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The Nuclear Push

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Issue: 55 Section: Canadian News Geography: Atlantic Nova Scotia Topics: Mining, uranium

November 24, 2008

The Nuclear Push

Mining lobby wants uranium ban lifted

by Angela Day, David Parker, Asaf Rashid

Warning sign at a uranium mine in Saskatchewan. Some Nova Scotians are hoping to maintain a moratorium on uranium mining in their province, and keep signs like this out. Photo: Patrick Smillie

HANTS COUNTY, NOVA SCOTIA–As the global demand for energy increases and resources dwindle, a collusion of provincial government and extractive industry officials are pushing to establish a uranium mining industry in rural Nova Scotia through a "voluntary planning” process.

The Mining Association of Nova Scotia (TMANS), whose board of directors represents a variety of mining companies, has been promoting an end to the 1982 moratorium on uranium mining in the province.

"By having a moratorium in place, we are blind," Gordon Dickie, then-President of TMANS, said in April. "We are blinded in terms of not being able to acquire information that would be useful to where we build our houses and where we draw our water."

Dickie's comment assumes that eventually the moratorium will be lifted and the uranium will be mined, something that environmental groups are fighting against due to safety concerns about mining radioactive ore.

During uranium exploration, toxins are released, posing serious risks to local ecosystems and communities. According to MiningWatch Canada, uranium is generally mined in open pits or through "in situ" leaching, a process that pumps an acidic or alkaline solution into the ground. These processes' ramifications include the contamination of groundwater, the dispersal of radioactive dust, and the release of radioactive gas.

Despite the health and environmental risks, however, skyrocketing oil prices have made nuclear power – and thus, uranium mining – increasingly attractive. The World Nuclear Association website shows that Canada is the number one exporter of uranium in the world. In 2004, Canada’s uranium production was about 30 per cent of total world figures, a value of approximately $800 million.

Companies such as Capella Resources are banking on a lift of the moratorium while conducting explorations in areas of Nova Scotia with known uranium deposits.

Exploration Underway

Millet Brook lies in the central rocky interior that runs the length of mainland Nova Scotia, in Hants County. It is here that the province's highest amount of uranium was discovered three decades ago, and also where popular resistance helped precipitate movement towards the 1982 moratorium.

The moratorium stipulates that mineral exploration must cease when uranium is detected in concentrations higher than 100 parts per million (ppm), in order to protect those areas from any mineral development that would release the uranium deposits. Millet Brook has the highest concentration of uranium in Nova Scotia, well over 100 ppm. But Capella Resources has a special permit from the Nova Scotia government that allows it to explore without releasing the results of their sampling. This enables them to continue to do bulk sampling in West Hants, all around Millet Brook.

Bulk sampling entails the removal of large amounts of overburden – the earth and rock that lie above the uranium. In this case, the mining takes place in an ecosystem that supports endangered species such as the mainland moose and the common nighthawk.

Some citizens see the permit as a breach of the moratorium. Donna Smyth and Gillian Thomas, anti-uranium activists with Citizen Action to Protect the Environment (CAPE) based in Wolfville, NS, see this breach as a threat to local ecosystems, including the watershed in West Hants.

The watershed in West Hants is not categorized as a municipal watershed and thus is not protected by provincial regulations. "In provincial regulations, 'watershed' means water supply area in a business sense, for municipal populations, not in the ecological sense of 'everywhere the water flows,'" says Smyth. Development in West Hants would mean diverting the Avon River watershed from its natural flow to instead be used for the development.

The Future of Natural Resources

Voluntary Planning (VP), an arms-length agency of the Nova Scotia government, was formed to gather public input and influence government decision-making concerning natural resources in the province. However, its website also states that the government is "in no way beholden to act on all or any of Voluntary Planning's recommendations.”

In turn, VP created the Natural Resources Citizen Engagement Committee. The Committee is made up of eight members, appointed by the Board of Voluntary Planning. Amongst the eight, three have an affiliation with nuclear power or uranium mining. One of them, David Duncan, was the person who, decades ago, discovered the uranium deposit in Millet Brook. Between May 12 and June 17, the Committee held "citizen engagement" events throughout the province.

According to Angela Giles of the Atlantic Chapter of the Council of Canadians, "There were several problems with the Voluntary Planning sessions themselves. Many people complained that there was little public advertising and most seemed to have heard about the sessions through word of mouth.

"The outline of the session was that the first half was dedicated for a 'go-around' for each person around the circle to introduce themselves and comment about one or all of the four topics [biodiversity, parks, forests, and mining] ... The second half was to break away into smaller groups based on the four topics. These issues should have had separate meetings. Many people (myself included) felt unfulfilled by the opportunity Voluntary Planning provided, given that I had only two minutes to express my concerns during the three-hour session.”

Jamie Simpson, who works with Halifax’s Ecology Action Centre, said that at the meeting in Pugwash there was a strong presence of industry representatives among the crowd of 55 people, making it appear that industry's opinions on mining – as well as forestry – were the opinions of the community. Simpson said that at the break-out session on mining, all the attendees were mining industry representatives, skewing the discussion.

As the meetings progressed, concerned participants began to develop an understanding of how to take control of the process and spread the word themselves to create a strong presence at the sessions.

Now that the Citizen Engagement sessions have been completed and the written submissions are in, the next step is for the Citizen Engagement Committee to work with Volunteer Planning staff to produce a final report on the process. The report will then be passed on to an "independent" expert panel that will produce their own report for the provincial government. Finally, the department will write its strategy based on the submissions from the first two phases, projected for 2010.

David Parker is the News Coordinator at CKDU 88.1 fm campus-community radio in Halifax.

Asaf Rashid is Campaigns Coordinator at the Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group (NSPIRG) and a Halifax-based organizer against the Atlantica free trade zone.

Angela Day is a writer, gardener and youth worker, currently pursuing a Masters degree in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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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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