By Romeo St-Martin
Canadian Nuclear Association
The Canadian Nuclear Association had its opportunity to appear before the Quebec Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE), an environmental watchdog that is studying uranium mining in Quebec.
In 2013 the Quebec government announced a moratorium on uranium mining and exploration until the BAPE study on the environmental and social impacts of mining has been completed.
Quebec is one of three Canadian provinces with a uranium moratorium, the others being Nova Scotia and B.C.
The appearance by CNA President John Barrett before the hearings was an opportunity to correct much of the misinformation about uranium mining that has appeared in media coverage surrounding the process.
Most notably, these are myths about uranium mining’s impact on workers health, the local environment and the traditional life of the communities.
“Many uniformed observers readily agree with the allegations raised by nuclear opponents that radiation is inherently dangerous, that radioactive waste presents an intractable threat, and that uranium mining disrupts communities,” Barrett said.
“Does uranium mining interfere with traditional land uses? With the benefit of evidence-based research, it appears that a uranium mine is no more disruptive than any other type of mine.”
Not only is uranium mining no more or less disruptive, it is actually safer than other types of mining due to the heavy regulation because of radiation.
Studies and monitoring show no significant impacts to the health of the public living near uranium mines and mills. Exposure to radiation and radon from uranium mining is very low and does not increase the risk of cancer.
Studies how uranium mining and milling does not increase radon levels away from the mine site. The level of radon near uranium mines is similar to natural background radon levels. Radon exposure to the public is virtually zero.
Currently in Saskatchewan where all of Canada’s uranium mining is located, aboriginal groups are consulted and provide valuable input on identifying valued plants, animals and traditional activities. Aboriginal groups also participate in collecting samples used for environmental monitoring.
In fact, uranium mining corporation Cameco is the largest industrial employer of aboriginal people in Canada.
According to the World Nuclear Association, there are 435 nuclear power reactors operating in 31 countries around the world. Over 60 power reactors are currently being constructed in 13 countries, notably China, South Korea and Russia.
In all, about 160 power reactors with a total net capacity of some 177,000 MWe are planned and over 320 more are proposed.
China is in the middle of a huge reactor building spree and wants to raise its capacity to 58 gigawatts (GW) by 2020 from 19 GW now. Chinese think tanks estimate that capacity could rise further to 200 GW by 2030.
The World Nuclear Association has estimated that annual Chinese demand for primary uranium will rise tenfold by 2030, which would put it at around 40,000 tonnes.
Zhou Zhenxing, the chairman of China’s CGN Uranium Resources, recently told a Beijing industry conference that his company was planning to invest in mines in Canada to meet the future demand.
“Canada’s uranium reserves are among the largest in the world and we hope to cooperate with Canadian enterprises to complete the mission,” he said.
The long-term picture is pretty clear: More uranium will be needed globally and Quebec could benefit from exploration and mining.