Ontario Uranium Refinery Faces Setback Over License Extension

Warning: This story mentions indigenous tombs and contains details that may cause distress or trauma for some readers.

The company behind a uranium refinery in Ontario is facing opposition from a nearby First Nation after requesting a third extension to its original contract, which would allow the facility to operate for a further 10 years.

Near the north channel of Lake Huron is the Cameco uranium refinery in Blind River, Ontario. In operation since the 1980s, the facility is the world’s largest commercial uranium refinery. It is located near the Mississagi River, Lake Huron, and other bodies of water, and controls about 24 percent of the world’s capacity to convert UF6, substance used in the uranium enrichment process.

In a virtual meeting Wednesday, members of the nearby Mississauga First Nation (MFN) and environmental groups raised environmental and health concerns about the refinery, as well as problems with the alteration of indigenous tombs and other items of importance when the refinery was built. .

The company is requesting a 10-year extension beyond its current license, which ends in February. He applied for the renewal to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), which organized the intervention to collect comments on Cameco’s application.

At the meeting, Cameco promoted a poll that it says shows the support of the Blind River community. However, the MFN, located less than a kilometer from the refinery, disagreed with the company’s lack of consultation with them and pointed to possible environmental impacts.

According to the CNSC, the facility “refines uranium concentrates, also known as yellow cake, to produce uranium trioxide (UO3), which is a product of the nuclear fuel cycle. The UO3 is then sent to the Port Hope conversion facility for further processing. “Yellow cake, used in the Port Hope nuclear reactors, is a radioactive substance that can be harmful to human and environmental health if not stored properly; being around the substance without proper protection can cause organ damage and cancer.

Presenting as Comptroller of MFN, Coun. Laura Mayer said that when the refinery was built in the 1980s, the then Crown corporation did not respect First Nation rights and the importance of the site. He asked commissioners to specifically consider the nation’s recommendations on inherent MFN rights around consultation and reconciliation.

The nation opposes the 10-year renewal request and called for a shorter term, Mayer said. He noted that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), to which Canada is a signatory, underlines the duty to consult with indigenous nations “when considering measures that could harm impact your potential or established Aboriginal or treaty rights. “The nation said Cameco failed to fulfill that duty during the license renewal process, and said the company did not cooperate with them during their application process.

“The people of Mississauga remember the discovery of artifacts at this site, from ceramics to stone structures and tombstones, which are taken to museums in Ottawa. We also remember the nearby cemeteries on the adjacent land, which is the current golf course, ”he said.

In a virtual meeting last week, the Mississauga First Nation raised environmental and health concerns, as well as issues with Cameco that disturbed the indigenous tombs and artifacts when the uranium refinery was built.

“It is important to note that these burial mounds remain to this day. In 2016, a delegation of young and old from our community traveled to Ottawa to see the artifacts, which have not yet been returned ”.

In a statement to National Observer of Canada, Sara Forsey, manager of public and government affairs for Cameco, said the company is “committed to working respectfully with the Mississauga First Nation” and has had “at least 100 exchanges with the Mississauga First Nation on a formal and informal basis. during this license. ” finished.”

Joan Morningstar, an elder from Mississauga, also spoke at the hearing and called for the facility to be closed. She detailed her first-hand experience cleaning trailers at the refinery and hearing that the graves were secretly exhumed.

“These archaeologists do not know the sacredness of what they stole from us,” he said.

She spoke of her mother-in-law, who is now 98 years old, and asked her to bring “her people and sacred objects home.”

“It has been a long journey in search of my people … I hope I can fulfill their wishes [to] bring people home, ”he said.

By email, Forsey said the company has limited information on the period prior to 1988 when the refinery was transferred to Cameco by the Canadian government, and that archaeological studies during the 1970s and 1980s “did not identify any graves or remains in what is now owned by Cameco. . “

However, on Wednesday, the company admitted hearing verbal accounts “from a former employee of some remains that may have been discovered during construction.” Dale Clark, vice president of Cameco’s fuel services division, responded to Morningstar during the hearing and discussed the account, saying the site was turned over to the government.

Morningstar also spoke about her cancer and the other people with cancer in her community. When Cameco was asked if it had investigated the effects the uranium refinery could have on neighboring areas, a company representative said no.

“It is a horrible disease and we would like it not to affect anyone we know and love. But I think that, to answer your question, we have not specifically engaged in that regard, “said Liam Mooney, vice president of safety, health, environment and quality and regulatory relations for Cameco.

“But it is something that, perhaps, a broader conversation with public health authorities could be warranted.”

Before the hearing, the CNSC supported the renewal. The agency is now expected to review the comments and make a decision before Cameco’s license expires.


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