A somewhat lengthy petition calling for peace in the Republic of Niger landed in my inbox the other day and I had neither the time nor the energy to look at it. That changed yesterday, when I learned that a Canadian uranium mining company, NWT Uranium, has a letter of agreement to join forces with a New Mexico uranium mining company, Nu-Mex.
“We believe that this transaction will be of great benefit to NWT Uranium and its shareholders,” said Marek J. Kreczmer, President and CEO of NWT Uranium. “Nu-Mex has the ability to earn a majority interest in two highly prospective uranium properties and it was these potential assets that drew us to the combination.
The deal is “subject to approval by NWT Uranium shareholders, the Ontario Court of Superior Justice and the TSX Venture Exchange, and requires a favorable fairness opinion.” The two pieces of interest for NWT, Nose Rock and Dalton Pass, are on or near Navaho lands in New Mexico. In the WWII and post-WWII years and up until the late 70’s, the Navaho peoples embraced the uranium industry, welcoming the work, until they noticed the ill effects of the development.
Along the way, though, government and industry gave little attention to the pervasive, irreversible, and now well-documented impacts of this massive development. Government and industry were at best ignorant, but most often arrogantly dismissive, of the emerging epidemic of lung cancer and respiratory disease among underground miners; the wide assault on the region’s land, water and air quality that continues to command public concern and regulatory attention today; the abandonment of tens of thousands of drill holes, thousands of mines, and several dozen mills with little or no reclamation; and the economic dislocation of communities that had given up traditional, agricultural-based economies for the prospects of massive infusions of cash and employment from uranium development. The “bust” that followed the 35-year “boom” is by now a quarter-century old itself, and the communities that once hosted uranium mining, often with open arms, are now hard-pressed to point to anything, other than a few paved roads, that was sustainable from that era.
Fortunately, the state’s governor is taking action to prevent similar mistakes.
Of interest to Nu-Mex are the holdings of the Canadian company, NWT. The North Rae and Daniel Lake uranium projects are in the Ungava Bay area of northern Quebec, home to not less than 7 Inuit communities. That the governments of Quebec or Canada were as concerned for their people as the governor of New Mexico.
North Rae and Daniel Lake are located on the eastern side of Ungava Bay, approximately 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of the town of Kuujjuaq, near the southern shore of Ungava Bay. With a population of approximately 2,000 people, Kuujjuaq is the largest community in northern Quebec.
North Rae is six to 12 miles (10 to 20 kilometers) from tidewater, which places it in a favorable context with respect to mine development. Daniel Lake is also favorably located, approximately nine miles (15 kilometers) east of George River, which is navigable and flows into Ungava Bay 25 miles (40 kilometers) to the north.
Awfully close to a large body of water, don’t you thing? That global warming will raise water levels seems not to be an issue for NWT or Nu-Mex. That the Inuit have opposed this threat to their traditional way of life is not surprising. And it only gets more interesting! NWT has nearly 32 million shares in a company that holds several properties in the republic of Niger. Niger Uranium Limited , listed on the AIM Exchange in London, England, is extremely active in Niger.
It is clear, however, that the unfettered increase in uranium mining is causing great problems in Niger. From the petition, a bit of history:
Since its independence, the state of Niger has been in latent conflict with the Tuareg population living on the Nigerien territory. This situation escalated in 1990 with a massacre of this population group in Tchin-Tabaraden and resulted in an armed conflict. After the conclusion of a treaty of peace, which was intended to make allowances for certain claims brought forward by the Tuareg organizations in 1995, this conflict calmed down. Today, it seems that the implementation of the treaty has failed. This caused new dissatisfaction among the population in the north of Niger. A new Tuareg movement “Mouvement des Nigériens pour la Justice” (MNJ, Movement of Nigeriens for Justice) has formed whose central claim is that the peace accords signed in 1995 be met.
