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Speaker draws awareness to nuclear industry

The Burlington Free Press: Sally Pollak - May 3, 2008

In the town where Lorraine Rekmans grew up, Elliot Lake, Ontario, sports teams were called the Radon Daughters and the Elliot Lake Atoms.

Elliot Lake, north of Lake Huron, was built in 1955 as an industry town for uranium mining. A sign at the entrance to the community, with a picture of a nuclear atom, welcomed people to the Uranium Capital of the World.

Rekmans, 44, an environmental activist with an interest in forestry, sees little to celebrate and much to decry in her hometown's legacy of uranium mining. Uranium is used to generate electricity in nuclear power plants.

A First Nation woman, Rekmans says she's witness to the environmental and health effects of uranium mining. She will talk about these issues -- "the environmental and social costs of uranium mining," in her words -- in a series of Vermont lectures. The first talk is at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Burlington with Ian Zabarte from Nevada's Yucca Mountain region.

Rekmans, who now lives in Osgoode, Ontario, just south of Ottawa, is a former journalist who was until recently the national director for the Aboriginal Forestry Association.

As a reporter for the Elliot Lake Standard from 1989 to 1993, Rekmans said she routinely reported on effluent discharges, fish kills, equipment failures and other environment and mining-related events she thought the public should know about.

"Growing up in Elliot Lake, it was frequent that we had effluent discharges into our drinking water," she said. "I had to ask, 'What is this stuff that's getting pumped out of the mine and how is it impacting our environment?' ... That's where I began to shape this awareness about the nuclear industry."

Rekmans is planning a campaign as a Green Party candidate for the Canadian Parliament. As a member of the Serpent River First Nation, she voices particular concern about the impact uranium mining has had on the traditional way of life. Environmental damage has meant loss of land used for hunting, trapping and fishing, Rekmans said.

"How will aboriginal people be compensated for the loss of use of that land?" she said. "It's a sacrificial wasteland."

An important focus now and into the future must be long-term monitoring of the sites to ensure tailings are concealed and contained in the most effective way, she said.

"We want assurances and guarantees that those sites will be managed to the best available technology as time goes on," Rekmans said. "It has to be something that is revisited, monitored and updated periodically as we get more science. We don't just want to sweep it under the rug and forget about it."

Contact Sally Pollak at spollak@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com or 660-1859.

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