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Uranium: Risks, The Mining Act, and Employment Opportunities

Elizabeth Nielsen, Property Owner, Central Frontenac Township

Good Afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen

Before starting my presentation, I would like to thank the Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium for organizing this inquiry and allowing me to present my concerns as a property owner in Central Frontenac Township.

My name is Elizabeth Nielsen, my husband and I, purchased a property two years ago in the township and are in the process of building a home. We chose this area because of the quality of the environment and the community.

Needless to say, we were very distressed to learn that a corporation was making claims and exploring the area in the hopes of developing a uranium mine

Our concerns fall into four main areas:

- The damage that an uranium mine can do to the environment both locally and over the whole Mississippi/ Ottawa Rivers watershed;

- The damage to our health;

- The outdated Mining Act which allows a company to stake a claim and explore for ore on property without the permission of the owner; and

- The need for employment opportunities in the area.

1. Damage to the Environment.

Uranium mining and milling moves hazardous constituents in the rock from their relatively safe underground location and converts them to a fine sand, then sludge, making it easier for the hazardous materials to be dispersed throughout the environment through water and air.

One of the major concerns related to the mining of Uranium is the tailings where the left over materials are normally dumped in special ponds or piles. At a grade of 0.1% uranium, 99.9% of the material that will be mined will be left over. This material contains a number of radioactive substances and account for 85% of the initial radioactivity of the ore. These by-products of uranium mining are discarded as waste. A toxic radioactive gas called radon is a another by product.

As the British Columbia Medical Association stated in its presentation to the BC Royal Commission 1980 on public exposure Uranium tailings will remain radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years, and often require expensive long-term surveillance, maintenance and clean-up by government. In other words, we as tax payers get to pay after a company has taken its profit.

In addition, the waste contains heavy metals and other contaminants such as arsenic. These radioactive and chemical contaminants can leach into the underground water supply and into nearby lakes and rivers as occurred in Elliot Lake, Australia, and the United States even with the most modern ''state of the art'' tailings dams designed to prevent such leaching.

In addition to the substances being leaching into water, the radioactive particles can also be dispersed through our environment by the wind.

As a result, not only can the air we breathe and the water from our wells be affected but the air and water in the whole Mississippi and Ottawa River watersheds can be impacted. Which means my family and grandchildren will be placed at risk.

2. Damage to Health.

From my former responsibilities at the Radiation Protection Bureau of Health Canada, I am aware of the damage that ionizing radiation can cause. Since it cannot be detected by any of the human senses and because its impact does not become apparent until many years after exposure, radiation is an insidious threat to the health of the community and uranium miners.

Radiation can damage our cells and the DNA building blocks within them. Basically, the radiation causes breakages in the links between the strands of DNA. Initially, these breakages will repair themselves but gradually overtime, the linkages will not rejoin or rejoin in a different place. The result is changes to the DNA that can cause the cell to die mutate or start growing and dividing a cancerous tumour or lesion.

In the case of the situation here in Sharbot Lake, the exposure will consist of low doses of radiation over prolonged periods of time. The effects of low doses of ionizing radiation are an increased incidence of cancer in exposed persons, and possible genetic disorders in their offspring. Specific cancers observed in exposed populations include leukemia and cancers of the thyroid, lung, breast, and bone.

Radioactive particles taken into the body by breathing, ingestion, or absorption through the skin may remain in certain tissues and organs for extended periods of time. For these reasons, workers who are exposed or potentially could be exposed to radiation wear protective clothing and wear devices called dosimeters which measure the total radiation to which he or she is exposed over his/her working life. If the level of exposure exceeds the standard, the worker must be removed to a position where there is no exposure for specific periods of time or permanently. Unfortunately, you and I who may be exposed to radiation will not have the same protection.

3. The Mining Act and Rights of Property Owners

As anyone working with legislation and regulations is aware, it is very important that they are continually evaluated and kept up to date not only with technical changes but also with the social values of society which change with time. What was considered to be important in 1870 when the Mining Act was first drafted is very different from today in our multi-cultural society with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and our environmental bill of rights. In fact, the Act was put in place before radioactive material was even discovered never mind determining the impact on the body.

I am extremely concerned that the Province of Ontario which in my view has a “duty of care” to protect the health and rights of Ontarions allows mining companies to claim land and start the exploration process without the permission of the land owner – whether a member or not of the first nations.

My husband and I have put a great deal of time, effort and money into building a home where we can spend our retirement years and watch our grandchildren grow up in a beautiful and healthy environment. The thought that some corporation with no regard or concern about our way of life or our rights can come on to our property, dig holes, cut down trees without our knowledge or permission is of a major concern.

Other provinces have taken steps to require a company to obtain permission from the property owner.

4. The need for employment opportunities for the region.

I am also fully aware of the importance of employment opportunities for young people in this area. The province needs to work with the community to develop an economic plan for the region to reduce the need for mining of low grade uranium ore, the damage to the environment and to our health.

In conclusion, I believe that many of the issues could be addressed if the province

- Made a concerted effort to update the Mining Act and ensure that the permission of the owner of the land is given before any prospecting or exploration can be carried out.

- Ensure that a full scale environmental assessment of uranium mining in this area and its impact on the Mississippi/Ottawa water shed is carried out by independent experts.

- Work with the federal government and the first nations communities to settle the land claim issue.

- Place a moratorium on uranium mining in this area until these steps are accomplished.

- Develop and implement a strategic economic plan for the area to provide employment opportunities for the community.

Ladies and gentlemen, I firmly believe that uranium mining is a risk to the population of this area. Steps need to be taken to ensure the safety of this endeavour before it is undertaken.