Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU)
Inquiry on the Impacts of the Uranium Cycle
A Submission from "Citizen Action to Protect the Environment"
CAPE Mining Committee
During the late 1970s and early 1980s many residents of rural areas of mainland Nova Scotia discovered that invasive mineral exploration was being carried out on their properties. Farmers and woodlot owners found survey tapes, felled trees, and trenches dug on their land. Over time, it emerged that all of these activities were being carried out by over a dozen mining companies, some of them large multinationals such as Aquitaine, Shell and Saarberg, all of them exploring for uranium.|
The extent of these incursions into agricultural and forest land, combined with self-education of many Nova Scotians about the environmental and health consequences of uranium exploration and mining, led to the matter becoming a major political issue by 1981. The level of public concern and the sophistication of public knowledge was well-demonstrated by the number and range of briefs and presentations put before the provincial Commission of Inquiry on Uranium. Of over 200 briefs, many of them giving detailed scientific background and references, there was only one, other than those presented by the industry, favouring uranium exploration and mining. Although the Commission did not submit its final report until 1985, the Nova Scotia government had already responded to public concern by instituting a moratorium on uranium exploration and mining in 1982. The moratorium was renewed in 1995 and remains in place, at least notionally, although it can be eliminated by ministerial order and is presently being eroded by companies drilling in uranium-rich areas on the pretext of exploring for other minerals.
What Nova Scotians learned about the serious health and environmental consequences of uranium exploitation during the 1980s still applies. The performance record of uranium mining companies in Canada and elsewhere has not improved. Containment failures continue unchecked even at mines run by companies with the most extensive experience and with access to the most advanced technologies, for example the 80 spills which have taken place at the largest uranium mine in the US in Douglas, Wyoming, run by the Canadian Cameco corporation. Medical evidence about the consequences of radiation exposure continues to mount, prompting a much more cautious approach than that thought prudent in the 1980s. Furthermore, mining uranium for export, coupled with the recently assumed responsibility for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel following Canada’s signing onto the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership in 2007 virtually assures an ultimate destination of Canadian uranium in nuclear weaponry as well as increasing the risk of nuclear materials being developed into a “dirty” bomb.
We are keenly aware that legitimate concern about climate change coupled with escalating oil prices has presented the nuclear industry with an opportunity to “greenwash” itself and argue that nuclear generated electricity can supply energy needs without contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. While this is a point of view routinely presented by the nuclear industry and its advocates, a more objective assessment of energy needs and sources suggests something quite different.
First of all, while it is perfectly true that operating nuclear reactors have only inconsequential carbon dioxide emissions, the nuclear cycle as a whole is extremely fossil-fuel-intensive. The mining and milling of uranium requires colossal inputs of energy—particularly where the grade of ore is comparatively low.
Further, while naturally occurring uranium is abundant throughout Eastern Canada, as it is in many other places on the planet, it is nevertheless, like fossil fuels, a finite resource. As with fossil fuels, as more accessible and high grade sources, become exhausted the industry attempts to exploit lower grades with ever-increasing energy inputs and serious environmental consequences.
Most important of all perhaps is the fact of the astronomical cost of nuclear power plants combined with the extraordinarily long time it takes for a nuclear power plant to begin production. For example, the reactor which AECL is currently attempting to sell to the UK would not, in the quite unlikely event of its being approved, come on line until 2017 or 2018. [Globe and Mail, Jan. 7, 2008] The enormous expense of this process, combined with the massive government subsidies it entails results in diverting funds which would otherwise be to used develop renewable energy sources whose beneficial effects in reducing climate-altering emissions would come into effect immediately. This was why the car manufacturer Volvo decided in 2007 that its Swedish plants would no long buy nuclear-generated electricity.
We have not addressed here the problem of nuclear waste storage—a problem which remains as insoluble now as when the first reactors were developed in the years after World War II. In itself, quite apart from the other matters we have raised, the issue of the radioactive waste continuing to accumulate at reactor sites around the world with no solution in sight, relegates the notion of nuclear power as “clean” and “green” to the realm of wishful thinking.
We have been greatly impressed by the efforts of Ontario residents in informing themselves on this issue and with the organization of a Citizen’s Inquiry to hear people’s views. We support the recent call of Physicians for Global Survival for a moratorium on uranium exploration and mining in Ontario and Quebec based on their knowledge of the public health implications. We also support their position on the necessity for an epidemiological study of residents of Elliot Lake and Port Hope so that the public health impact of uranium mining and refining in those locations can be properly assessed.
We also note the tragic fact that the current attempt to re-establish uranium mining in Ontario fits the worldwide pattern of the uranium industry of conducting its activities at the expense of the lives and land of indigenous people.
Respectfully submitted on behalf of Citizen Action to Protect the Environment, Hants County, Nova Scotia.