Ottawa council calls for uranium moratorium in eastern Ontario

CBC News: February 27, 2008

OTTAWA (CBC) - Ottawa city council is urging Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to temporarily ban uranium prospecting, exploration and mining in eastern Ontario and the Ottawa River watershed.

The council voted 18-1 Wednesday in favour of a motion calling on the province to impose the moratorium immediately and to keep it in effect until:

- All environmental and health issues related to uranium mining are "resolved."

- There are settlement plans for all related aboriginal land claims.

The same motion calls on the province to do a public review of its 1990 Mining Act.

The motion had been recommended by the city's community and protective services committee after the city received a petition with 1,000 signatures opposing uranium mining and exploration in eastern Ontario.

It had also received a call for help from the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation near Sharbot Lake, Ont., which has been fighting uranium exploration on land it claims as its own. The site is about 100 kilometres southwest of Ottawa.

Councillors voice concerns:

Before passing the motion, many councillors, including Marianne Wilkinson, expressed concern about the potential health risks of uranium mining.

"With a large urban centre, you've got to be very careful with how you're exposing the radioactive materials," she said. "We certainly don't want it getting into the Ottawa River, which is our drinking water supply."

David Salisbury, the city's chief medical officer of health, said a mine in Sharbot Lake could pose a health risk in Ottawa.

"It doesn't take much from a run-off point of view to get into the aquifer and then contaminate that aquifer and make that unusable for human consumption," he said. "Removing heavy metals from human water supplies is very difficult."

The lone councillor who voted against the motion, Gord Hunter, argued that the council was overstepping its jurisdiction, as mineral rights are a provincial responsibility.

He added that he is concerned that the city has only heard from uranium opponents and isn't getting the other side of the story.

He also said he is not sure the risks are as serious as opponents say.

Nuclear power using uranium as fuel is one of the "best proven alternatives" to burning fossil fuels as a source of electricity, Hunter said. The uranium mining industry has also attracted new residents to areas such as Elliott Lake, Ont., and Uranium City, Sask., he said.

A community and protective services committee report on the issue noted that under the Mining Act, licensed prospectors have a statutory right to stake mining claims and conduct assessment work on the given properties even if the surface rights are privately held.

The act also states that the holder of the claim doesn't need to inform the landowner about prospecting activities until just before that activity takes place.


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