Another issue is that the exploitation of the uranium deposits in the regions inhabited by the Tuareg remains an unsolved problem. The local population has practically no benefit from the proceeds gained out of these mineral resources, while the ecological consequences of the uranium production seriously endanger the population and their environment.
We observe that the current crisis is seriously threatening the democratic process in Niger, in particular as the government seems to fall back on out-dated, dictatorial methods in order to gag the press and to impede the freedom of expression of the citizens.
Two members of the NWT Uranium, Inc. Board of Directors are apparently oblivious to the situation:
…North and Kreczmer assured us the country is stable. “When I first went to Niger in November 2004, and that was during the last election, it honestly looked like a lot of fun. Everybody had a little piece of rag tied around their wrist or tied to the antenna of their car to represent their political affiliation.” Kreczmer added, “My experience working in Africa is that because this country relies so heavily on foreign aid, the World Bank has great influence.”
The Republic of Niger has North’s vote on confidence … North feels Niger is going to become more aggressive in developing its uranium properties. He talked about how the President of Niger told his minister of mines, “Get out there and advertise Niger as being open for business. We want people to come in here and invest. We want to give them mineral rights, and we want them to do what Mali is doing.” From the looks of it, the first to jump on the Niger bandwagon were Northwestern Minerals and North Atlantic Resources, but they won’t be the last.
“My experience with Niger is that it’s a peaceful, democratic country with no civil unrest. Let’s put it this way. They have less civil unrest than France.” *
The Tuareg population have documented several horrific human rights violations. Homicides, arbitrary, racist and inhumane detention of civilians as well as expulsion of citizens from their communities by the military appear to be the norm. Dismemberment of corpses is not unheard of. Land mines, restricting the movement of the nomadic Tuareg, are in use despite the fact the Nigerien government signed the Ottawa Convention which bans their use.
The government of Niger wants to double its uranium production and exports so has issued more than 122 licenses to foreign companies. The areas granted exploration rights have generally been agricultural, providing an economic base for the local population. Uranium mining and exploration are harming the health of local populations. Radioactive waste is not being stored properly; open pit mining threatens fauna, flora, water, air and the entire food chain of the people living in the region. The Nigerien media has criticized these activities. As a result, prominent and outspoken editors and writers have been arrested. Some have been threatened with death by members of the Nigerien military.
And this — all this, in Canada, the USA, Australia, Niger, etc. — occurs despite a 2004 Declaration of the Indigenous World Uranium Summit which called for a Moratorium on Uranium mining:
[A] worldwide ban is justified on the basis of the extensive record of “disproportional impacts” of the nuclear fuel chain on the health, natural resources and cultures of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration calls attention to “intensifying nuclear threats to Mother Earth and all life,” and asserts that nuclear power — the primary use for uranium — is not a solution to global warming.
“Our Mother Earth needs protection from the destructive forms of uranium if we are to survive,” said Manny Pino, a member of Acoma Pueblo and professor of sociology at Scottsdale Community College in Arizona. “Everyday we are at risk from radioactive materials that threaten our future generations. Indigenous people all over the World are saying these threats must end, and they are taking united actions to achieve that goal.”
As is the norm, the concerns of the world’s Indigenous peoples continue to be ignored. Stephen Harper could not support the recent United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, not because it contravenes Canadian laws, but because it would mean a loss of control of “vast resources on land claimed by aboriginal communities” and indicate a lack of support for the nuclear industry which forms part of the Harperian plan to curb GHGs.
– Reuters press agency: http://www.reuters.com/, http://africa.reuters.com/NE/
– Agence France Presse: http://www.afp.com/
– Website of the MNJ: http://m-n-j.blogspot.com/
– Eye witness accounts
– * Finch, James. “Exposed: The World’s Best Kept Uranium Secret.” EzineArticles 09 April 2006. 14 December 2007 <http://ezinearticles.com/?Exposed:-The-Worlds-Best-Kept-Uranium-Secret&id=176018>.