The Battle Over Uranium Mining In Quebec

The Battle Over Uranium Mining in Quebec

An ongoing dispute that's pitched the James Bay Cree Nation and the Quebec government against a uranium company appears to be nearing its final chapter as the company attempts to launch a lawsuit solely against the government.

On December 11, Strateco Resources (TSX: RSC) issued a press release announcing that it is suing the Quebec government for $190 million in damages for the loss of its investment in the Matoush project. The release states the company invested an average of $20 million per year in the project from 2006 to 2012, and notes that the government provided "lack of social acceptability" as a reason for stalling the project — a vague statement that according to the company is not a concept defined in Quebec law.

Uranium risks concern Cree

The fight began in 2008, when Strateco first held hearings for its Matoush uranium project near the community of Mistissini. The mine, which has an indicated resource of 586,000 tonnes with an average grade of 0.95 percent U3O8 containing 12.33 million pounds of U3O8, was to be located 210 kilometers north of Mistissini.

Six years on and the project has stalled as the Quebec government sided with the Cree Nation in November 2013 to decline authorization of the project.

"I think the whole question here is of social responsibility," said Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, who lives in Mistissini and has helped lead the fight against the project.

He was quick to point out the Cree are not against mining — they have created a thorough mining policy for companies looking to work in the area — and have participated in previous mining projects, such as the Troilus gold and copper mine. Coon Come said the community's concerns rest solely on the long-term impacts of uranium mining in the region.

"Risks are inherent in uranium exploration activities, and we felt they are incompatible with our stewardship responsibility," he said. "My people are still hunters, they're still fishermen, we live off the land. Uranium waste that will be left behind will be radioactive and dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years [and it] poses an unacceptable burden for future generations."

He added, "our connection with the land, the waters, the animals, the plants is not abstract or academic. It's at the core to our way of life."

The moratorium passed down by the Cree Nation — which is different from the provincial government moratorium currently in place on uranium mining — was approved by the 10 chiefs, and Coon Come said he has unanimous support from the community.

The fight of the Cree Nation has also been brought to the fore with its youth council organizing an 850-kilometer walk from Mistissini to Quebec City and Montreal to attend the bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environment (BAPE) hearings, which are being held to discuss the current moratorium placed on uranium mining.

Seventeen people from various Cree communities have taken part in the walk with the goal of arriving in Montreal for the BAPE hearing on December 15 to hand deliver a message about the harm the group believes uranium mining holds for the province.

"It is my hope and prayer that the BAPE will favor all the people opposing and extend the moratorium," said Joshua Iserhoff, grand chief of the Cree youth council.

Iserhoff said he has seen little in the way of public education from the company about the project — a point disputed by Strateco — and said people were left to discover the pros and cons of uranium mining by themselves.

"Unfairly treated, not unfairly targeted"

But while members of the Cree community have continued their pursuit of a uranium-free Quebec, the company at the center of the storm is looking for compensation after cutting its losses with the Matoush project.

Strateco's share price has fallen 7.7 percent year-to-date, and is down nearly 30 percent from when the Quebec government first refused to sanction its project in November 2013.

Guy Hébert, president and CEO of Strateco, confirmed that the project has been shuttered, with the final employees leaving the work site at the end of October. The company is now focusing on its properties in Saskatchewan.

He said the company initially had a good relationship with the local Cree, spending $25 million on local contractors, but that changed in 2009 and 2010 when new band leadership was chosen.

"The Cree are acting like they're still owning (sic) the place. They have the right to be consulted, they have the right to say what they think, but it seems the government gave them a veto right," he said.

He alleges that people who once supported the project bought into misinformation about the problems posed by uranium mining, which he believes were spread by people with an anti-mining agenda.

Despite that, Hébert said he firmly blames the government for the downfall of his project and said the dispute with the Cree community is firmly in the past.

"It's the responsibility of the government to respect its own laws," he said. "We have been unfairly treated, not unfairly targeted."

The moratorium on uranium mining is scheduled to end in the end of May 2015, with the environment minister due to make a decision within 60 days of that time.


Securities Disclosure: I, Nick Wells, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

The Battle Over Uranium Mining in Quebec from Uranium Investing News