MONTREAL — Fears about radioactive contamination may close the door to uranium mining in Quebec just as public angst shelved shale gas extraction in the province in 2011. “Like shale gas, it touches a sensitive chord in Quebec,” says Ugo Lapointe of MiningWatch Canada, which opposes mining of the metal that fuels nuclear power plants.
Hundreds of municipalities have joined First Nations to oppose uranium mining, worried that it could threaten their health, harm natural environments and ruin traditional hunting and fishing.
Quebec’s environmental regulation agency (BAPE) has concluded there is no “social acceptability” for uranium mining to proceed at this time. After a year of study, a three-person panel said that it would be premature to authorize development of Quebec’s uranium industry.
While uranium mining has made substantial progress, especially in containing waste, there are still many uncertainties and “significant gaps in scientific knowledge of the impacts of uranium mining on the environment and public health,” it said in a lengthy report.
The panel said the province could make the current, nearly two-year moratorium permanent, but advised the government to take its time to minimize potential costs, including a large potential payout to Strateco, which is suing the province for $190 million for holding up its mining project in northern Quebec.
A permanent ban would align Quebec with British Columbia and Nova Scotia, coal-producing provinces that have rejected uranium mining.
Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel has appointed an interdepartmental committee to review the environmental agency’s report.
Currently, Saskatchewan is the only uranium-producing province in Canada, and the second-largest producer in the world behind Kazakhstan.
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