| Nov 15, 2007


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Feature Article - November 15, 2007 Uranium: Power or Poison?By Jeff Green A ribbon wrapped around a metal marker where one on hundreds of old drill holes near Robertsville are located. The rock behind the drill hole is typical of the type that uranium prospectors look for.

The current round of politics that are focused on uranium exploration in Frontenac County has now lasted from Good Friday to Remembrance Day, and have become enmeshed in concerns about the free entry system under the Ontario mining act, as well as Aboriginal rights in general, and the Algonquin Land Claim in particular.

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As the result of the actions of the Ardoch and Shabot Obaadjiwaan Algonquins, the political, enforcement and judicial arms of government have become involved at relatively high levels. Last week the issue was raised in the House of Commons by MP Scott Reid, and the question of court injunctions, contempt of court charges and mediation, are ongoing in the Kingston courts. The exploration company is considering suing the Ontario Provincial Police for their policy of maintaining the peace instead of enforcing court orders over the past two months, and the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation is contemplating suing the lawyers who have been negotiating the Algonquin Land Claim for not heading this situation off years ago by insisting that mining exploration be frozen during the land claim process.

And by the publication date of this newspaper, Donna Dillman will be on Day 39 of a hunger strike, with the demand that the Province of Ontario initiate an inquiry into uranium mining.

At the root of all this is an element: uranium. In media coverage of the political machinations over the past six months, including the coverage presented by this newspaper, the question of whether uranium is a miracle mineral that can solve our collective energy problems, or a poison that should be left in the ground where it is, has been relegated to the background.

To Frontenac Ventures and their supporters, as well as to the powerful nuclear industry, uranium is a commodity that fluctuates in value, one that rose as high as $140 a pound this spring after languishing at less than $10 a pound for 20 years. It is now trading for $93 US per pound.

But to people such as Dr. Gordon Edwards of Vanier College in Montreal, releasing uranium from the ground is like opening Pandora’s box, since it has done untold harm for the past 100 years.

Gordon Edwards, and photographer Robert Del Tredici, presented a slide show in Carleton Place last week that chronicled a sorry tale of pain and death that has come about as the result of human exposure to uranium and the elements it breaks down into, such as radium, radon gas, thorium, strontium, and polonium - and the devastation that has been caused by nuclear weapons and nuclear waste.

Interestingly, given what has been happening in Frontenac County this year, Edwards pointed to the fact that the first deaths from uranium mining anywhere in the world were Dene peoples living at Great Bear Lake. The impact of poorly managed uranium tailings storage on people in the Elliot Lake region and downstream in places like Serpent River, where there is a First Nations community, have been well documented.

Edwards and Del Tredici made a compelling case, a scary case, for abandoning all forms of nuclear ambition, whether they have to do with weaponry, energy production, or simply taking the stuff out of the ground, crushing it, milling it, and disposing of the residue of crushed rock.

Gordon Edwards has carried on a crusade, largely self-financed, against the uranium and nuclear industries, for well over 30 years. People who were living in Frontenac County the last time uranium exploration took place in this region back in the late 70’s, might remember that Gordon Edwards gave a talk at the Oso Hall in Sharbot Lake in 1977 or 1978.

Gordon Edwards presents one side of the nuclear story, and although there are many scientists providing alternative views, as a cursory search of the web can attest, he presents authoritative information that is hard to deny.

His many opponents present well-documented information as well, but it must be said that they invariably have a financial connection to some aspect of the nuclear industry; it is in their financial interest to support nuclear. The general argument is that while mistakes were made in the past, uranium can be mined safely under current regulations, and nuclear power is a safe alternative to coal.

In terms of uranium exploration, the issue at hand currently in North Frontenac, Gordon Edwards said in Carleton Place, is that “many of the bore holes that are drilled become chimneys for radon gas; the more you put in the ground the more vents you have created. Holes should be completely sealed with a material like bentonite clay.”

Jamie Fairchild, from Frontenac Ventures Corporation, said the company would definitely cap all of their drill holes if they do get the chance to drill, and they are open to the idea of filling the holes if that will ease the concerns of local people.

A major, perhaps the major concern of the Algonquins and others who were occupying the Robertsville mine until a couple of weeks ago, and who continue to scrutinize what is taking place at the site from the roadside of the gate, is that uranium mining be prevented in this region. Exploration leads to mining, they say, so why permit exploration in the first place?

We will look at uranium mining in more detail in part 2 of this article in the coming weeks.

Before doing that I think it is fair to point out at this time that the chances of a uranium mine ever being established in North Frontenac have been greatly diminished by what has taken place this summer and fall, no matter what happens to the protest from this point forward. This has little to do with the viability of the resource, which is still undetermined.

In order for a mine to actually be established, there would be a great many regulatory hoops to go through, and numerous opportunities for opponents to make their views known, and to block the progress of a mining proponent.

What has been demonstrated by the sometimes disorganized and dysfunctional, but always stubborn, vociferous, and media-savvy opponents of uranium mining in Frontenac and Lanark County, will not be lost on anyone who is thinking of buying this claim from Frontenac Ventures. The alliance between Algonquin and non-aboriginal peoples has been powerful and has proven hard to shake.

There are no active low-grade uranium mines in Canada at this time. No matter how good the Frontenac resource is, there are bound to be equal resources elsewhere in the country, so why would a mining company want to mess with the motley crew of unyielding protestors that have descended on the ghost town of Robertsville over the past four months?

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