Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU)
Inquiry on the Impacts of the Uranium Cycle
by Jaylyn Wong
I would consider myself an average Ontario citizen and I want the Ontario government to know that I support a provincial moratorium on uranium mining. Hearing more about the environment these days, I’ve realized that we, today’s generation, are going to have to make some sacrifices if we want tomorrow’s generation to have a chance. We, the people living in industrialized countries, are consuming too many resources and using too much energy – these levels truly cannot be maintained. If we don’t change, and do it now, it is clear that there won’t be enough resources for others on the planet and for our children. A moratorium on uranium mining can be Ontario’s way of moving forward to address these issues. No one wants to pass down poverty and war as our legacy. |
At first glance, I thought that maybe nuclear power was part of the solution. Like the impact on food prices from increased agriculture for biofuel has recently proven, sometimes we jump into a possible solution without fully considering its impacts. Now that I understand that millions of tonnes of radioactive nuclear waste are created from uranium mining and nuclear power stations, and that people are poorly protected from its harmful health effects, I see that nuclear power is not a solution. The radioactive tailings from uranium mining and spent fuel from reactors are the worst kind of legacy to leave future generations.
Despite the potential jobs and the profits if uranium exploration or mining starts at Sharbot Lake, about 110 km outside of Ottawa, I do not think that the benefits outweigh the costs. Mining companies and nuclear power companies may state that they will use the best methods possible to protect people from harm, but it is unwise to have 100% faith that these stated intentions will come true. I have heard too many examples of accidents, unexpected circumstances and companies that have cut corners to believe that we will not be exposed to danger.
A recent example is the 2007 shutdown of the National Research Universal Reactor in Chalk River. Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) had not installed a back-up energy source for its cooling pumps that was a safety requirement for its operation. When the situation was discovered by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and the reactor was shut down to install the back-up energy supply, the federal government legislated restarting the reactor before the installation was complete. The government decision saved many lived that were dependent on medical isotopes produced by the reactor, but the decision of AECL to not install the energy supply as required in 2006 endangered many lives of those living near the reactor. I realize that this is not a provincial example, but it shows how companies dealing with radioactive materials are no different than other companies. No amount of education or lofty ideals will change the fact that people and companies are not always motivated by altruism and the public good.
Uranium mining has a significantly negative impact on the environment in general and terrible impacts on the people, wildlife and lands around the mine. The health of uranium miners has been compromised in the past, for example the uranium miners at Elliot Lake. We must also not forget the impacts on the health of miners’ families and those families that run businesses in the surrounding community. Several acknowledged examples of leaking tailing ponds have occurred around the world. The Elliot Lake community and many other mining communities may be too small for studies to yield evidence of harm that is statistically significant. However, visiting the community and talking to the people would convince even the most disbelieving person that more research is warranted before we say that mining uranium is safe.
The supply of high-grade uranium is limited and there is already interest in mining low grade uranium in Ontario, for example at Sharbot Lake. However, low-grade uranium will not lower carbon emissions enough to have an impact on climate change once the carbon released by the higher mining and processing efforts required for low-grade uranium is factored into the equation.
Finally, I would like to address the suggestion that Ontarians do not have the choice to opt out of nuclear power. What a terrible situation that would be, if we have no choice but to risk our lives and the lives of our children to keep the lights on. Would it be worth it? However, now I realize that we have many other options and that, taken together, minimizing our energy requirements and using renewable energy sources will allow us to keep the lights on without nuclear power. Moreover, 85% of uranium being mined in Canada is exported. We don’t need more to keep our lights on. To stop uranium mining in Ontario and become less dependent on energy sources that produce carbon emissions, I recommend that you explore the following well researched approaches to creating electricity and warmth for our buildings from Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning by George Monbiot:
• Reduce energy use in buildings
• Produce approximately half our grid electricity with power stations that burn methane (sourced from natural gas or effluvium from underground coal gasification) and capture the carbon dioxide emissions for storage.
• Produce the other half of grid electricity with renewable wind and wave technology, including offshore technology.
• Heat our homes and provide more electricity to the grid by creating an energy internet – a micro-generation system using solar panels and either hydrogen boilers or hydrogen fuel cells for each home that would not increase the time commitments or efforts of households.
I will support the above package for producing energy in Ontario. Please place a moratorium on uranium mining in Ontario until the 1990 Mining Act has been updated to reflect all we now known about the environmental and health impacts of uranium. For the health of our families, for the future generations, let Ontarians explore the evidence before allowing uranium to potentially ruin more people’s lives. We can make this work.
Thank you very much for this opportunity to speak out