The Search for Uranium in Nova Scotia     

                                                                                                                                        David Orton

    (This article was printed in The Atlantic Postal Worker, 1982, Jan.-Feb. Issue, Vol.4, No. 6.)

    “After investigating the ramifications of uranium...we are opposed in every sense of the word, to the exploration, mining or milling of uranium.” (Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada. Brief to the B.C. Royal Commission of Inquiry into Uranium Mining.)

    Widespread exploration for uranium has been underway in Nova Scotia since 1976. Opposition was late in getting underway in the province and, so far, community-based environmental groups have carried the ball.

    In British Columbia, where the right wing Social Credit government was forced by public pressure to institute a 7-year moratorium on all uranium exploration/mining/milling on February 27, 1980, many trade unions played a leading role in the broad coalition of forces which united to oppose the mining companies and their allies in the provincial and federal governments.

    To read the submissions of the labour movement to the B.C. Royal Commission is to appreciate the influence that organized labour can bring to bear once it takes up an environmental and occupational health issue and begins to fight. The resolutions, eventually submitted to the B.C. Royal Commission by the Confederation of Canadian Unions in support of their stand for a “permanent legislated ban on uranium mining”, give a sense of the militant and progressive point of view which must be brought to the uranium debate in Nova Scotia.

    When the coal miners were on strike in Nova Scotia, like vultures moving in for the kill, the crown corporation Eldorado Nuclear Limited ran two advertisements in the Chronicle Herald (September 22 and 23, 1981), describing the “benefits” to be gained in return for working at their soon-to-close underground uranium mine in Northern Saskatchewan. The benefits headlined the ads “Experienced Miners $37.54 an hour” and “For Rent: 4 Bdrm $150 Monthly.” Nothing was said about signing up for the possibility of getting lung cancer from the radioactivity of the ore bodies on which the miners were asked to work.

    The Ham Commission’s Report of the Royal Commission on the Health and Safety of Workers in Mines (1976), provides a conservative insight into the hazards of uranium mining in Ontario. The Report shows a table called “Characteristics of the lung cancer cases.” These “cases” are of 81 dead miners. A look at these statistics shows that although only 12 miners were 30 years of age or under, when they entered the expanding uranium mines back in the 1950's, of the 81 cases, only 17 reached 60 years of age before dying of lung cancer. As well as dying of lung cancer, uranium miners, like other hard rock miners, also suffer the diseases of the lung associated with the silica in the rock with which they work. Miners, like other workers, have paid with their blood over the years, in earning a living and fighting to try and bring health and safety into the workplace.

    The Nova Scotia Federation of Labour passed a paper resolution at its last Convention, calling for a “moratorium” on uranium mining and calling for a “judicial” inquiry. If the Federation wants to “get the troops” behind this resolution, then a wide-spread educational campaign needs to be launched, even at this late date. Otherwise we will have another Michelin-type situation on our hands, where the multinationals make their move and the leadership of the Federation puts on its black armbands in the gallery of the legislative assembly after handing over the defense of the workers’ fundamental interests to the M.L.A.’s.

    The Buchanan government has recently fulfilled part of the Federation resolution by appointing Judge Robert McCleave to head up a judicial inquiry. McCleave is well known to the labour movement. He was Chairman of the Labour Relations Board when the infamous interdependency ruling for Michelin Tire was handed down. That ruling wiped out, temporarily, the unionization drive of the United Rubber Workers.

    Every other inquiry into uranium mining in Canada (B.C., Saskatchewan, Newfoundland/Labrador and Ontario), had at least three commissioners. McCleave, with a service record of 20 years as a foot soldier for the Conservative Party in the Federal Parliament, will “inquire” into uranium exploration/mining with time left over from his work as Chairman of the Labour Relations Board and Provincial Judge. Looking over the past speeches of McCleave in Parliament, it is hard to see any environmental or occupational health qualifications that he might bring to his new job.

    Some environmental groups are moving towards outright opposition to the Buchanan/McCleave style inquiry into uranium exploration and mining. It is extremely important that the trade union movement bring its viewpoint into this struggle as well if uranium exploration/mining is to be permanently stopped in Nova Scotia.

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