Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU)
Inquiry on the Impacts of the Uranium Cycle
THE FORK IN THE ROAD
“When you come to a fork in the road – take it!”|
– Yogi Berra
We are running out of cheap oil. Can we stay on the highway we are on?
This submission puts forward the views
- that we are approaching the end of the hydro-carbon era;
- further economic growth may not be possible;
- while Uranium holds the promise of abundant energy, it is intrinsically nasty and dangerous stuff;
- the present proposals for Uranium mining in Eastern Ontario are further complicated by the provisions of the Ontario Mining Act and the fact that Sharbot Lake is on unceded Algonquin land;
- if we are concerned about our childrens’ future, the time has come for sober second thought;
- there are alternatives which include conservation, new technologies, emphasis on local community self sufficiency and alternate energy sources;
- Germany has created some 380,000 new jobs in alternate energy, an example which the Ontario economy could well adopt as the demand for large cars diminishes and the automotive sector declines.
1. The Global Context
We are running out of cheap oil.
As James Kunstler commented in the Ottawa Citizen, Sat, April 19, 2008:
“The fog of cluelessness that hangs over North America about the gathering global oil crisis and its ramifications seems to thicken by the hour. One reason for all the fog is that the key part of the story is so broadly misunderstood -- namely, that it's not about running out of oil; it's about how the complex systems we depend on for everyday life begin to destabilize as the global demand for oil starts to outstrip the supply.
By "complex systems" I mean very precisely:
- the way we produce and distribute our food;
- the way we do commerce and manufacturing;
- the way we move people and things around the landscape;
- the way we accumulate and deploy capital investment;
- the way we get and allocate energy resources (i.e. the oil markets themselves);
- plus many other activities such as education, medicine, governance, and so on.
“ All these systems are visibly wobbling these days, and mutually reinforcing each other's instabilities, multiplying and accelerating our problems. For instance, our ventures in bio-fuels are affecting worldwide grain prices so severely that food riots have broken out in several poor countries. Whoops! Bitten by unintended consequences.
“ The capital markets have been faltering conspicuously for half a year now and the failures occurring there are not so mysterious if you understand that a major implication of the oil story is the prospect of industrial economies being unable to generate the kind of regular "growth" that we've become used to.”
Corporations and all proponents of the so-called ‘Global Economy’ are now becoming desperate for increased supply of energy and other commodities to keep the mantra of everlasting growth moving ahead at full speed without any real consideration given to the ailing health of the bio-sphere.
The situation outlined by James Kunstler suggests that matters are a lot more complex than presently being suggested. In addition to the points he raises, we are now also faced with finding solutions to global warming, polar meltdowns, rapidly escalating commodity prices, food and water shortages, an increasingly unstable global financial system, and lastly but no means least, living in harmony with nature and remaining able to meet our escalating monthly bills.
Uranium is presently being globally promoted as the next safe and viable source of energy: Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, claims that Uranium is ‘safe’; Premier McGuinty has announced that Ontario is looking to Uranium to supply some 70% of Ontario’s future energy needs –“to keep the lights on”.
We have not yet realized that it is impossible to sustain infinite economic growth on a finite planet without impairing the dynamics, substance and health of the biosphere itself.
There is growing scientific and medical evidence that even low level Uranium radiation — from mine tailings, radon gas, and Depleted Uranium (DU)— is dangerous, the more so because radiation is invisible, odorless and its negative impacts on all life increase with exposure over time.
Particles are small enough to penetrate the brain barrier, and their decay radiation gives rise to all sorts of cellular and genetic damage depending where in the body they lodge.
Its half-life is measured in millennia, and once it contaminates groundwater, there is no known way of removing it.
While there are clearly some advantages and benefits from Uranium, it is also clear that Uranium is intrinsically nasty and dangerous stuff, and once loose, cannot be put back in the bottle again.
Is Uranium the answer? We cannot afford to get this wrong.
2. The Eastern Ontario Situation
Matters have now come to a head in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec as a result of Frontenac Ventures’ proposal for a Uranium mine at Sharbot Lake, up-wind of the National Capital Region and threatening the Mississippi, Rideau and Ottawa River watersheds.
Some 17 Municipalities including the City of Ottawa have now passed resolutions objecting to the proposals and calling for a moratorium.
This situation is further compounded by both the current provisions of the Ontario Mining Act grant pre-eminent rights to prospectors and mining companies over all other rights including private property (the difficulty with Uranium contamination is that all properties become worthless—no-one wants to buy them), and the site is on unceded Algonquin territory.
