Phase out of Uranium Mining and Nuclear Energy urged

Sierra Club Canada
2008-04-22

Ottawa — Uranium mining exploration should be halted in Ontario as it is part of an unclean, unsustainable and uneconomic nuclear energy industry that is harming efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change says Sierra Club Canada in its presentation to the Citizens’ Inquiry into the Impacts of the Uranium Cycle in Ottawa.

“Nuclear energy has already created a legacy of debt and toxic substances for Ontario,” says Stephen Hazell, executive director of Sierra Club Canada. “Ontarians should check their electricity bills—we are still paying down debt from previous nuclear fiascos left by other Ontario governments.”   

“It is simply wrong to continue to allow uranium mining companies to have free entry on to private and First Nations lands to unleash radioactive substances into the natural environment.  It is just another of the huge subsidies provided by the Ontario and federal government to develop the nuclear industry. Uranium mining companies will reap the profits while local and First Nations people will be forced to endure the toxic radioactive legacy that is left behind,” Hazell says.

Subsidies to the nuclear industry include:

  • $17.5 billion to Atomic Energy Canada Ltd since the early 1950s;
  • Limited (up to $75 million) liability under Nuclear Liability Act for nuclear operators for off-site damage from spills of radioactive spills or meltdowns (Chernobyl clean-up for Ukraine and Belarus alone is expected to total $460 billion);
  • $35 billion debt incurred by Ontario Hydro operating its nuclear reactors; and
  • $46 billion commitment by Ontario government for new and expanded nuclear facilities.

“Nuclear power plants and the uranium mining industry are barriers to combating climate change,” says Emilie Moorhouse, Sierra Club Canada’s atmosphere and energy campaigner. “Nuclear power plants are too costly and take too long to construct to help combat climate change.  And by investing resources into nuclear power and its energy source, uranium, much-needed attention and support for truly sustainable solutions to climate change is diverted.”

The Inquiry is being held April 22nd from 1:00 pm until 9:00 (with a break 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm) at the Rideau Park United Church, 2203 Alta Vista Dr. Stephen Hazell’s presentation is scheduled for 4:30 pm.
    
Contacts:   
Stephen Hazell, Sierra Club Canada, (613) 724-1908 (cell), (613) 241-4611 (office)
Emilie Moorhouse, Sierra Club Canada, (613) 858-7021(cell), (613) 241-4611 (office)

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BACKGROUND ON URNANIUM MINING AND NUCLEAR ENERGY


Uranium Mining and Nuclear Power

Uranium mining exploration should be halted in Ontario as it is part of a nuclear energy industry that harms efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change and is unclean, unsustainable and uneconomic. Mining uranium from open pits or by underground excavation results in large stockpiles of radioactive and toxic waste rock and tailings. These mines and waste sites contaminate water and result in the release of radon gas into the atmosphere for centuries, even millennia. These wastes will be a toxic inheritance that our children and their children will need to manage in perpetuity.
 
Uranium Mining Poses Health Risks
People living around uranium mines are at risk of exposure to radioactive materials released into water and air as gas or dust. Uranium miners are exposed to greater amounts of radiation than considered acceptable to the general public. Miners who are exposed to high doses of radiation or low levels of radiation over long periods are 2 to 5 times more likely to develop lung cancer.
 
Uranium Mining Pollutes Waterways and Groundwater
Uranium mines, mills, and waste sites release radioactive contaminants, heavy metals, and other pollutants into watercourses and groundwater. Effluent from uranium mines and mills is classified as toxic by the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Extracting uranium by leaching the ore from the ground using harsh chemicals - sometimes thought to be less damaging than open pit or underground mining – will result in groundwater contamination that cannot be avoided.
 
Uranium Air Pollution
Uranium mining and waste storage sites release radionucleides, radon gas, and heavy metals into the atmosphere. Milling, which uses acidic or alkaline chemicals to refine uranium, results in the release of greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide, volatile organic compounds, and carbon dioxide.  Up to 85% of the radiological elements contained in the original uranium ore end up in the tailings after milling.
 
