Uranium has forced people to move
Publicerad 100325 15:40.
For over 30 years, a large proportion of the uranium used to produce electricity in the Oskarshamn nuclear power plant in Sweden derived from Canada.
Uranium mining has forced indigenous people to flee from the land where they lived for thousands of years.
– Mining companies came and robbed us of our country, where we lived, fished and hunted. The land will never be restored again to future generations, says 88-year old Annie Benonie who today lives in Wollaston Lake Indian Reservation.
To Wollaston Lake, which is the closest town to the world’s largest uranium mine fields, no roads go. Tourists are not coming here, rarely some politicians and almost never journalists. After driving the car a thousand kilometres north from the city of Saskatoon in the Canadian state of Saskatchewan, mostly on gravel road, we are fortunate enough to catch the small ferry that takes us to the reserve.
Wollaston Lake is located thirty kilometers from the nearest mine, Rabbit Lake. From here, the Oskarshamn nuclear power plant in Sweden recovered much of its uranium, and OKG, the Swedish nuclear company, has a contract with the mining company Cameco to continue to do so until 2018, at least
Impossible to live
In Wollaston Lake 88-year-old Dene Indian Annie Benonie lives. In her home in the middle of the village she welcomes us. Her grand daughter Flora Natomagan interprets as Annie, like many other elderly people in this part of Canada, only speak dene. After we’ve talked for a while Annie feels very anxious to ask some questions to us:
– You say you come from a distant country, where you use the uranium that comes from our country. I wonder if people who live where you live, where you have nuclear plants, what you gain from it? What advantages does it give you in addition to the jobs the industry creates?
– Does it bother the people where you live what is happening here in our country?
– Knows the people that our country has been destroyed because of this uranium mining?
– I want people in your country to know what is happening here because of the uranium industry, that it made it impossible for us to live the way we have always lived
Before the uranium mines’ time Annie Benonie and her family lived a traditional life. They moved around and lived in tipis, tents, in different places. They lived of fishing and hunting, fruit and berries, just as her ancestors did in North America for thousands of years.
– We live of what nature has to give us. Nature does everything for us, Annie says with pride in her voice.
Usually the family stayed at Collins Bay on the other side of the lake, where the Rabbit Lake mine is today. At Collins Bay Annies husband Louis had his trap-lines, traps he caught small animals in. There he hunted caribou and elk. The family made the traditional medicine of nature’s wild plants.
– A few times a year we came to a village like this, Wollaston Lake.
– Otherwise, we lived this way, in smaller homes or in tipis.
Saskatchewan mines have supplied uranium for both nuclear power and nuclear weapons countries since the 1950s. Mining companies are constantly finding new deposits with high level of uranium in various locations in northern Saskatchewan. Here lives almost exclusively indigenous, or First Nations people as they are called in Canada.
Our land will never be the same
THE ORIGIN OF NUCLEAR POWER
Publicerad 100325 15:19. Uppdaterad 100325 15:19.
Edward Benoanie, whose family operates a restaurant, shop, school bus services, ferry business and the hotel in the village, is also worried. Edward was the chief in Wollaston Lake reserve when one of the biggest leaks in the mine area was discovered nearly 20 years ago.
– I worked in the mines in the past four and a half years. By coincidence I flew over the mining area and could see how the barrels leaked hazardous materials straight into the wild. I knew immediately what had happened, because I had previously worked in the field. I rang up those responsible for the mining company. They answered me that it had not happened. The day after they were forced to come here and admit that there have been a leak, Ed Benoanie says.
– This was while the Berlin Wall fell. Therefore, it was pretty quiet in the media. But people here started to be more suspicious of how companies operate. We still do not know today whether and if so, what health effects this leak caused, Ed Benoanie says
A number of similar leaks have occurred in Saskatchewan over the years. Authorites in Canada, however haven’t found evidence of systematic health effects on humans, animals and nature in recent years.
But in our time in northern Saskatchewan, we have got several testimonies of mysterious illnesses. Flora Natomagan tells about a brother of Annie Benonie who died of cancer a few years ago, and that he himself was fully convinced that it was due to uranium mining
Edward Benoaine was chief in Wollaston Lake when one of the biggest leaks from the mining area was discovered 20 years ago
Can’t live as they want to
– There are things we will never know. Because there has never been any professional health assessment here, that we dare to believe. Flora says.
– In the village we do not have enough money to carry out independent investigations. Previously, we could go and drink the water from the lake, and we were able to fish without worrying about whether the water was contaminated or not. Now it is no longer so, Flora says.
– And we do not know how mining companies after they leave the mining areas will take care of all hazardous materials.
Flora is in a Steering Commit, an international organization of indigenous people, to gain more knowledge about environmental pollution.
