Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Impacts Of Uranium Mining On Indigenous Communities

Comment: America and Canada are the same when it comes to uranium mining, heck with the people; we are greedy, evil countries with only profits to prevail, heck with the people! No to uranium mining!

by Heather Tufts

The climate change debate positions nuclear power as a partial solution to carbon emissions according to some scientists and politicians.

Uranium mining speculation lacks comprehensive health and safety regulations.
Abandoned uranium mines and the subsequent hazards experienced in forgotten communities have also been virtually ignored in Canada leading to tragic, unmitigated circumstances.

The long-term negative impacts of uranium mining can be witnessed in the small, rural community of Déline (North West Territories) which has a Dené population of 800 people.

They are located right on the shore of Sahtu (Great Bear Lake) about 300 miles north of Yellowknife. Great Bear Lake is considered to be one of the last great fresh water lakes in the world. This area on the north shore of Sahtu was the site of radium mining from 1934 to 1939, and then a uranium mine from 1943 to 1962.

During the mining era the Dené of Déline, mostly men worked as labourers and as coolies carrying gunny sacks of radioactive uranium ore and concentrates on the transportation route.

Waste from both radium and uranium mines were dumped directly into the lake and used as landfill.
Deline In The North West Territories.

The mine initially operated under the emergency regulations of the War Measures Act. The circumstances and time-line mean that retroactive mitigation and compensation are an enormous legal challenge and decades later the Dené continue to pay a high price in environmental and health effects.

No warnings were issued at the time about the hazardous and toxic nature of these ores and so people took no precautions regarding their drinking water or their traditional foods. In 1975 young men from Déline were sent to work in the tunnels on a Government training program without masks for radon gas exposure.

In 1997 ten young men were sent with only two hours of training to clean up "hot spots" of radioactive soil in Sawmill Bay without shower or decontamination facilities.

Once again the Dené people of Déline were not informed of these hazardous exposures but recent information mean that they now live in constant fear of their contaminated land, water, animals with ongoing concerns about their health and survival.

Déline is known as the “village of widows’ because most of the men who worked as labourers in the mines have died of some form of cancer.

The widows, who are traditional women, were left to raise their families without husbands and breadwinners.

In 1998 the Dené First Nation lobbied the federal government for compensation and mitigation. On September 6, 2005, Déline community members were given the disappointing findings of a five-year study to examine the health and environmental impacts of the government-owned radium and uranium mine which had operated for almost thirty years in Déline.

Although the community had lost 15 former ore transport workers to cancer the report stated that the numbers of deaths were insufficient to prove unequivocally the link to the mine. By not acknowledging the full health consequences of uranium mining the government offloads the responsibility to compensate or provide justice to the Dené First Nation.

To date consultations with government are still underway with anticipated costs for remediation in the millions of dollars.

An agreement about cause and affect has not yet been reached. In a related situation in Port Hope Ontario, NDP MP Nathan Cullen called for an investigation in 2007 into Health Canada’s denials of the health risks of uranium contamination with the accusation that profits are influencing policy.

These issues remain unresolved in 2010 even though increased uranium mining is imminent in some Canadian provinces. Uranium exploration near the world famous Thelon Game Sanctuary in Nunavut alarmed the Dené and Inuit communities who are dependent on the caribou herds that use the area for grazing and calving.

Canada is the world’s largest producer of uranium with about 60% exported to the Unites States.

 Many abandoned uranium mines have left behind a devastating legacy but the nuclear industry has re-branded itself as a viable solution to global warming.

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