Moratorium far from the final word on the Matoush project, says Strateco

While many Crees and environmental activists throughout Quebec may be celebrating the Quebec government’s decision to impose a moratorium on uranium development pending a provincial study, Strateco Resources Inc. is making it clear that the company isn’t throwing in the towel just yet.

On March 27, Quebec Environment Minister Yves-François Blanchet announced that a moratorium would be imposed while a provincial environmental review board (BAPE) exhaustively reviews the uranium mining issue. The move halted all work on the Matoush uranium project in the Otish Mountains, on which Strateco has already invested $120 million.

Obtaining the go-ahead from the province was the last step in a years-long process for Strateco. The company has already been given the green light from a provincial review committee, a federal review committee, the federal Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).

Strateco was quick to denounce the decision to impose a temporary moratorium.

“In addition to overlooking the recommendations of his own review committee, the minister has also completely ignored the CNSC’s expert opinion,” Strateco president Guy Hébert said in a press release. “These internationally recognized experts have all concluded, without exception, that our project is safe.”

In recent months Strateco has complained that Quebec has dragged its feet on making a final decision on the project. For that reason the company filed a mandamus petition through in Quebec Superior Court to force the provincial government to speed up the decision process. Strateco claimed that the government has neglected to make a decision for over two years.

The company is now looking into challenging the legality of the moratorium because the Superior Court has not yet had the opportunity to rule on Strateco’s mandamus petition.

“Without prior notice and for no good reason, neither rational nor scientific, the government has changed the rules. The minister’s attitude is both irresponsible and unprecedented,” Hébert stated. “We will use every means available to protect our company and our shareholders. We will not stand by in the face of such an arbitrary and unjust decision.

After the Easter holidays, just days after the moratorium was announced, Strateco’s stock price tumbled 60%, reaching an all-time low.

Strateco spokesperson Denis Boucher, of National Public Relations, said this setback hurt the company but that it does not mean the Matoush project is dead.

“What the government did was to create enormous prejudice and damages to the company and therefore we have to make sure that the rights of the shareholders and the company are being protected and defended,” said Boucher. “We will fight for our rights and we are going to make sure that our rights do not get overlooked.”

Boucher said it was his understanding that both Strateco and the Cree were unhappy because the government does not have the jurisdiction to impose a BAPE process on the project.

He added that the company is interested in the Cree position on the BAPE given that the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement contains provisions that override this provincial environmental review body.

Boucher said the main focus right now is to ensure that Strateco’s rights are upheld since Quebec’s call for a BAPE has been detrimental to the company.

“The ministry is not going to issue certificates for exploration or exploitation projects anywhere in Quebec until the BAPE issues its report. I looked for an agenda for the BAPE but there isn’t any. This means we don’t know when the BAPE is going to come back with the report. There is no deadline and no clear parameters.

Strateco’s position is that it has cleared every regulatory hurdle and that it is manifestly unfair to now impose a BAPE review, which it sees as a delaying tactic.

“We have followed every single step that we were asked to follow: to go through public hearings, to conduct environmental studies, to go up in front of the provincial review committee and the federal review committee, to get approval from the federal Minister of the Environment and to gain approval from the CNSC. All of those steps were followed and respected and we obtained favourable reviews from all of those bodies and all of those experts,” said Boucher.

Boucher emphasized that Strateco is still willing to work with the Cree, and remains committed to clearing uranium’s “bad” reputation. According to Boucher, there is a lot of “misinformation and false assertions circulating about this ore,” and most of which he said is both unbelievable and irresponsible, particularly in the area of nuclear bomb making.

Boucher added that while Quebecers are lucky to have an abundance of hydroelectricity, not everyone in the world does and so the need for nuclear energy, and other products such as medical isotopes, remains.

“What is important to know is that there are very safe ways to explore and exploit uranium and this is what the experts, and I underline the word experts, have determined,” said Boucher.