BEAUVAL, SK - A blanket of snow already covers Northern Saskatchewan, where the uranium industry continues to expand despite opposition. Cameco and Areva's joint northern tour came to an end last night in Beauval with a community supper and corporate door prizes, but unanswered questions linger.
According to a recent survey, more than two thirds of Saskatchewan residents support a halt to any new uranium mine development until existing tailings are dealt with. The telephone survey, commissioned by the HUES3 Campaign Committee and the Canadian Association of Physician for the Environment (CAPE), was carried out by Oraclepoll Research Ltd in September.
Sixty-eight percent of those polled indicated their support in response to the question, "Would you support or oppose a proposal to stop further uranium mining in Saskatchewan until all radioactive mine tailings have been satisfactorily and permanently contained?"
Less than a quarter of respondents, 23 percent, answered that they would oppose such a proposal and nine percent remained undecided, according to an October 24 media release by HUES3. "The margin of error for this 800-person survey is +/- 3.5%, 19/20 times," states the methodology and logistics provided by Oraclepoll Research Ltd for its 800-person omnibus survey.
Dene elders in the northern areas of the province have their own questions. Louis Wolverine, 84, wants to know where the animals have gone. He began trapping around Key Lake with his father in the 1940s and continued to trap in the area for over 20 years.
A reservoir was built and the lake itself drained thirty years ago to facilitate access to the uranium deposit below. Several spills occurred in the early 1980s, including a massive spill of approximately 100 million litres of radioactive liquid in 1984. Mining at Key Lake ended a decade ago, but Cameco continues to operate a mill at the site.
"I used to see lots of moose when I used to trap, and caribou, just full of them," Wolverine told the Media Co-op. "I was there quite a few times since the year 2000 and there's hardly any moose. I never saw a moose since then."
Had anyone come to the open house yesterday afternoon in Beauval with questions for Cameco about Key Lake, the draft Environmental Impact Study for the proposed Millennium mine, or the company's other operations in the north, they would have left empty-handed. Although the Cameco-Areva northern tour was jointly advertised with three-hour afternoon open houses in each community along the way, Cameco instead spent the afternoon in classrooms.
"We are meeting with teachers and students to ask them about what they would like to see us invest in in the future, and are speaking with the communities to discuss initiatives we've done in the past," Robert Gegherty, Manager of External Communications for Cameco, wrote in an email to the Media Co-op two weeks ago.
Pat McNamara visited the open house yesterday afternoon. Originally from Port Hope, Ontario, home to Cameco's uranium conversion facility, McNamara became an outspoken opponent of the nuclear industry in 2004 when he discovered that the addition to his daughter's school had been built on radioactive waste.
"I was disappointed that Cameco wasn't available. But more disturbing was the fact that they spent that time preaching to the children," McNamara told the Media Co-op.
"If they're going to be allowed to go into the schools, then it's incumbent on the provincial government to make sure that the students get both sides of the nuclear debate, so that they're aware of the dangers that Cameco doesn't tell them about," he said. "This is a failing of both the school boards and the provincial government."
McNamara also came with questions for the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) about the health of uranium miners with regards to radiation. The CNSC is the federal regulator for nuclear activities in the country, including uranium mining and milling.
"Well, CNSC showed up without relevant people. CNSC's primary mandate is health and safety and no one was available to answer those questions," said McNamara. "I asked if they wouldn't mind if I tape recorded their words for clarity. They said that they didn't want to have their words used against them."
CNSC and Areva staff at the open house directed media inquiries to communications representatives who were not present on-site. Information about Areva's recently approved Midwest project was limited to a brief paragraph or two on one of many posterboard displays. Except for a trickle of high school students, very few residents showed up to the open house.
Beauval residents did pack the school gym to eat, however. Advertised by Cameco and Areva as a community supper event with presentations from six to nine in the evening, people cleared out after the door prizes and food were over. At half past seven, only the school cleaning staff remained.
The northern tour is over, snow continues to fall and the temperature continues to drop. But if the recent survey is any indication, resistance in Saskatchewan may be once again starting to heat up.
Sandra Cuffe is a Vancouver-based freelance journalist currently in northern Saskatchewan.