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Canada’s nuclear regulator slams Quebec uranium review

by Greg Klein | July 30, 2015

A recommendation against uranium mining in Quebec has come under fire from the federal agency that regulates uranium mining and nuclear energy in Canada. In a July 27 letter to Quebec environment minister David Heurtel, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission criticized the province’s BAPE commission for “conclusions and recommendations that lack scientific basis and rigour.”

Earlier this month, following a year-long review, the provincial government-appointed Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement suggested Quebec “could decide to suspend uranium mining either temporarily or permanently.” Should the province decide to allow mining, BAPE recommended conditions including consensus-building and additional research that the bureau said would require years to complete.

BAPE’s recommendation not to proceed is based on the perceived lack of social acceptance and not on proven science.—Michael Binder, president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission

The CNSC argued that BAPE “is misleading Quebeckers and all Canadians.” To suggest uranium mining is unsafe, wrote CNSC president Michael Binder, is to imply that the agency and the province of Saskatchewan “have been irresponsible in their approval and oversight of the uranium mines of Canada for the last 30 years.”

CNSC staff, “who are recognized internationally as scientific and regulatory experts, provided numerous submissions on how the CNSC oversees and monitors all aspects of a uranium operation to ensure safety, including environmental and radiation protection, worker health and safety, tailings and waste rock management, emergency preparedness and safe uranium transport.”

Binder described his agency as “fully transparent in our regulatory oversight of uranium mines and mills, with a public hearing-based licensing process and annual reporting of operational safety and environmental performance. This represents a level of transparency and oversight practised by no other industry in Canada.”

Binder added, “BAPE’s recommendation not to proceed is based on the perceived lack of social acceptance and not on proven science.”

Quebec has no uranium mines. The former Parti Québécois government imposed a moratorium on uranium exploration in March 2013 following the James Bay Cree Nation’s opposition to Strateco Resources’ Matoush project. Saying it had spent $123 million on Matoush, the company launched legal action against the province and has since delisted from the TSX.

As the BAPE inquiry began last year, the Quebec Mineral Exploration Association called for the replacement of chairperson Louis-Gilles Francoeur, whom the association called a “former environmental journalist.”

A decision on BAPE’s recommendations will come from Quebec’s environment minister, who’ll review the report with a committee.

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