Quebec anti-uranium coalition calls for exploration ban

A coalition of First Nations, municipalities and environmentalists marked the second anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster by calling on Quebec to put a stop to uranium exploration.
Anti-uranium coalition spokesman Ugo Lapointe is flanked by Shawn Iserhoff, youth council chief of the Mistissini Cree and, to his right, by Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador.

A coalition of First Nations, municipalities and environmental activists marked the second anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster by calling on the provincial government to put a stop to uranium exploration in Quebec.

Right now, there are no uranium mines in the province, and the government has pledged to hold hearings on the issue before allowing a mine to proceed.

However, coalition spokesman Ugo Lapointe says the government is sending a mixed message, by promising hearings even as it grants permits for uranium exploration.

"There is a danger," Lapointe said. "You send a signal that you want it."

The Marois government's first move after taking office last September was to announce it would shut down the Gentilly-2 nuclear power station, and Lapointe says it would be illogical for the government to now allow the mining of the radioactive element necessary for nuclear energy production.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission granted a uranium exploration license to Strateco Resources last October, to allow the company to do advanced exploration for uranium at the Matoush site in the Otish Mountains, about 210 kilometres northeast of Mistissini. Que.

The exploration company is eager to proceed.  It launched a lawsuit against the Quebec government in January to try to force the government to make a decision — and to ask the court to void a condition created by the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement requiring the company to demonstrate the project has the support of the Grand Council of the Crees.

The Grand Council of the Crees is strongly opposed to the project.

"We'll do whatever it takes to stop uranium development on our traditional territory," said Shawn Iserhoff, chief of the Mistissini Cree youth council.

Iserhoff says the Mistissini Crees do not oppose all mining, but the short-term economic benefits of uranium mining do not outweigh its long-term environmental and health risks.

If Quebec does allow the Matoush project to proceed, Strateco Resources would be required by law to set aside $30 million to defray the costs of future environmental damage.

However, Lapointe says that measure offers little reassurance.

He said the Matoush project would involve the creation of some two million tonnes of radioactive waste which would have to be stored on Cree territory.

"How much money is necessary to repair the damage that could be caused by a radioactive spill, which would affect not just the aquatic environment but wildlife as well?" Lapointe asked.