Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Uranium mine proposals put Liberals in hot seat

The problem for nuclear power - and by extension uranium mining - is that almost everybody has seen some disaster movie about a meltdown that threatens life on Earth as we know it.
The few who have missed those films have probably watched Homer Simpson's less-than-diligent job performance in Springfield's version of the Three Mile Island generating plant.
Now the problems are heading toward the Liberal government, as companies keep talking enthusiastically about opening uranium mines in the province.
Worse, for the Liberals, the big interest is in a property about 50 kilometres southeast of Kelowna.
You might - perhaps - be able to get local support in the north for a uranium mine; there's not a chance in the Okanagan or the southern interior.
The Liberals haven't figured out what to do. The government has, with some success, worked hard at encouraging exploration and mining in the province.
Blocking a uranium mine would be taken as a negative sign by the industry.
But there are a whole lot of votes to be lost in approving a uranium mine. Neighbours would be unhappy. And so would a lot of people across the province with concerns about the safety of nuclear energy.
The argument that nuclear power, with no direct greenhouse-gas emissions, is a sound response to the issue of climate change hasn't yet won the day.
It's still hard to see how serious the mine proposals are. But the question is looking more real.
The focus is on the Blizzard uranium claim near Beaverdell, south of Kelowna. It's already part of B.C.'s mining history. In 1980, a consortium that included Ontario Hydro announced plans to develop a uranium mine there. The opposition was fierce and then-premier Bill Bennett introduced a seven-year moratorium, which lapsed 20 years ago.
Now uranium is hot. Ontario is committed to new nuclear power plants and China plans a massive expansion.
Around the world, nuclear is being seen as both green and increasingly affordable as oil and gas prices rise. Last summer, two companies bought the Blizzard claim and announced they would revive the mine plan.
Last month, a corporate-share shuffle transferred ownership to Boss Power Inc., formerly known as Boss Gold International. The company says the claim has real potential as a uranium mine.
It's hard to know how seriously to take any of this. Junior mining companies are known more for their enthusiasm than the successful completion of projects.
Still, the more the company talks up the mine, the more problems for the government.
Kevin Krueger is the junior minister for mines, named to cabinet when Bill Bennett resigned after sending a cranky and thin-skinned e-mail to a constituent.
It's the Kamloops MLAs first real moment in the spotlight, and he's understandably having trouble dancing the required two-step.
The Liberals don't want the uranium mine to go ahead, but they also don't want to irritate the mining industry by doing anything about it.
So Krueger confirms the government doesn't have any special policy on uranium mines. Companies can apply just as if they wanted to dig up coal or copper.
They'll need the same environmental approvals, but that might not be much of a hurdle.
But at the same time, he told The Globe and Mail that mining companies should be aware that there's strong public opposition in the province.
"People fear it, and that's a reality in B.C.," he said. "Whatever assurances are passed along to them, people either don't believe it or they say they're opposed regardless, saying we don't need it, we don't want it, and we don't want you to allow it."
Which sounds a little like a warning that while there's no ban now, there might be - after shareholders had invested, companies had spent time and money and the government had taken criticism for allowing the mines to move forward.
The project might just fade away. If it doesn't, the politics should be way more complicated than actually developing a mine.
Footnote: Last summer, the concern was over uranium exploration near Clearwater, closer to Krueger's base. Canada is already one of the world's top two uranium producers and Saskatchewan is home to the largest mine in the world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Garry Lunn is a big supporter on the Nuck power systems.So I figre harper is as well.
But lets not forget what happened in Washington State. Electricity was going to be so cheap nobody would need meters. The Tri Cities were backing the things with great vigour. It all went off the rails due to higher costs and some failures. Some releases of radiation leaking into the river and such little glitches.
I had a relation working there as an engineer. The company he worked for got suppiles from a subsidary in Surrey BC. End result was the company he worked for went to another country to do thermal heating projects.I don't trust Gordon or Neufelt one little bit. Kruger will do as he is told because he is too dumb to think for himself. Uranium is best left in the ground until somebody figures out a way to store the remains for a few thousand years.