A coalition of doctors, environmental groups and First Nations leaders gathered in Montreal Thursday to publicly urge Quebec’s new premier to maintain the moratorium on uranium mining until the risks and impacts of these mines on surrounding communities have been thoroughly studied.
The province’s environmental watchdog, the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE), announced Tuesday it will begin a year-long study of the uranium mining issue starting later this month.
That process, lead by former environmental journalist Louis-Gilles Francoeur, will be carried out in three phases: pre-consultation hearings to determine public concerns from May 20 to June 23, an information phase this fall where the committee will consult experts, and an official public hearing phase next fall and winter where interested parties can present written briefs or speak directly to the commissioners.
Uranium is a naturally occurring radioactive element that is present in many areas of Quebec, including northern Quebec, Temiscaming, the Laurentians, Gatineau, Shawinigan, Sept-Îles and the North Shore.
There are no active uranium mines in Quebec — in fact, across the country, the only active mines are in northern Saskatchewan — but mining companies are interested in Quebec’s uranium resources. Strateco, based in Boucherville, has been waiting for years for a certificate of authorization from Quebec’s environment department to begin exploration work at its Matoush site in the Otish Mountains, about 275 kilometres north of Chibougamau.
The Matoush Project is the most advanced of about 20 proposed uranium mining projects in northern Quebec which were part of former Liberal premier Jean Charest’s plan to develop the north. But in 2013, the Parti Québécois government called for a moratorium on uranium mining until the BAPE completes a study of environmental impacts and social acceptability.
John Longchamp, executive director of the Cree Nation of Mistissini, attended the news conference in Montreal to remind Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard of his community’s clear opposition to that project.
“Our territory, in and around the Otish mountains, is considered a major hot spot for uranium exploration,” he said. “Our community is ground zero for the environmental, health and social risks that uranium presents. The position of the Cree nation of Mistissini is clear: there will be no uranium mining on our territory. We have a vision for the responsible development of the resources of our traditional land and uranium has no place in that vision.”
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