Uranium Mining Poses Risks to Wilderness and Wildlife
Aside from direct damage to landscapes and watercourses, uranium mines create contaminated zones polluted by radioactive waste and heavy metals. Fish sampled from lakes around uranium mines in Saskatchewan have concentrations of nickel, cadmium, and other heavy metal that are up to 43 times higher than normal levels. Caribou that consume lichens from around uranium mines are laden with radiation, with consequences for consumers of caribou meat.
 
Nuclear Power Fuelled by Uranium Undermines Efforts to Combat Climate Change
Nuclear power plants fuelled by uranium are barriers to combating climate change. This is because nuclear power plants are too costly and take too long to construct to address our urgent need to combat climate change.
 
Ratepayers in Ontario are currently paying back billions of dollars for cost over-runs at their nuclear power plants. Even when risks to human health and the environment are not taken into consideration, using nuclear energy to reduce a tonne of greenhouse gas is seven times more expensive than natural gas and one and a half times more expensive than wind power, according to data from CIBC World Markets and the Ontario Power Authority. According to Amory Lovins,  “. . . Empirically, on the criteria of both cost and speed, nuclear power seems about the least effective climate-stabilizing option on offer.” 
 
By investing resources into nuclear power and its energy source, uranium, much-needed attention and support for truly sustainable solutions to climate change is diverted.

Nuclear Power has cost the Canadian public billions
Over a 50-year period (1953-2002), federal subsidies to Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) totalled $17.5 billion (2001 dollars). Further, the Canadian government subsidizes the nuclear industry by limiting the liability of operators of nuclear power plants for off-site damages caused by spills of radioactive materials or reactor melt downs to $75 million under the Nuclear Liability Act. A recent study of the clean-up costs for the Chernobyl reactor melt down estimated total costs at $460 billion for Ukraine and Belarus for the thirty-year period 1986 to 2015.  A similar disaster at Pickering or Darlington nuclear power plants would mean that Ontario Power Generation would be liable for $75,000,000 in off-site cleanup costs, Canadian taxpayers $459,925,000,000. No insurance company insures private property against the consequences of a nuclear accident. Canada’s nuclear liability is lower than 12 other countries with nuclear facilities and barely ranks compared to the $12.6 billion liability in the US or unlimited liability in Germany and Japan.

Cost overruns on the last nuclear station to be built in Ontario at Darlington were in the billions of dollars, and The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star reported on April 18, 2008 that the new Bruce nuclear reactor is already over budget.  Debt incurred by Ontario Hydro (the predecessor to Ontario Power Generation) in the operation of its nuclear power reactors amounted to over $35 billion, a debt still being repaid by customers of electricity utilities across Ontario.    The Government of Ontario plans to spend $40 billion on new and expanded nuclear facilities. 

Nuclear power is not emission or waste-free
Greenhouse gas emissions are released by nuclear power plant construction and main-tenance. Uranium mining, milling, refining, conversion and fuel fabrication all generate GHG emissions and additional releases occur in the course of facility decommissioning and the management of nuclear wastes. Routine emissions from nuclear reactors include a number of radioactive elements such as carbon-14 and tritium. Over the years, leaks around nuclear reactors in Canada have raised levels of tritium, a known carcinogen, well above background levels.

Nuclear power production in Canada produces approximately 85,000 highly radioactive waste fuel bundles each year along with 500,000 tonnes or more of toxic and radioactive mine tailings (wastes left after uranium extraction). In over 50 years of nuclear power production in Canada, a permanent solution to waste disposal has not been found and, according to the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, may not be found in the next 200 years.

Spent fuel from CANDU reactors contains over 2300 deadly radioactive elements—byproducts of the fission process—including uranium, plutonium, cesium, and strontium. High-level nuclear waste will remain toxic for periods far longer than recorded human history, in some cases for millions of years.  Ontario already has 30,000 tonnes of such waste.   
 

            

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