Nunavut: Open Letter From An Iqaluit Physician Concerning Uranium Mining

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Government of Nunavut
Uranium Consultation
March 15, 2011

Dear Premier Aariak,

Thank you for inviting the opinions of Nunavummiut on uranium.

I am writing to you as a parent, a physician and as someone who cares deeply about the future of Nunavut. I have not been shy to speak out against nuclear energy and specifically uranium mining. Part of my professional role as a doctor is to advocate for the health and well being of the people I care for, and it is definitely my job as a parent to do this.

While I do understand fully how important it is for us to build job opportunities and revenue, there are few legal industries that are so deeply unethical that I feel Nunavut should never consider getting involved with them and they are uranium, military arms, and the tobacco industry.

As a member of Physicians for Global Survival (the Canadian chapter of the Nobel prize winning group International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War), being wary of nuclear energy in all it forms comes easily to me. At the PGS website ( you can read about why many physicians are calling for a ban on uranium mining.

The College of Family Physicians of Ontario has called for a ban on uranium mining as has CAPE (Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment). The provinces of British Columbia and Nova Scotia have a permanent ban on uranium mining because that is what their voting public has demanded. As you well know, Greenland maintains its ‘No Uranium stand’ while other parts of Inuit Nunaat have current moratoriums or are struggling with the issue.

The current map of Uranium mines in Saskatchewan matches fairly closely with rural Aboriginal communities, who like Nunavut communities were looking for ways to foster economic independence. But why is it okay for such a toxic industry to be accepted on Aboriginal land, when the Canadian mainstream in BC and Nova Scotia and everywhere else in the country have said ‘no way, not on our land’?

Is uranium safe for human health? As defenders of the industry with their glossy brochures will also demonstrate, one can find a study to support any argument. A study in India called the “Jadugoda Uranium Study” found statistically significant increases in the rates of birth defects, cancer deaths and premature deaths near the uranium mine. The isotopes in the tailings of any uranium mine developed in Nunavut could well add to our already high rates of cancer. Can we say it will definitely cause more cancer deaths? No. But one of the guiding ethical principles in medicine is : first, do no harm. It is a precautionary approach that should be taken with all forms of development in Nunavut.

It is not possible to prove that uranium is safe for the environment, and it is not possible to prove that uranium mining, or nuclear power generation are safe for human health. Just look to Fukushima. A Japanese physician friend of mine in Tokyo wrote me this week, from his country which is reeling after the tsunami from the additional unfolding nuclear disaster, and finished his email with “I hope you do not have nuclear power in your city”.

There is also NO WAY to be sure that plutonium, one of the breakdown products of uranium, will not be diverted for illegal means and used to develop nuclear weapons. It is true that there are huge poorly safeguarded stores of plutonium in Russia but just because Canadian plutonium (from uranium) is less likely to be stolen or sold illegally, does not mean it could not happen.

It is important to think about the motivations of the groups being given a voice at the Nunavut uranium consultations (and the funding behind them). If you are a mining company or lobby group, the motivation is money (= uranium mining IS safe). If you are a physician, your motivation is health (= uranium mining IS NOT safe).

I hope that you are hearing from many Nunavummiut on this important issue. For many who are struggling with literacy, keeping their children safe and fed, and many other challenges, being able to take the time to become informed and voice opinions about uranium is neither possible nor a priority. It is up to you and other elected officials to make decisions in the best interest of future generations. It is an incredible opportunity to speak truth to power, and there is no doubt that your government will be remembered for the decision that is made.

Please, say no to uranium in Nunavut.

Madeleine Cole

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