TORONTO (miningweekly.com) – Quebec-focused uranium explorer Strateco Resources on Thursday denounced an announcement made by Quebec Environment Minister Yves-François Blanchet, effectively placing a moratorium on uranium exploration and mining in the province, and ordering an impact study on the exploration and development of the mineral.
The Minister's announcement followed ongoing legal proceedings aimed at forcing the provincial government to make a decision on the company’s flagship Matoush project, which is located east of James Bay on The James Bay Cree Nation’s Eeyou Istchee reserve.
Last year, after two years of public hearings, the James Bay Cree Nation enacted a permanent moratorium on uranium exploration, mining, milling and waste emplacement on their territory on the east shore of James Bay, known as Eeyou Istchee.
Despite this moratorium, federal regulators, including the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, allowed Strateco’s Matoush uranium project to proceed within this Cree territory. Nevertheless, before this project could proceed, provincial authorisation was also required, for which Strateco had already been waiting for two years.
The company in January filed a court order to force the Quebec government to make a decision on its exploration project in the province’s Otish Mountains.
In October, The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission granted an exploration licence to Strateco Resources, allowing the company to do advanced exploration for uranium at the site.
The company in January said the Cree should not have the power to veto the project, and that it was up to the provincial government to make the final decision.
Strateco said it intended to look into the legality of the Minister's announcement, given that the Superior Court had not yet had the opportunity to rule.
"In addition to overlooking the recommendations of his own review committee, the Minister has also completely ignored the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission's expert opinion. These internationally recognised experts have all concluded, without exception, that our project is safe," Strateco Resources CEO Guy Hébert said in a statement shortly after the announcement.
"Without prior notice and for no good reason, neither rational nor scientific, the government has changed the rules. The Minister's attitude is both irresponsible and unprecedented," Hébert affirmed.
Strateco said the announcement was intended to unduly delay any certificate of approval for Strateco's Matoush project, on which it had already spent $120-million.
Strateco added it would analyse the impact of this decision on the approval process, which had been ongoing for four years. It would also analyse the responsibility of the government and other stakeholders in this matter and said it would “vigorously” defend its rights given the serious implications the government's decision will have on the company.
In a recent unrelated case, Ontario’s highest court – the Court of Appeal – confirmed the province had the right to ‘take up’ treaty lands for settlement, mining, lumbering or other purposes.
The James Bay Cree Nation on Thursday applauded the Government of Quebec's decision to impose a moratorium on uranium exploration and mining activities.
The Cree Nation called on the Quebec government to ensure that the commission concerned with the uranium industry in Quebec, properly respected Cree rights and the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA).
The Quebec Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement (BAPE) was to conduct province-wide public hearings regarding the uranium sector in Quebec.
Minister Blanchet confirmed that while the BAPE uranium process was under way, no authorisations for uranium exploration or mining projects would be granted, and the proposed Matoush advanced exploration project would not be permitted to proceed.
"An independent and broad study of the uranium industry is urgently required. It is also good that Quebec has halted all uranium exploration and mining activities while this process is ongoing. However, we unfortunately cannot support the process as it is currently planned,” deputy grand chief Ashley Iserhoff said.
“Without the prior consent of the Crees, the BAPE mechanism chosen by the Quebec government violates the JBNQA treaty of 1975, to which the government of Quebec is a party, and fails to respect the special status of the Cree Nation in Eeyou Istchee," grand chief Dr Matthew Coon Come said.
"We are confident that through nation-to-nation discussions, we will reach an agreement with Quebec."
Located near the Cree community of Mistissini, the Matoush project is the most advanced uranium project to date in the Cree territory. Mistissini chief Richard Shecapio said: "Mistissini's position is clear: there will be no uranium activities in our territory”.
"The risks that come with uranium exploration, uranium exploitation and uranium waste are issues of major concern to the Cree Nation", grand chief Coon Come said
He stated his people supported environmentally and socially sustainable and equitable development in their territory, including mining, but added that uranium burdened all future generations in a way that they were not willing to assume.
“We are confident that when Quebecers consider the true facts about uranium mining and waste, they will join us in our permanent moratorium stand," Coon Come said.
ENVIRONMENTALISTS ON BOARD
The Canadian Boreal Initiative (CBI), which campaigns to preserve boreal forests and ecosystems, also celebrated Quebec's decision to hold a province-wide analysis and consultation on the economic, social and environmental impacts of uranium mining before proceeding with any permitting of uranium mining in the province.
"Recent polling has clearly shown that while there is not yet clear consensus on the desirability of uranium mining in Quebec," CBI regional director in Quebec Suzann Méthot said.
"It is also clear that Quebecers feel strongly that the rights of mining companies should not supersede those of individuals or communities, including aboriginal communities, and that these communities should have the right to say no to uranium mining,” Méthot added.
Recent polling conducted by Léger Marketing for the CBI revealed that 62% of Quebecers were in favour of a moratorium on uranium mining. This number rose to 78% when considering those in favour of an impact assessment on uranium mining before any project was approved.