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Saskatchewan: Still more new mines

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(December 4, 1994) While many anti-nuclear groups around the world are trying to get a handle on what to do with high-level nuclear waste, the anti-nuclear movement in Saskatchewan is trying to do its part by working against the source of that waste, namely, uranium mining.

(423.4188) Phillip Penna - This has been proven to be no easy task. But things have begun to change. These changes are small, but as we all know, the problems are long-term and require long-term resistance. The following is a brief history and update of the uranium mining situation in Saskatchewan.

Since the early 1950s, Saskatchewan has been a major supplier of uranium. The U.S. Department of Defense helped finance the opening of a number of uranium mines around the far northern town of Uranium City. From 1953-65, 100% of uranium exported from Saskatchewan went to supply the American and British nuclear weapons programs. In the 1970s, Canada be-came the world's greatest producer and exporter of uranium.

In the early 1980s, there was a second wave or uranium mining in the prov-ince. In 1980, the Cluff Lake mine opened in the northwest. This was followed by the Key Lake operation in the north-central region and then the new Rabbit Lake mines in the northeast opened in 1985. The Rabbit Lake mines are connected to Wollaston Lake, the largest waterbody wholly within the province. Thirty km across the lake from the mines is the Dene and Cree community of Wollaston Post.

This expansion made Saskatchewan the largest uranium producer in the western world, and it also set the stage for a massive exploration pro-gram. The beginning of this decade saw the province poised for an even larger expansion of six projects equaling 12 mines in total. Nine of these mines are within a 30 km radius of Wollaston Lake.

In 1991, the federal and provincial governments set up a joint environmental assessment review panel to review five of these projects. The other project, the Rabbit Lake Extension, had already received provincial approval so only the federal government was prepared to sponsor a public review of this project. Thus, another panel was appointed by the federal government to do that review. (To keep things simple the federal/provincial panel is referred to as "Panel A" and the other panel as "Panel B")

The review of three projects by Panel A ended in 1993. These projects were the Dominique-Janine Extension at duff Lake, The McClean Project (a five-mine project), and the Midwest Joint Venture. As well, Panel B com-pleted its review of the Rabbit Lake Extension. The report of Panel A's recommendations were a shock to the public, government and industry. The panel recommended approval of the Dominique-Janine Extension with 16 modifications, a five year delay for the McClean Lake Project again with 16 modifications, and a complete rejection of the Midwest Joint Venture. The day after this report was released, the local paper had a cover story with the title "Report Death Knell for Industry?" If these recommendations had have been implemented, the industry would most certainly have been on its knees. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case.

The Federal and Provincial governments responded to the recommendations of the panel by rejecting the five year delay for the McClean Project approving both it and the Dominique-Janine Extension. To their credit they rejected the Midwest Joint Venture, but the approval of McClean Lake was a serious blow to the anti-nuclear movement and the credibility of the environmental assessment review process.

There was a similar experience with the recommendations of Panel B. The Rabbit Lake Extension includes an underground uranium mine called Eagle Point, and two open pit mines called Collins Bay A and D Zones. Eagle Point is underneath Wollaston Lake and the open pits are actually in the lake itself. The company plans to set up dykes and mine the ore from the lake bed.

To everyone's surprise, Panel B recommended Eagle Point proceed but that Coffins A and D Zones should undergo further study before it be approved. If the government accepted these recommendations, the company would most likely not have proceeded as it would not have been cost effective to only mine the ore at Eagle Point. But once again, the federal government ignored the panel's concerns and gave its approval to mine all three ore bodies.

In summary, despite an exhaustive, intense two year public review concluding that eight of ten mines not be allowed to proceed, the governments have permitted nine mines to proceed. In January 1995, Panel A will begin its review, expected to take about one year, of the proposal to mine uranium at Cigar Lake. After this, Panel A will review the proposed McArthur River uranium mine.

These new mines are the world's uranium motherlode. The main companies involved are Uranerz from Germany, Cogema which is owned by the French government, and Cameco of Canada. The question is "why is there such a massive expansion in a glutted market?" The answer is simple. The mining companies want to control access to this resource. It is nothing less than neo-colonialism rearing its ugly head complete with government officials and community leaders, native and non-native, acting as willingly participants. Community based initiatives are repeatedly rejected, under-funded, and ignored in order to fulfill the international nuclear agenda.
But the struggle continues.

Despite the losses, the anti-nuclear movement has seen an important shift take place. This was articulated very well by Canadian anti-nuclear elder Ed Burt who in 1993 came from Ontario to witness at the public hearings. He said "I am glad I came out here, because I see that it's getting harder for them (the industry) and easier for us, and that feels good!"

So rather than being dismayed, we look forward to the upcoming reviews to continue to build opposition to the death-dealers and KEEP URANIUM IN THE GROUND!

Source and Contact: Inter-Church Uranium Committee, BOX 7724, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Canada S7K 4R4.
Tel: + 1-306-934-3030; Fax: + 1- 306-652-8277