Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Stop uranium mining until study is done on impact: coalition

Stop uranium mining until study is done on impact: coalition

Group cites effects on environment, health, land claims

Thulasi Srikanthan, The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Uranium exploration should be suspended in Ontario until its impact on health, the environment and aboriginal land rights is properly addressed, said a report released yesterday by the Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium.

The report emerged from a series of public meetings in Ottawa, Sharbot Lake, Kingston and Peterborough in April. It also called for a royal commission to review Ontario's Mining Act, deeming it out of date.

The meetings were part of a citizens' inquiry conducted by the coalition of concerned citizens from the greater Ottawa Valley and the Kingston areas.

"I hope at the end of the day if the province takes it seriously, they will put in a comprehensive inquiry," said former Ottawa mayor Marion Dewar, who is not part of the coalition, but served as a independent panel member at the hearings.

Ontario's Mining Act, passed in 1868 and changed little since, has raised the concern of a number of municipalities that want the province to make changes; including Ottawa, which has asked for an immediate comprehensive public review.

Critics are concerned that prospectors can stake a mining claim on private property without notifying landowners, as long as the latter don't possess the mineral rights. Claims cannot be made in some areas, like gardens, orchards, "pleasure grounds" or land containing homes or churches. While a majority of Ontario landowners do own mineral and surface rights, others have given theirs up, possibly for financial reasons. Landowners pay taxes on mineral rights.

Aside from reviewing the act, council also decided to petition the province to impose an immediate moratorium on uranium prospecting, exploration and mining in Eastern Ontario and the Ottawa River watershed. These activities, according to the city's website, would be suspended until all environmental and health issues were resolved and "there are settlement plans for all related native land claims."

However, the chance of the province agreeing to a moratorium seems remote. "That is not something we are considering," said Anne-Marie Flanagan, a spokeswoman for the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines. Ms. Flanagan said there is a high global demand for uranium.

"It's used not just for energy, but it's also used for detection and treatment of cancer," she said.

"We don't have any operating uranium mines here, but we need to keep the option open." As for the act, Ms. Flanagan said the government is committed to a review.

"At this point, we are studying legislation in other jurisdictions to see what they have done," she said. Ms. Flanagan said the government intends to hold public consultations, but no timeframe has been set.

The report also urged independent studies into the health of residents in areas where uranium is processed. This includes Port Hope, Blind River and Chalk River. The coalition also called for a halt to new nuclear power plants and suggested money be directed to reducing energy use and increasing sustainable sources of energy.

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