Nova Scotia

N.S. government not interested in uranium exploration or mining

The province’s Energy Department has no interest in uranium mining or exploration in Nova Scotia.

Legislature committee passes motion expressing continued support for ban that's been in place since 2009

From left: Peter Oram, Rick Horne and Sean Kirby from the Mining Association of Nova Scotia look on as deputy energy minister Simon d'Entremont speaks. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Nova Scotia's Energy Department has no interest in uranium mining or exploration in Nova Scotia.

"The current market environment for uranium is soft and the prices are depressed," Simon d'Entremont, the department's deputy minister, told reporters Tuesday.

"As well, we're not getting a large number of companies coming forward expressing interest in uranium mining in the province."

d'Entremont was one of five witnesses who appeared before the legislature's standing committee on natural resources and economic development to speak on the issue.

The deputy told MLAs that because nuclear energy isn't factoring into plans here, the province is instead focusing its long-term efforts related to mining on minerals that can be used in green technology, such as copper, cobalt, tin and lithium.

"The question of which minerals do we pick and why do we pick them is one we're increasingly asking in the department," d'Entremont said.

No activity since 1981

There's been a moratorium on uranium mining and exploration in Nova Scotia since 1981. In 2009, the former NDP government legislated a ban on the practice.

Sean Kirby, executive director of the Mining Association of Nova Scotia, said the ban means the province is leaving jobs on the table and forgoing economic development opportunities, particularly in rural communities.

He said the initial moratorium was put in place during a provincial election in 1981 without any true justification.

"We say with all due respect that the moratorium was a political decision imposed at the most political time," he told MLAs. "It was not based on science or facts."

Kirby said the province should look to Saskatchewan, the second-largest supplier of uranium in the world, where they've been doing it for decades and with positive economic results for that province.

"This is a very safe industry," he said.

"If uranium mining caused the problems that some people allege, the people of Saskatchewan would be telling us so. We would be hearing about it."

Department says no health risks

Although Kirby said there is no connection between uranium mining or exploration and the existence of uranium in people's drinking water (something that occurs naturally here), there could be safety risks to not doing exploration work, he said.

Kirby and other industry representatives said the ban amounts to a ban on data and knowledge collection, which could mean people's health is at risk because they aren't aware of what areas to avoid for digging wells or building homes.

But the province's executive director of mining, Don James, said that's simply not the case.

"We have enough data to tell Nova Scotians if they need to have their wells tested and that they should have their homes tested for radon gas," he told the committee.

Maps for both radon risk and uranium in groundwater exist and are available to the public, said James. Testing kits for radon are widely available, including loans through libraries, he said.

NDP, Liberals extend support for ban

At the conclusion of the meeting, the NDP passed a motion, with the support of Liberal MLAs, reaffirming the committee's support for the ban.

New Democrat Claudia Chender said her caucus thought it vital to make clear to the public where things stand on the issue.

"We felt like it was very important to confirm that there is still support for this ban," she told reporters after the meeting.

"I have no concerns that the public's health is at risk by having a ban on uranium exploration."

Liberal MLA Keith Irving said he doesn't think the ban is costing the province any significant prosperity.

"We are doing many things — diversifying our energy mix [and] expanding our economy in many other ways," he said.

Tories want to keep talking

Like Chender, Irving said public concern was reason enough to make clear where members stood on the ban. He said energy-related efforts should instead focus on things such as expanding solar use and reducing greenhouse gases.

Although Tory MLAs Pat Dunn and Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin voted against the motion, Dunn said it was because they viewed the meeting as "a fact-finding mission" and they didn't feel like they were in a position to be able to vote on the ban.

Dunn told reporters that his party would like to see the ban lifted to allow for uranium exploration, but then clarified that what the party wants is to ensure they can continue to discuss the issue.

The ban did not prevent the topic from being put on Tuesday's agenda.

About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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