December 01, 2007

Inco vs Moncton

Hot and bothered
Inco vs. Moncton

BY Chris Arsenault

With dollar signs in their eyes and a fancy PowerPoint presentation, representatives from the mining company CVRD Inco entered a Moncton city council meeting this past July to sell city representatives on the idea of a local uranium mine.

A month earlier, the company had paid New Brunswick’s provincial government $4 million to buy exclusive uranium prospecting rights for the next year on a 136,000-hectare area between Sussex and Moncton. With the approval of the provincial government secured, the mining giant turned its attention to Moncton.

However, that city’s councillors weren’t buying CVRD Inco’s soothing words, and with one good reason: the prospecting area borders Moncton’s watershed, and a uranium mine could potentially put the drinking water of 100,000 people at risk of contamination. City council quickly and unanimously passed a resolution opposing exploration in the watershed area.

Unfortunately for Monctonians, that resolution has no teeth and so CVRD Inco—a company that received a failing grade on a recent Globe and Mail corporate social responsibility survey— continues its search for radioactive ore. The price of uranium has increased from $43.42 (U.S.) per pound in 2006 to $125.83 per pound in 2007, making the uranium business as profitable as it is dirty.

With Irving Oil already planning a new $7-billion oil refinery, the possibility of uranium mining is a great way for New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham to continue his agenda of turning the province into an “energy hub.”

But what could result in fat profits for CVRD Inco and a business-friendly profile for New Brunswick could create an environmental disaster for the people of Moncton. “You are looking at extreme environmental impacts,” says Mark Winfield, an analyst who has studied the effects of uranium mining on communities. “Existing mines in northern Saskatchewan have caused severe contamination through heavy metals such as arsenic and conventional pollutants.… There are both routine and accidental spills. Uranium mining and milling is a very dirty process.”

Nova Scotia has had a moratorium on uranium exploration since the early 1980s. New Brunswick, on the other hand, says a spokesperson for the province’s department of natural resources, is “open for business.” Prospecting will continue until next summer. If uranium is found, things promise to heat up.

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