Uranium mining fuels a deadly and dying industry

Juan Carlos Chirgwin | first published in Counterpoint, 22 July 2018

To the editor:

When I read your front-page article, “Uranium in Nova Scotia: Should ban be lifted?” I remembered how Quebec made the correct decision in 2015 to reaffirm its ban on uranium mining.

As a medical doctor, I agreed with Quebec’s environmental, Aboriginal and health organizations’ concerns for uranium mining: radioactive waste is generated at every step of the process, cannot be safely contained by any engineering feat and must be guarded for many generations in demarcated danger zones. This only describes the woes for the uranium mining industry and its corporate vendors. Worse are those for the nuclear industry, which is definitely not “the energy game of the future,” as the caption accompanying your photo of Point Lepreau incorrectly read.

Globally, nuclear energy plays a minor role in terms of energy contribution, not because it is insufficiently exploited but because it is not financially viable. Germany has abandoned it, and France, a nuclear energy champion, barely avoids financial disaster to run its network. Nuclear energy is not the clean energy we seek nor the answer to global warming: to build the infrastructure for a world nuclear system would demand burning fossil fuels in the magnitude that defeats the purpose of halting rising temperatures.

Solar, tidal and wind energy are by far less costly, less financially risky and less dangerous for all life forms. Three names suffice to underline the dangers to communities, large or small: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima — all nuclear power plants that failed and produced radioactive fallout.

Contrary to what uranium mining supporter Marco Navarro-Genie says, it is scientific evidence, not fear, that guides mining bans in Quebec and probably also in Nova Scotia. It is the scientific evidence of engineering failures, human error and subsequent measurement of decades’ worth of radioactive fallout that argue against lifting the mining ban. Even isotopes, radioactive elements, used for medical imaging and treatments can be manufactured in cyclotrons, bypassing the need for nuclear power plants.

The whole package is bad news, and this includes the development of nuclear weapons from byproducts of nuclear power plants. Canada has the sad reputation for having contributed to the world uranium stock, some of it going into the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Canada’s nuclear industry technology and international agreements contributed to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, namely in permitting India to go nuclear. Pakistan, Israel and North Korea have all made their weapons using nuclear industry knowhow.

As Iran reviews its options to fire up its centrifuges to produce industry-grade uranium, the world heard U.S. President Donald Trump announce a $1-trillion commitment to upgrade its nuclear weapon arsenal, even as his citizens suffer from a lack of stable jobs, access to health care and affordable education.

The answer to your question, “Should the uranium mining ban be lifted in Nova Scotia?” is a clear and definitive “No!” because of the dangers and madness inherent in the entire uranium process from the mine to the nuclear reactor to the nuclear missile.

Dr. Juan Carlos Chirgwin, Montreal

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