I’d like to comment on a specific type of mining exploration that has captured my attention for a year, specifically advanced uranium exploration that happened without prior consultations with First Nations or the general public.
I am familiar with the expression, “If it can’t be grown, it has to be mined.”
In the Peel Watershed, north of Mayo in the Wernecke Mountains, more than 12,000 claims have been staked in the last years.
About 8,000 target uranium.
The resource assessment report of the Peel Watershed Planning Commission shows an accumulated 58 holes adding up to 12,000 metres of drill depth for this resource.
During the Wernecke winter road discussion concerning access to the area, uranium has been presented to the public by people like Carl Schulze, president of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, as “just another mineral, like gold, copper and iron.”
I happen to disagree with this statement.
In April, New Democrat Leader Todd Hardy requested “a moratorium regarding the exploration and development activity around uranium and that includes development of roads and other infrastructure that facilitates exploration in regard to this, until Yukon people have been fully informed about the environmental, social and health impact of uranium mining.”
Also, at the Yukon Medical Association’s 2007 annual general meeting, Hardy urged the Yukon government to review the health, environmental and social impacts of uranium mining.
In the NWT and in other provinces, with the exception of Saskatchewan, uranium mining is not permitted, or has been discontinued.
I researched why.
During the exploration and mining of uranium, radioactive waste products (tailings) will be created, and secure, long-term storage facilities have not been invented in the world at this time.
Uranium mining companies might be offering new technologies, but any studies of suitability must withstand the test of time.
Uranium ore left in the ground is benign with no dangerous background radiation. But drilling into it or extracting it is like opening a can of worms.
During the mining process, 10 of the 14 radioactive products stay in the tailings, accounting for 75 per cent of the total radioactivity. The decay of these products takes many thousands of years.
Extremely dangerous is Radium 226, also left in the tailings. During its entire lifetime, it releases radon gas.
Byproducts of this gas are radioactive particles of an extremely small size. They are very volatile and they can be carried by wind for more than 1,600 kilometres or they can be transported by water.
These particles are easily assimilated in the food chain and can collect in plants, animals and in wild meat eaten by humans.
The radiation created by these waste products is about 20 times higher than any naturally occurring radiation, and the more dangerous alpha particles are only released by exploration or mining.
This explains why proper storage is essential.
Different types of storage have been proven to be insufficient elsewhere in the world. Underground uranium waste storage in Europe has failed within 50 years because of water leakage.
The large dams in Australia, like the Olympic and Ranger dams, have had major leakages after only five years. Recently some of the Australian dams have experienced major flooding.
In terms of financial gain this nuclear energy has been proven to be one of the most expensive energy sources in history. Is nuclear energy “clean?” For anybody who is not sure, here is something else to ponder.
“Only 430 of the 1,100 nuclear reactors operating today are used to generate electricity and only small amounts of nuclear products are used in treating and diagnosing medical conditions,” said Hardy in April 2008.
Uranium mining is financially risky because of open-ended liabilities (reclamation) and long lead times. For the Peel Watershed it would mean all-season access roads, subsidized by the government, would have to be built and maintained.
These roads would be built in areas with permafrost similar to Beaver Creek. This part of the Alaska Highway has needed steady maintenance since it was built for about $1 million a kilometre. The necessary assessment and paperwork would take years for uranium development projects.
We also need new policies because the Yukon Mine Site Reclamation and Closure Policy does not allow “active reclamation after closure.” So why are companies allowed to stake and explore, targeting uranium with the expectation of developing this resource?
To me it feels like a backwards approach and not really fair towards these companies.
Yukoners who are hoping for instant jobs and wealth will be disappointed and may be retired by the time employment is available.
The decisions that will be made here are affecting future generations of different nations, and we should be more concerned about our responsibility than possible financial gain down the road.
Our children will remember us, more likely, for what we left for them and taught them, not for how much money we made and spent at the time.
See more letters page 8.