Uranium movie makes comeback

Radioactive uranium tailings at Elliot Lake.

One of my first films, released 18 years ago, was Uranium, about the radioactive wastes from uranium mining on aboriginal lands in Canada. Not a very exciting title, and there was a reason for it. Faced with intense pressure from the uranium mining industry, the NFB sent a letter to the industry promising that the film would not be called ‘Death Rock,’ my preferred title and the literal translation of ‘dada the’, the dene word for uranium. By the time I was told about it, the letter had gone out. I wasn’t happy. But the NFB really supported and promoted the film and organized an exciting cross-county tour with panel discussions. We picked up the award for best documentary at the Yorkton festival.

At the time, Canada was already the world’s leading producer and exporter of Uranium, and huge amounts of radioactive wastes were accumulating on native lands. There is a reason why aboriginal people are much affected by uranium mining, be it in Canada, in Australia or in the ‘four corners’ area in the U.S. Since they were shoved off the best lands but allowed to live on the infertile and rocky hinterlands, they find themselves in the same place as uranium ore.

And now, with oil prices rising, there is a huge upsurge in uranium exploration and mining.

As a result, my film is back in use. It has been shown at numerous conferences in Ontario in particular. According to the organizers, the only thing that has really changed since I made it are the hair cuts.

The man who acted as a consultant to our film back in ’89 was Gordon Edwards, of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsability. I asked him what he thinks about the present uranium mining boom.

“The soaring price of uranium is something we’ve seen before, in the early
1970’s. In a very short period of time the price went up tenfold. It turned out
to be due to price manipulation; the price then fell steadily for the next
15 years. The result was that uranium mines were welcomed by communtiies,
but the economic benefits never met their expectations. Meanwhile highly toxic long-lived uranium mill residues were left in those areas as a permanent radioactive legacy. Back in 1898, Marie Curie showed that the residues left over after uranium is extracted from the crushed ore are eight times more radioactive than the uranium itself. These residues contain some of the deadliest materials known to science: radium, radon, and especially polonium isotopes, which the industry admits is 250 billion times more toxic than cyanide. These toxic materials are inevitable radioactive byproducts of uranium, produced by the process of radioactive disintegration, and they remain dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years.”

This is from one of the coordinators of the present Ontario campaign, Lynn Daniluk:

The Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU) is a group of concerned citizens from the greater Ottawa Valley and Kingston area, who came together to prevent a uranium mine in Frontenac and Lanark region. A uranium exploration company has staked and claimed 30,000 acres of land at the headwaters of the Mississippi water system, which feeds the Ottawa River. Scientific experts and history tells us that if a uranium mine were developed in this region it would be a serious environmental and public health concern. Our area is renowned for cultural events, tourism, and cottage life.

Our non-native coalition made Canadian history by joining a peaceful protest that had been set up by the Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation and the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation on June 28th, 2007.

On 15 February 2008, former chief Robert Lovelace, of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation began serving 6 months in jail for refusing to comply with the court injunction, while following Algonquin law to protect Creation.

The judge in the case handed down this harsh sentence along with heavy fines, saying, “compliance with the orders of this court are not optional”. The underlying issue, however, is that the government of Ontario did not consult with the First Nation community before issuing exploration licenses in Algonquin territory.

To date, fifteen municipalities in eastern Ontario have called for a moratorium on uranium exploration and mining in Eastern Ontario, including the cities of Ottawa and Kingston.

We also have the support of such organizations as Amnesty International, Council of Canadians, Greenpeace Canada, Mining Watch Canada, International Land Coalition, Green Party of Canada and Ontario, United Church of Canada, Physicians for Global Survival, Ontario College of Family Physicians, Lanark Health and Community Services, David Suzuki Foundation, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and many local organizations in the region.

An inquiry was held in four locations (Shabot Lake, Kingston, Peterborough and Ottawa) throughout the month of April 2008. CCAMU now in the process of complying the information and will be writing a report to present the government. For more information go to http://www.ccamu.ca/

Published by

Magnus Isacsson

As an independent documentary filmmaker I have made some fifteen films dealing with social, political and environmental issues. Previously I was a television and radio producer. I was born in Sweden in 1948, immigrated to Canada in 1970. I live with Jocelyne and our daughter Béthièle in Montreal, and my older daughter Anna lives in Toronto.

2 thoughts on “Uranium movie makes comeback”

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  2. Hi,
    we are a support organisation for Indigenous peoples in North America. We have worked together with them against Uranium mining.
    Now I am planning a film week in Munich End of April this year, and I would like to show your doc “Uranium”. Can you send me copy or tell me the conditions

    Monika Seiller
    Aktionsgruppe Indianer & Menschenrechte
    Frohschammerstrasse 14
    80807 Muenchen

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