Uranium Mining a Hot Issue - Again

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"Uranium mining brings a classic clash of B.C. values. . ."

The province's handling of uranium mining brings to mind Homer Simpson's approach to operating a nuclear power plant. And the stumbles could get expensive for taxpayers, if a disgruntled company does well in court.

Uranium mining brings a classic clash of B.C. values - the resource sector, used to wresting wealth from the ground, versus the urbanites and retirees, who have never forgotten Three Mile Island and The China Syndrome. And who don't much like mining near them in any form.

This month the cabinet had a Homer Simpson moment. "B.C. strengthens position against uranium mining," a news release claimed. It said cabinet had issued an order-in-council "to prevent permits from being issued for uranium and thorium exploration and development in B.C."

But 10 months ago, the government issued a news release headlined "Government confirms position on uranium development." It wasn't on, said Mining Minister Kevin Krueger. "By confirming our position on these radioactive minerals, we are providing certainty and clarity to the mining industry."

He sure got that wrong. Uncertainty about the government's position prompted the new cabinet regulation.

Krueger's announcement last year said that future mining claims would be barred from rights to uranium. But that suggested existing claims weren't affected. "Government will also ensure that all uranium deposits will remain undeveloped," the 2008 news release did add, without saying how.

The second try at getting it right appears more definitive. The new order says no uranium mining permits will be issued. And it's retroactive, even though governments often get in trouble when they backdate laws.

Canada is already one of the top two uranium-producing countries and the world's largest mine is in Saskatchewan. But that site is so remote it might as well be on Mars. The Blizzard deposits are less than 10 kilometers south of the Big White ski resort. Efforts to deal with the issue are sparked by the activity around the Blizzard claim.

Boss Power Corp., which owns the claim, sued last year after Krueger's announcement. We've got rights here, and potentially valuable uranium deposits, the company said. You can't take them away just because uranium mining is politically unpopular.

The company's share price fell by 50% in the days after the ban.

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