toxic bureaucracy, the Atomic Energy Control Board reports to Parliament through the minister of natural resources, rather than the minister of the environment.

"The Department of Natural Resources is not in the business of protecting the environment; they're in the business of development," said Councillor Boyce. Thus, if the AECB is making a tough decision between a potentially dangerous mine and economic development, the board has political interest in siding with development, due to the mandate of the department it reports to.

Nova Scotia enacted a formal moratorium on uranium mining in 1982.

"Politicians were responding to public outcry," said Rick Ratcliffe, spokesman for the Nova Scotia Department of the Environment. Notice, it's the Department of the Environment, rather than the Ministry of Natural Resources that now administers uranium mining policy in Nova Scotia.

"CVRD-Inco didn't put the uranium there," said Corey McPhee, who has worked at Inco for the last 17 years. "We have a 100-year history of mining and mining responsibly."

'Responsible' is the last word Tracy Glynn, a staffer at the New Brunswick Conservation Council, would use to describe Inco.

Glynn wrote her masters thesis in Indonesia, where Inco operates a major mining complex.

In 2005, Glynn found that Inco was providing local communities with bacteria-contaminated water. Inco's senior employees, mostly from Canada and Australia, were given clean, filtered water.

"No local people were employed as managers at the company's Indonesian operations," said Glynn, who spent time with affected communities. "The young people would have frequent protests calling for employment at the mine."

When giving Inco a failing grade in its 2005 Corporate Social Responsibility Survey, the Globe and Mail noted that company policies had led to "strained community relations at nickel projects in New Caledonia [an island in the South Pacific] and Guatemala."

"Inco has been trying for about 10 years to get the huge Goro Nickle mine up and running in New Caledonia," said Catherine Coumans, a policy expert with Mining Watch Canada, a union-funded, non-governmental organization based in Ottawa.

"The mining permit they were granted in 2004 was yanked," said Coumans, who said Inco has been more or less ignoring the order. Many of New Caledonia's residents are indigenous people who have been "fighting Inco tooth and nail; taking them to court, blocking roads and burning equipment," said Coumans.

New Caledonia has some of the highest biodiversity on Earth. Inco's operations there have already destroyed eco-systems that may have included previously undiscovered plant and animal species, said Coumans.

"We think we are improving, in terms of corporate social responsibility," said CVRD-Inco spokesman Cory McPhee. "An example of that might be seen in our New Caledonia project where we have begun sitting down and talking with the community." Coumans agreed that community relations have improved in New Caledonia since Inco was bought out by CVRD of Brazil in 2006.

However, New Caledonia is but one of the company's trouble-spots. In Montreal, on November 13, 2006, Mining Watch Canada brought together a panel made up of community leaders from Indonesia, Guatemala, New Caledonia and Canada, who discussed their struggles against Inco. Those fighting against the mine worry that New Brunswick may have a delegate at events like this in the future.

And according to Dr. Winfield, the potential health and environmental impacts of the mine are not balanced out by any positive ones.
"The inter-governmental panel on climate change was very clear that nuclear [energy] can't compete economically," he said. "New Brunswick has better options for energy: a lot of coast line, a lot of wind, tidal power.

"They should be pursuing these options before going down this [nuclear] path."

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Green Rep Media

Just looked through the topic. great job.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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