Makita: Open Letter from an Iqualuit physician (2011, en)

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

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