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Shouldn't We Look at the History of Uranium Mining?


The Uranium Development Partnership (UDP) meetings in June are advertised as "The Future of Uranium in Saskatchewan.". This creates an impression that they're about expanding uranium development, whereas the UDP is recommending we enrich uranium, build nuclear plants and create a nuclear waste dump here. For decades the nuclear industry's business plan has been to expand the nuclear industry on the coat tails of uninformed support for uranium mining. Cameco, the world's largest uranium multinational, owns Bruce Power, the private Ontario corporation wanting to build nuclear plants along the North Sask River.

Shouldn't we look at the history of uranium mining before getting steamrolled into nuclear power and nuclear wastes? Shouldn't we ask whether uranium mining has been the success story that the Wall government and corporate media claims? After three decades of study several things stand out.

  1. All of the uranium mined here in the 1950s-60‚s went into nuclear weapons. And though we don't like to talk about it, the evidence is strong that the depleted uranium (DU) left from the enriching process abroad remains available for military uses (e.g. DU weapons).

  2. Both uranium miners and communities nearby radioactive uranium tailings face greater health risks, including cancer; scientific evidence that there is no safe level of radiation continues to challenge permissible levels of exposure.

  3. Once uranium is mined and milled, radioactive by-products in the tailings become more bioavailable to contaminate watersheds and ecosystems. There have been major radioactive spills at Key Lake (1984) and Wollaston Lake (1989) and ongoing containment problems will undoubtedly increase with time.

  4. The benefits promised when the Blakeney NDP created its uranium crown corporation never materialized. Public investments far outstripped the revenue obtained. His government predicted revenues (i.e. royalties plus taxes) of between $127 and $83 million in 1982; the actual was $29 million. (Oil, gas and potash provided over $700 million.) Prior to his defeat in 1982 the now defunct Heritage Fund expended 17% of all resource revenues to expand the uranium industry, while less than 2% of its revenues came from uranium.

  5. Since Cameco was privatized by the Mulroney and Devine governments in 1988, and the value of uranium sales skyrocketed, provincial royalties have remained flat. When sales reached $650 million in 1996, royalties were only $67 million. The April 18th Star Phoenix reports Cameco CEO's "total 2008 compensation was just over $4.5 million, up from $3.7 million in 2007". This was one-third of the $14 million uranium royalties to Saskatchewan in 2003.

  6. Uranium mining jobs are promoted to provide Indigenous communities with economic opportunities. Yet, they never gave "prior, informed consent" and few benefits trickle down while they face the greatest burdens from the industry. Sustainable, renewable resources would provide many times more job opportunities without such long-term risks.

Uranium is a toxic heavy metal that gives off radioactivity until it stabilizes into lead in 4.5 billion years. No wonder B.C. and N.S. have banned uranium mining since the 1970s, and other jurisdictions (e.g. several cities in Ontario) are recommending this. We've never had this debate about environmental health here because the uranium industry started in secret as part of the nuclear arms race, and we've never looked back. Perhaps it's time we did!