The Grand Council of the Crees

Uranium: The Explosive Debate to be Settled in Quebec

by Jean-Nicolas Blanchet, Journal de Montreal, May 19, 2014

Posted: 2014-05-19

Activities are on hold in Strateco’s employee camp since Quebec put the brakes on all uranium development.

BAPE hearings on the uranium sector begin tomorrow. Mandated by the former PQ government, the hearings are intended to guide the province of Quebec, which has not yet allowed Strateco to begin advanced exploration efforts for its Matoush Project, which could become the first uranium mine in Québec . The company says it has made very promising summary explorations. Since 2006, Strateco has been camped in the Otish Mountains in Aboriginal territory, north of Chibougamau. Strateco is getting impatient and is said to have invested $125 million. But opponents, including the Cree Nation, are worried about the risks. In addition to closing its only nuclear power plant, Quebec froze all authorizations related to uranium, a radioactive heavy metal. The future of its operations in the province could thus be decided in the coming months over the course of the BAPE hearings.

"We are not a dump"

Grand Chief of the Cree Nation, Matthew Coon Come, deems it unacceptable "to take such a risk for future generations." According to him, there is no evidence proving the absence of risk.

The National Institute of Public Health recently issued a report which mentions the lack of knowledge on the impacts of uranium on health.

The Grand Chief targets the storage of tailings. "This is soil that will be radioactive and dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years [...] We are not a dump." Strateco explains that the latest regulations regarding tailings eliminate the risks and that residues buried hermetically will be no more dangerous than other soils. Opponents are not certain. The sealed "hole" will be 40 000 square meters and 20 meters deep, according Strateco.

The risks of uranium

"The past has shown that the Crees are not opposed to development. But uranium is a special case. The risks associated with its waste are disturbing. We cannot accept to take this risk for the future of the community,” says the Grand Chief.

"We have never been spectators. We have never accepted that our fate is decided without our input." He believes that Strateco pushed forward as if his nation had no rights. The company disagrees and points out that the tone changed after Cree leadership changed in 2010.

Richard Shecapio, Chief of the Cree Nation of Mistissini where the project is located, believes that the company was not able to provide sufficient answers about the risks, including the possibility of water contamination. "This type of development is not welcome on our territory," he says.

A saga that is “harmful” to Quebec

President of Strateco Guy Hébert, finds that the objectors contributed "misinformation " and that the reputation of Quebec’s mining plan has been affected.

"It's frustrating for shareholders who come from all over the world. We invested a lot. It is known, how we have been treated. The Quebec government has given us several licenses (before stopping any development of uranium),” he says. “It undermines the credibility of Quebec."

Opponents raise the concerns about the lack of scientific knowledge regarding the risks associated with the operation . They point out that Nova Scotia, Virginia and British Columbia have imposed moratoriums on any development of the uranium industry.

Nothing alarming

The president replies that reports show that with the current framework, a uranium mine "is not worse than any other type of mine." He suggests that opponents go to Saskatchewan or Elliot Lake, the former capital of uranium in Canada, where there is nothing catastrophic, he explains.

The "anti", he qualifies to speak of environmentalists who oppose the project, "are against any type of project.”

A study submitted to the Ministry of Sustainable Development shows that harm can be prevented. "But that does not satisfy them. There will never be enough information for them. It is their business to do that," he adds .

According to him, a BAPE is unnecessary in the present context. "The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has conducted studies for years and decided to give us our license because it considered our responses to be adequate.” The president will seek to obtain from shareholders another $1.5 million at the end of May. "Waiting another year would be a disaster. As is stands, we’re out of money."

"We are about to give up. If Quebec does not want it, then change the law and give us back the $125 million we paid."