Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Quebec protesters seek ban on uranium mining


QUEBEC — The Quebec government rejected calls Tuesday for a moratorium on uranium exploration from protesters who have erected a makeshift camp in front of the provincial legislature.

The protest comes as hearings are underway this week at the legislature on amending the province's mining legislation. But Quebec's junior natural resources minister made it clear from the outset he will not grant a moratorium.

"It's out of the question," said Serge Simard. "It would be risky to impose a moratorium all over Quebec and it would have very negative impacts on companies."

Mining opponents have been asking the government to halt exploration until further studies can be done into the impacts of uranium mining and its dangers.

A group of residents from Sept-Iles, on Quebec's north shore, set up a mock mining camp at the legislature Monday night to get their message across.

Marc Fafard, who is leading the coalition fighting uranium exploration, lamented that Simard is bowing to the industry's "powerful lobby."

"We think the government needs to come to its senses and change this dated and illogical law," he said.

Fafard's coalition has registered a symbolic "claim" on the legislature land to demonstrate how easy it is for mining companies to stake claims. But the Quebec government noted Tuesday the claim was not granted since there is no mining potential in the area.

The protesters contend the current mining law is lax and they want the government to exclude urban areas from potential mineral exploration.

Simard said Tuesday his government is open to that suggestion and will listen to the representations to be made at the legislative hearings before making a final decision.

"We won't let mining companies exploit our resources at the expense of the environment and the local population," the minister said.

He noted that the company Terra Ventures decided to halt its uranium mining project in Sept-Iles recently after an outcry from residents and doctors as a clear example.

A group of 20 doctors threatened to resign en masse last year over concerns the mine project would harm the environment and health of area residents, including their own families. The doctors were concerned about radon and other so-called "decay products" of uranium, which can contaminate air and water around a mine and cause lung cancer in humans.