Little opposition voiced at public consultation held in St. John’s
A public forum on the lifting a mining ban for uranium on Inuit land in Labrador was held Thursday night at the Junior Common Room of the R. Gushue Hall at Memorial University. Above, Grant Feasby from SENES Consultants, who is a uranium industry expert hired by Sikumiut Environmental Management Ltd., offers information on the risks and benefits of uranium mining. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
So long as people can continue to hunt and fish on the north coast of Labrador as people have for generations, it seems those who attended a public consultation in St. John’s on the possibility of lifting a moratorium on uranium mining firmly support lifting it.
The consultation session on Thursday evening was one of eight set to be held in Newfoundland and Labrador by a special committee of the Nunatsiavut Government. Almost 40 people attended.
Two sessions remain to be held in Hopedale and Nain before members of the government gather on Dec. 12 to vote on whether to lift the ban, which was put in place three years ago following an amendment made to the Labrador Inuit Lands Act.
Don Castle, a physics professor at College of the North Atlantic in St. John’s, whose mother’s family is from the Rigolet area, said if any uranium mining activity does take place, it should benefit aboriginal people from Labrador.
He said operations handled by the Iron Ore Company of Canada in western Labrador do not employ enough aboriginals.
He also said it would be too high a cost for mining operations to negatively impact local fishing, speaking specifically to waste byproduct from mining known as tailings.
“In the great wisdom of some people, lakes can become tailings ponds,” he said, referencing past practices of mining companies.
“I think in this modern era, 60 years later, that shouldn’t even be discussed. It’s a no-brainer. If you’re going to make a big pile of money, you should be able to make a tailings pond that does not have to destroy one ecosystem.”
Otherwise, Castle spoke in favour of the project, noting infrastructure upgrades through the construction of roads could help connect the region and open new opportunities for the north coast.
“It will change the whole complexion of that coast, and I’d like to think in a positive way,” he said.
Claude Sheppard of Postville studied geology at Memorial University, and he said lifting the moratorium could provide an opportunity for someone like himself to move back home to make a living.
“I think the moratorium should be lifted, at least to move on to the feasibility and environmental assessment and give opportunities for youth and geology students,” he said. “One day I would like to move back home and practise my aboriginal way of life and have a job to come home to.”
Michael McNeill, a Nunatsuivut beneficiary from Burin who has worked in the uranium industry, has met with people along the north coast in a consulting role. He said many of the people there want work. McNeill believes uranium mining can be done safely in Labrador.
Grant Feasby, a uranium expert from SENES Consultants Ltd., made a 30-minute presentation on uranium mining before members of the audience began to share their opinions. He said radiation levels experienced by workers in uranium mines have dropped considerably in recent years through efforts to control the mining environment.
A radioactive heavy metal, uranium is used to develop nuclear energy — Feasby noted uranium made in Canada is not used for nuclear weapons.
Canada’s uranium resources are the third largest in the world, and the country is the second largest producer behind Kazakhstan.
Sikumiut Environmental Management Ltd. is developing a report based on the public consultations, and will present it to the committee to share with the Nunatsiavut Government prior to its vote on the moratorium.