– It is said that there is no connection between diseases we have here, and mining. But I’m skeptical, and people are wondering, worried, Flora says.
– Never before has there been asthma here. Even our young people in the village now has asthma. Before people died of old age and accidents.
– Yes, I want the mining industry to disappear, because it has destroyed the possibility for us to live as we wish. But I do not think it will happen, because there is money in control, Flora says.
– The future is not just for those of us living today but also for future generations. We must defend the land, water, air, against this destruction. We must maintain the way we lived before the Europeans came and took possession of the country
Important that we know
Flora’s grandmother, 88-year-old Annie Benonie, now lives alone in her small house in Wollaston Lake. When we talk in her home, memories and feelings are brought to the surface, that hare difficult to talk about. But she says she wants to tell, because it’s important that people also in Sweden know.
– My husband came to the mine area only once, and he would never return to it afterwards. When he saw what happened to our country, he said that it will never be the same again, that the land is ruined for so many years to come.
– People were healthy before mining companies arrived. But now, afterwards as time passes, there are more and more diseases.
– I do not know if it has to do with mining, but earlier we didn’t see these diseases, Annie says.
– Animals natural way to move, has disappeared, and the land has been destroyed. That will never be restored.
It will soon be winter and cold in the Canadian Reservation Wollaston Lake when Annie looks us in the eye and says:
– People from your country are welcome here to see how the life we have lived for thousands of years has been destroyed.
Part 2: “Our land is stolen”
by Fredrik Loberg, “The Origin of Nuclear Power”, Part 2, April 9 2010
Cameco’s uranium or not?
Oskarshamn nuclear power plant can get uranium from any part of the world,
the company in Oskarshamn, OKG, explains, sometimes having to fill out its
uranium needs by buying from the open so-called spot market, and this uranium
can according to OKG not be traced at all.
But as another example of how incredibly complicated world uranium trade is, OKG
in 2010 suddenly declares that this Swedish company only uses Cameco regarding
natural uranium. Trucks from Saskatchewan that for decades have rolled up to the
Blind River refinery and the conversion process there, are now driving south across
the border to the United States.
For this year, the U.S. company ConverDyn is contracted for conversion, says
Alexander Lindqvist, the one responsible for OKG’s uranium supply. The reason is
some production problems for Cameco, according to Alexander Lindqvist.
We must be sure of supplies, he says.
Good to deal with
Just as we had been told, Alexander Lindqvist believes the U.S. radiation protection
laws are stricter than the Canadian laws. During its own check visit in the U.S. OKG
has also concluded that Converdyn is a good company to deal with. It is a company
half-owned by Honeywell, which according to the Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)
is the world’s 15th largest arms manufacturers. Honeywell makes control systems
for nuclear weapons and is is blacklisted by a number of ethical funds. After the
Swedish Radio at the end of last year reported on the Nobel Foundation’s close
collaboration with Honeywell, this cooperation has been criticized.
OKG stresses how vital it is to make their own checks, during the conversion but
especially in mining areas. According to OKG, contracts of buying uranium is made
after careful evaluation of the supplier’s environmental and quality programs.
– If our suppliers get a bad image, it could spill over to us and we do don’t
want that, Alexander Lindqvist says.
– We try to see as much as possible, meet with local politicians, representatives
of trade unions and indigenous people so that we not only have the company’s
During the autumn of 2009 OKG carried out a so-called audit, an on-the-ground
analysis in Canada.
– We saw nothing alarming, Alexander Lindqvist says.
Cameco has been singled out as a positive example. A year and a half ago, a
seminar was held in Malmö in Sweden, where Cameco told about their program
to involve indigenous people in the uranium industry. Cameco’s efforts have got
many positive reactions from uranium buyers like OKG.
During our trip in Canada and Saskatchewan, we visited another place where few
Swedes have been, another First Nation reserve. It is located just outside society
Meadow Lake and on the weekend when we arrive the annual “pow-wow” is
going on. That is a colorful celebration of indigenous traditions with songs, dances
and cuisine. One thousand people have arrived.
Here we meet Marius Paul. He has brought a bus with young people from
another reserve area, even further north, in Beaval. Marius Paul has been
active in the resistance movement against uranium mining in Saskatchewan
– in particular against the Key Lake mine, the world’s largest uranium mine.
He has over the years participated in many demonstrations against the uranium
industries’ consequences and he is still very angry.
– They have stolen our country, people have been forced to move and
uranium mining has caused human illness. For us, the uranium is not
anything good as it is for authorities, companies and people in Europe.
– For us it is a negative energy force, which also creates terrible weapons,
Marius Paul says.
– We would need the whole world to look at these problems, but the major
economic forces that are moving are very powerful, Marius says before
he drives the bus back north from the festivities in Meadow Lake, to the
reserve Patunak outside Beaval.