The project may not be finished, but the camp is closing. As debate about Strateco Resources’ Matoush uranium project is taken up by the hearings of the Bureau de l’Audiences Publique sur l’Environnement (BAPE), Strateco announced June 12 that it is closing the Matoush camp and selling off the camp’s equipment and buildings to Stornaway Diamonds.
“This means that we’re cutting costs,” Strateco president and CEO Guy Hébert told the Nation. “It costs us about $1.5-million to keep the camp running, and because the BAPE will have no decision before mid-2015, we decided to close the camp. We expect everything will be gone by the end of September.”
He remained optimistic, however, saying that if it will take two more years for the BAPE to be finished, “maybe the same temporary buildings [sold to Stornaway] will be available two years from now.”
Bill Namagoose, executive director of the Grand Council of the Crees, does not think it’s likely that the project will pick up again.
“That’s wishful thinking,” he said. “Their permit has already been refused by the Quebec government. I know they’re contesting it in court, but the government has already decided they’re not going to get their permit due to a lack of social acceptability. The project has been refused. They should accept and understand that.”
However, Hébert said he believes that the Matoush project will eventually go ahead, and that if it continues it will offer good things to the Cree Nation.
“The Crees need [the Matoush project] for job creation for the youth,” he argued. “They have a big, big problem for job creation. And it’s not during the phase of construction where you create jobs – it’s when you do [training]. When the project is going – like Stornaway and us and other projects in the area, they can go for 20, 25, 30 years – that’s where you create jobs.”
For Hébert, the real failure of the project so far has been in communication. He said that Strateco did not do a good enough job of informing the public in the Cree Nation about the safety of uranium mining and exploration.
“We had some good relations,” he said. “It went sour. Eventually we’ll find the reason. We still have good relations with the tallymen in the area. Eventually, people will change: could be us, could be the Crees. We’ll see what the BAPE is saying.”
Despite the obstacles, Hébert says his enthusiasm for the project is still “fantastic.”
“The Crees and the people will understand that nuclear energy is very safe and they need it,” he said. “The planet needs it. If nothing is done, and we continue to produce electricity with coal or fossil-fuel energy, within 50 to 100 years, the planet we know will be done.”
Hearing this, Namagoose laughed. “You just have to ask the Navaho, I guess, how safe uranium mining is,” he observed, referring to the contamination left by 42 years of uranium mining on traditional Navaho lands, and, specifically, the 1979 Church Rock uranium mill disaster, which flooded the water supply in the Navaho Nation with radioactive material from a local mine. That disaster was arguably the largest radioactive-materials spill in US history.
However, even from a purely economic perspective, said Namagoose, the future of uranium looks dim.
“Uranium prices have gone down ever since Fukushima,” he said. “The Japanese cannot restart their nuclear reactors because of a court decision. And also, the shale-gas phenomenon in North America is working against them. The legal process has ruled against them. The market is moving against them. They should just read the writing on the wall. Dismantle the camp forever, move away, and never come back.”
Hébert said that if the province of Quebec decides against the Matoush project, it can expect to be sued by the company’s shareholders.
“If the government doesn’t want to have it,” he said, “then they will have to reimburse our investment. Eventually I think this will go forward. Or the shareholders of Strateco will get their money back.”
Namagoose said he didn’t think that was very likely either.
“It’s up to the shareholders to do what they want. They have the right to try to recover their money, but usually when you make an investment, it’s not guaranteed by the government. Your investment is at the whim of the market.”