Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Uranium a glowing problem for government

The province's handling of uranium mining brings to mind Homer Simpson's approach to operating a nuclear power plant.
And the stumbles could get expensive for taxpayers, if a disgruntled company does well in court.
Uranium mining brings a classic clash of B.C. values - the resource sector, used to wresting wealth from the ground, versus the urbanites and retirees, who have never forgotten Three Mile Island and The China Syndrome. And who don't much like mining near them in any form.
This month the cabinet had a Homer Simpson moment.
"B.C. strengthens position against uranium mining," a news release was headlined. It said cabinet had an issued an order-in-council - a regulation - "to prevent permits from being issued for uranium and thorium exploration and development in B.C."
But 10 months ago, the government issued a news release headlined "Government confirms position on uranium development."
Uranium mining wasn't on, said junior minister Kevin Krueger. "By confirming our position on these radioactive minerals, we are providing certainty and clarity to the mining industry."
He sure got that wrong. It was the uncertainty about the government's position that prompted the latest cabinet regulation. Krueger's announcement last year said that future mining claims would be barred from rights to uranium.
But that suggested existing claims weren't be affected. "Government will also ensure that all uranium deposits will remain undeveloped," the 2008 news release did add.
The second try at getting it right appears to be more definitive. The new order says no uranium mining permits will be issued.
And it's retroactive, even though governments often get in trouble when they backdate laws and regulations.
A large part of the whole problem is where the uranium lies. The most promising deposit, the Blizzard claim, is about 50 kms southeast of Kelowna. People did not move to the Okanagan to be near a uranium mine.
Canada is already one of the top two uranium-producing countries, along with Australia, and the world's largest mine is in Saskatchewan. But that site is so remote it might as well be in Mars. The Okanagan deposits are close to wine country.
The efforts to deal with the issue are sparked by the activity around the Blizzard claim.
Boss Power Corp., which owns the claim, sued last year after Krueger's announcement.
We've got rights here, and potentially valuable uranium deposits, the company said. You can't just take them away because uranium mining is politically unpopular.
And, the company complained, Krueger's fiat came just days "following a series of meeting between Boss Power management and senior provincial officials up to the assistant deputy minister level in which we were assured that our permit applications would be processed in a fair and transparent manner."
The company's share price fell by 50 per cent in the days after the ban.
In October, Boss sued. The ban was imposed "without any meaningful consultation with the mineral exploration industry, First Nations or the general public and has not only harmed the interests of Boss Power Corp. but may discourage other exploration companies who value the ability to work in a consultative environment."
Then things got stranger. The province filed a statement of defence that, according to the company, said the ban didn't apply to the Blizzard claim because the mines were already registered before it was introduced.
The latest changes to the regulations, made by cabinet last week, were an apparent to target the Blizzard claim.
Which means that the company's lawsuit seeking compensation is likely to go ahead.
It's a tricky issue. Nuclear power is seen by many as a green form of energy, though it's banned in B.C. And you can't have power without fuel.
And the government doesn't want to irk the mining industry.
But residents won't stand for a mine in the Okanagan. The questions now will be whether compensation is due - and whether the ban should have been in place all along.
Footnote: Interest in the deposits goes back a long way. When development seemed likely, in 1980, then premier Bill Bennett brought in a seven-year moratorium on uranium development. The Vander Zalm government let it lapse. Neither the New Democrat or Liberal governments addressed the issue since 1987, when the ban ended.


Bernard von Schulmann said...

Hi there Paul, there are a number of more promising deposits south east of Kelowna.

The Haynes Lake deposit is estimated to contain 2 000 000 tonnes of ore. It is current

Cup Lake is estimated to have close to 1000 tons of U3O8. It is currently held by INTERNATIONAL MONTORO RESOURCES INC

The Fuki deposit

There are some good deposits right at Summerland like the Prairie Flats deposit. These were only found one year for the moratorium in 1980. This deposit may contain 629 000 tonnes. It is owned by Speebo Inc.

There are also deposits explored north of Oliver

There are significant deposits and companies sitting on them at the moment.

alia said...