After hearing the news today that the Nunatsiavut Government has lifted its ban on Uranium mining operations in Labrador I was left with a sour taste in my mouth and a swish-swashing in my stomach that was not due to the flu virus I’m carrying. The following text is an exerpt from a paper I wrote in 2010 regarding mining operations in Labrador.
There are many politics involved with mining for Uranium, and the biggest issue being the extreme environmental impact that it has. After careful research I discovered that in the process of extracting Uranium, the unfinished bi-product leaves a great deal of ‘tailings’. These tailings are usually left in the form of sludge in designated ponds or piles where they can be abandoned. (1)
This sludge can contain as much as 85% of initial radioactivity that comes from Uranium, and is essentially left on the earth’s surface to emit this radiation to the surrounding area. It is not possible to remove all of the uranium in ore form from the product once it comes from the ground; technology just hasn’t found a way to do that yet. (1)
This sludge also contains other harmful chemicals like arsenic and chemical agents that have been used for extraction. This sludge and tailings continuously decay over the year forming a new material called ‘radon-222’ which is known to cause lung cancer. (1)
Seepage from this sludge also forms a risk of ground and surface water contamination, and any resident in the area would get exposed to these hazardous substances if they drink this water. This toxic mixture also affects animals that drink it, and fish and aquatic species in the water. In my research I have found that there are recorded instances of contamination of local water supplies around Uranium mines in Brazil, Texas, Colorado, Australia, and Namibia among many others. Cleaning up these dumps can be just as expensive as the cost of the uranium that is extracted. (1)
One documented case that I found was at McCabe Lake in 1975. A 500,000 gallon radionuclide spill caused ten major lakes to become permanently contaminated with radioactive mining waste, a total of 165 million tons. The grounds where the Serpent River Natives hunted and fished were ruined. Because of this spill, a town of over 25 thousand aboriginals was reduced to fewer then 100.
Aboriginal groups living near a proposed uranium mine site in northern Labrador are demanding more information about how the development will affect their communities. These uranium deposits are within the boundaries of land owned by the Labrador Inuit. The town manager of Makkovik says that there is a lot of plans that need to be worked through amongst the community before a mine can be located; nothing will be done until everyone can reach an agreement. (15)
At a Nunatsiavut assembly in Hopedale, a bill calling for a three year moratorium on Uranium passed the first reading on March 5, 2008.
To further hit home the point that uranium mining effects our environment, Sheila Watt-Cloutier had this to say about the possibility of a Uranium Mine developing in her town of Frobisher Bay:
“We need to step back and ask ourselves what kind of society we are hoping to create here. Will we lose awareness of how sacred the land is, and our connection to it? And what will become of our hunters? Hunting is how Inuit men build character. How is character built in a mine? How do we train skilled hunters to adjust to menial work?” (1)
(1)Dowie, Mark. “Uranium Mining and the Inuit | Mark Dowie | Orion Magazine.” Orion Magazine – Nature / Culture / Place. Web. 28 Nov. 2010. <http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/4247/>.
(15)”CBC News – Nfld. & Labrador – N.L. Aboriginals Seek More Information on Uranium Mine.” CBC.ca – Canadian News Sports Entertainment Kids Docs Radio TV. Web. 10 Nov. 2010. <http://www.cbc.ca/canada/newfoundland-labrador/story/2007/08/22/uranium-questions.html>.
I feel sad to say that the Big Land may end up being the Big Landfill. I feel sad to say that my home, the place where I breathe in life, fresher and deeper then any other place on earth, might be subjected to great injustice yet again.
I am not anti-development, and I am not against people finding work, but I AM against the idea that companies can tear apart Labrador and construct a mine that will never last – but permanently…permanently damage the watershed, the animals, and yes, the people.
Uranium. Think about it.
Writer and photographer from remote Labrador, Canada. Just another cold Labradorian chillin' in the Big Land. Can most likely be found walking my dog Grace or behind an iMac screen slowly taking over the interwebs.