Premier McGuinty has called for a review to the Mining Act without a moratorium - a process estimated to take some 4 years. In the Ontario Speech from the Throne, reference was made to the importance of the Mining Sector to the Ontario economy thus apparently giving free reign and game, set, and match to the Mining Company interests.
The First Nations Issue
The First Nations, mindful of other examples including Cigar Lake, Port Hope, Elliot Lake and the Navajo in the U.S., have been raising fundamental objections to Uranium mining on their land. They have received jail terms and fines for so doing.
The Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM) website states that
" it is committed to meeting its duty to consult with Aboriginal communities and to ensuring that activities within its jurisdiction occur in a manner that is consistent with the Crown’s obligations concerning Aboriginal and treaty rights."
These detailed Crown obligations have been the subject of various Supreme Court Decisions, the most recent of which is BC Supreme Court Tsilhqot'in Nation v. British Columbia, 2007 BCSC 1700, which summed them up as follows:
a. General Principles
Today we understand that Aboriginal title confers “the right to the land itself”: Delgamuukw (S.C.C.) at para. 138. Aboriginal title “encompasses the right to exclusive use and occupation of the land held pursuant to that title for a variety of purposes, which need not be aspects of those aboriginal practices, customs and traditions which are integral to distinctive aboriginal cultures”: Delgamuukw (S.C.C.) at para. 117. The Crown does not have a present proprietory interest in such lands. The Crown’s interest is residual and is only perfected on surrender of the land by the Aboriginal title holders.
In Delgamuukw at para. 166, Lamer C.J. C. explained that Aboriginal title encompasses three features: the right to exclusive use and occupation of land; the right to choose to what uses land can be put; and that lands held pursuant to Aboriginal title have an inescapable economic component.
To have any significance for Aboriginal people, Aboriginal title must bring with it the collective right to plan for the use and enjoyment of that land for generations to come.
Provincial Responsibilities and The Honour of the Crown
Provincial Responsibilities were clearly set out in Haida Nation v. British Columbia (Minister of Forests), BC Supreme Court Decision,  3 S.C.R. 511, 2004 SCC 73
The government’s duty to consult with Aboriginal peoples and accommodate their interests is grounded in the principle of the honour of the Crown, which must be understood generously. While the asserted but unproven Aboriginal rights and title are insufficiently specific for the honour of the Crown to mandate that the Crown act as a fiduciary, the Crown, acting honourably, cannot cavalierly run roughshod over Aboriginal interests where claims affecting these interests are being seriously pursued in the process of treaty negotiation and proof. The duty to consult and accommodate is part of a process of fair dealing and reconciliation that begins with the assertion of sovereignty and continues beyond formal claims resolution. The foundation of the duty in the Crown’s honour and the goal of reconciliation suggest that the duty arises when the Crown has knowledge, real or constructive, of the potential existence of the Aboriginal right or title and contemplates conduct that might adversely affect it. Consultation and accommodation before final claims resolution preserve the Aboriginal interest and are an essential corollary to the honourable process of reconciliation that s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, demands.
Finally, the duty to consult and accommodate applies to the provincial government. At the time of the Union, the Provinces took their interest in land subject to any interest other than that of the Province in the same. Since the duty to consult and accommodate here at issue is grounded in the assertion of Crown sovereignty which pre-dated the Union, the Province took the lands subject to this duty.
It would appear from the above, that
- there has been little consideration given to the complexity of the wider global forces at play as outlined above – it is assumed that ‘business as usual’ is the order of the day;
- as radiation from Uranium persists for thousands of years, the residual health and environmental damage from tailings would threaten the health, wellbeing the entire present and future population of Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec including the Nation’s Capital, Anglophones, Franco-phones, First Nations, our Multicultural communities alike and all wild life — we are all in the same boat;
- many of the Provincial decisions with respect to Sharbot Lake do not appear to have been taken with due respect to the First Nations and the Honour of the Crown.
- there is an urgent need for sober second thought and a full open and comprehensive examination of the health, social and environmental impacts of all energy issues in general and the uranium issue in particular.
- we cannot afford to get this wrong.
There are many alternatives which include conservation, new technologies, emphasis on local community self sufficiency, alternate energy sources etc.
While a detailed review of these is beyond the scope of this paper, it would appear
- a combination of 20% conservation and 20% renewable energy investments would reduce annual demand by some 40%, thereby extending considerably the lifetime of the remaining oil and gas supplies, allowing time for the rethink and development of new technologies;
- Germany has created some 380,000 new jobs in alternate energy, an example which the Ontario economy could well adopt as the demand for large cars diminishes and the automotive sector employment declines.