Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU)
Citizens’ Inquiry on the Impacts of the Uranium Cycle
Home Scope of the Inquiry Participants How to participate Counties & Municipalities
About CCAMU CCAMU Supporter Registration Location & Dates Supporting Organizations
   

Economy and Catastrophe

Michael Ketemer

I'm speaking in two capacities today: first, as a former longtime resident of Haliburton County who is concerned with preserving the county's wilderness areas, and second as a citizen concerned about environmental protection, sustainable economy and maintenance of democracy.

To my mind, the proposed uranium extraction in SE Ontario raises two related sets of objections.

The first set of objections is general: we must consider the risks and costs of nuclear power in both the national and global contexts.

First, mining uranium has harmful effects. The massive amounts of tailings produced release radiological and chemical pollutants which result in the destruction and degradation of ecosystems, habitats and watersheds.The social and health costs of production include the disruptions caused by boom and bust cycles of the industry and the increased incidence of disease among workers and inhabitants of mining towns. In Canada, the mining towns of Northern Saskatchewan, Elliott Lake in Ontario, and the toxic ghost town of Deloro (just down the highway from us) stand as salient examples.

Second, the operation of nuclear reactors has a small but very real possibility for catastrophic accident through the inevitable human error. Think of Three Mile Island or Chernobyl.

Third, there is always the possibilty that uranium will be diverted from the fuel cycle for destructive purposes, either licitly by nationstate actors who acquire Canadian uranium through export or international development programmes (remember that India got its fist nuclear weapon by using Canadian Candu technology), or illicitly by non-state terrorist organizations.

Fourth, the long-term problem of storing hazardous nuclear waste safely for thousands of years has not yet been plausibly addressed, let alone accomplished by any nation.

Fifth, we must consider the massive economic costs of uranium production, reactor construction, nuclear security and safety, as well as those associated with reactor decommissioning and mitigation of adverse health and environmental impacts.

When all these risks and costs are tallied, nuclear power appears neither cheap nor clean, nor green, and likely not even safe. The nuclear industry treats the environmental, social and health costs of their activities as economic "externalites": in plain words, they make the money and the rest of us clean up the mess they make. Though the industry touts nuclear power as the solution to the greenhouse gas problem, better, safer solutions exist. On the supply side, we should develop non-polluting, distributed alternatives such as solar, wind, geothermal and tidal energy. On the demand side, we should invest in conservation initiatives, in energy-efficient technologies and in cultural and lifestyle strategies for use reduction.

My second set of objections is specific to the proposed uranium extraction in the Frontenac Axis/Haliburton County region.

First, I worry about the pollution of watersheds in a prime recreational and tourism area and the effect this will have on the health and livelihood of the people. Thousands of tons of tailings can't be good for business or for property values.

Second, I am concerned that the exploration and drilling so far has taken place against the wishes of the Native Canadian inhabitants of the area, and despite their pending land claims.

Third, I am saddened at the anti-democratic tactics of the mining companies and at the negligence of the Ontario government in their attempts to ignore and stifle the legitimate protests and of the majority of the local populations, both Native and non-Native.

My feeling is that there should be a moratorium on further uranium exploration in the region until the matter ihas been made subject to a binding regional referendum. Further,the referendum should be held only after the land claims of the Sharbot Lake and Ardoch Nations have been satisfactorily settled.