Cree representatives, environmental groups and one of Canada’s leading experts in nuclear technology, Gordon Edwards, attended Tuesday evening for the start of preconsultations by the Commission of inquiry of the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) concerning the uranium sector in Quebec.
Between now and mid-June, the Commission will provide an opportunity for citizens, civil society groups, as well as mining companies, to share their views on uranium mining in Quebec. The Commission, chaired by Louis-Gilles Francoeur, will hold hearings in a dozen towns in the province, from Mont-Laurier to Kuujjuaq, and passing through Chibougamau and the Sept-Iles and Quebec City. This fall, a “question and information” period is also planned, and later this year, the Commission will hear the presentation of submissions.
At the opening of this process, the Grand Chief of the Crees, Matthew Coon Come, wanted to speak first to send a clear signal to the Commission that his nation is firmly opposed to uranium exploitation on their land. “We are against uranium mining because the environmental and health risks are too high. This type of mine produces radioactive waste that remains toxic for hundreds of thousands of years,” he said, demanding that the question of “social acceptability” be at the core of the Commission’s work.
The president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, Gordon Edwards, also indicated that uranium mining risked jeopardizing the future of the next generations. "It must be understood that 85% of the radioactivity in the ore remains in the uranium tailings, and these substances are more dangerous than uranium itself. So who risks paying the bill ?" asked Mr. Edwards, who is one of the country’s leading experts in nuclear physics.
Co-chair of the Societé pour vaincre la pollution Daniel Green, for his part, asked the Commission not to limit its inquiries solely to the risks associated with uranium. “It’s not just uranium mines that emit radionuclides, you have to include a study on the impact of lithium and rare earth mines that are in development,” he claimed.
At the moment, there are no uranium mines in Quebec. In March 2013, former Environment Minister Yves-François Blanchet decreed a moratorium on uranium time to allow the BAPE to assess "the environmental, social and economic impacts " of this mineral. Since that time, no certificate of authorization has been issued to mining companies interested in exploiting uranium. This measure has been denounced by the company Strateco Resources, whose Matoush project, located in the Otish Mountains, is presently the most advanced project underway and has been slowed by the establishment of the Commission.