The Quebec government puts the brakes on uranium development


Is Quebec ready to take on the risks of uranium mining? That is what the provincial environmental review board (BAPE) is trying to find out. Quebec Environment Minister Yves-François Blanchet unveiled the process on March 28 in Montreal.

The Grand Council of the Crees (GCC) welcomes the moratorium but is calling on the provincial government to properly respect Cree rights enshrined in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA).

“An independent and broad study of the uranium industry is urgently required,” said Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff. “It is good that Quebec has halted all uranium exploration and mining activities while this process is on-going. However, we unfortunately cannot support the process as it is currently planned.”

The GCC discussed the moratorium with former PQ Environment Minister Daniel Breton and other provincial officials last fall. “It was something that was talked about,” said Mistissini Chief Richard Shecapio. “The Crees have their own environmental regime under the JBQNA, and we want to make sure it is respected.”

Many First Nations communities, non-Native municipalities and grassroots organizations in northern Quebec have expressed concerns about the long-term effects of uranium extraction over the past several years. Opponents to uranium extraction are calling for a permanent moratorium across the province similar to the one that the US state of Kansas has implemented for 30 years.

There has been nothing to indicate that Mistissini Cree First Nation will change its position against uranium development in its territory. Having already participated in federal, provincial and independent review processes that were specific to the Matoush project, Mistissini will present its case to the BAPE process, which will examine the province-wide effects of uranium mining.

“This kind of mining is not welcome by our people,” said Shecapio. “We’ve made it clear back in November 2010 when we first announced our position. With a moratorium in place, it allows Quebec to really engage the company to examine the possible impacts with regards to uranium mining.”

However, the community is making it clear that it is not against development. “Our people supported the mine operations that took place in the 1990s and early 2000s,” Shecapio said. “It is something we foresee having benefits in terms of economic development and employment.”

All uranium development activities are on hold until the BAPE review process presents its results. “At this point we’re not just talking about a ramp project, which was the case with Matoush, this one is the whole operation itself – from exploration to mining,” Shecapio observed. “The biggest question now is what do we do with the waste?”

The damage to the surrounding environment caused by the waste produced from the mines needs to be assessed because of its long-term impact to the area’s ecosystem. The soil, rivers and wildlife would be most affected by the mine waste, which has an estimated radioactive life span of about 1,600 years.

Quebec is still figuring out the exact method and schedule for the review process. At the earliest, the BAPE will probably hold review panels in the fall.