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Visiting doctors speak on the dangers of uranium
Impact on the environment, Inuit way of life and NTI policies discussed

Emily Ridlington
Northern News Services
Published Friday, November 26, 2010

IQALUIT - Residents and several candidates who are running for Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president are questioning the organization's uranium policy after attending a presentation on the environmental and health effects the industry could cause.

NNSL photo/graphic

NTI presidential candidate Mikidjuk Akavak listens to the presentation on Nov. 18 made by several doctors brought to the territory by Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit, a non-governmental organization opposed to uranium mining. Akavak asked what the doctors thought about Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. uranium policy. - Emily Ridlington/NNSL photo

"NTI was probably ill-informed about uranium mining and I think more information needs to go to my fellow Inuit in Nunavut about it," said Joe Tigullaraq, NTI presidential candidate.

He and fellow candidates Mikidjuk Akavak and Niko Inuarak along with more than 50 residents packed the Francophone Centre in Iqaluit to listen to presentations on the dangers of uranium mining made by guest speakers on Nov. 18.

The forum was organized by Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit, a non-governmental organization opposed to uranium mining, especially the development of an open-pit uranium mine by Areva Resources about 85 kilometres west of Baker Lake.

Speaking at the forum was Dr. Isabelle Gingras. She was one of the 23 doctors in Sept-Īles, Que. who threatened to resign unless the province banned uranium mining and exploration.

"It's scary what's going on around Baker Lake," she said.

She said what is worrisome to her is the health effects caused by not only the mining itself but also by radiation. Health effects include kidney damage and impact to the reproductive system.

Dr. Helen Caldicott, an anti-nuclear activist from Australia talked about the environmental impacts including how plutonium, a substance made from uranium for use in nuclear weapons and also a by-product of nuclear power plants, can concentrate in lichen which caribou eat.

This point hit home with Joanasie Akumalik.

"We, as Inuit, are the most affected as are our caribou and seals," he said.

Despite the crowd in attendance, Akumalik said there needs to be more Inuit showing up at these types of meetings and that something has to be done to get Inuit involved.

NTI has had a uranium policy since Sept. 18, 2007. The objectives of the policy are to support responsible and peaceful use of nuclear energy, to require benefits from uranium exploration and mining, to ensure protection of human health, to limit the impacts of uranium exploration and mining and to promote the participation of Inuit.

Akavak asked presenter Gordon Edwards what he thought of NTI's current uranium policy.

"They [NTI] may find out their grandchildren are really accusing them of doing something very foolish and contributing to something that really doesn't help the world at all," said Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.

He said NTI cannot guarantee, once the uranium is mined from the ground, that it will be used for peaceful purposes.

"They shouldn't have a policy based on a pipe dream," Edwards said.

If uranium prices do not go up, Edwards said he is unclear how economic benefits will be able to be passed on to Inuit.

"They are dealing with things that are completely beyond their control," he said.

This was greeted with applause from the audience.

Tigullaraq told those in attendance that if he is elected as NTI president, he will have the policy revisited. This also received applause.

A meeting was also held in Baker Lake on Nov. 20.

Areva's proposal is currently being reviewed by the Nunavut Impact Review Board. While it is the early stages, it will determine whether the project should go ahead.

In Iqaluit, after the presentation, Sheopiitik Peter said his views on uranium mining have changed.

The environmental technology student at Nunavut Arctic College said he came to the presentation knowing there are a lot of issues surrounding exploration and mining.

He said after hearing what the presenters said, his views on the industry have changed.

"I think we should look into it more and I was surprised at the health effects," he said.

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