Two Algonquin First Nations in western Quebec are raising concerns about a proposed rare earth open pit mine on their traditional lands.
In a joint press statement, Wolf Lake and Eagle Village First Nation explain that Matamec Explorations Inc., wants to develop a yttrium-zirconium mine at what they call the Zeus Site, located 90km north-east of North Bay, Ontario.
Yttrium and zirconium are two of seventeen minerals classified as “Rare Earth Elements” (REEs).
“This proposed mine site is located on the traditional lands of our two Algonquin First Nations,” the statement reads. As such, “On April 17, 2012, our two Algonquin First Nation governments met with Matamec Explorations Inc. as part of an ongoing negotiation process regarding a proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).”
The statement continues, “The main purpose of the MOU is to ensure that Matamec directly consults our two First Nations during the advanced exploration phase of the proposed mine and that Matamec agrees to cover the costs of our two First Nations’ social and cultural impact studies, as well as the costs of our independent experts to oversee the results of Matamec’s feasibility and environmental studies.”
The two First Nations point to the sizable controversy surrounding rare earth mining and processing, which tends to have severe environmental impacts. By themselves, most rare earth metals are as harmless as iron; however, they are frequently attached to radioactive substances like thorium and uranium–and therein lies the danger. The process of separating REEs from other minerals can produce massive amounts of toxic waste.
As an example, the two First Nations mention the Mountain Pass rare earth mine in California. The mine, formerly owned by Unocal/Chevron, was shut down in 2002 after a long series of waste water spills. Over the course of 14 years, there were 60 recorded spills which introduced some 600,000 gallons of radioactive waste water into the sensitive Mojave desert ecosystem.
The impacts of rare earth mining have been far worse overseas, particularly in China, which has maintained a monopoly on rare earth mining for many years.
There is also a massive protest campaign right now against an Australian mining company that wants to build a rare earth refining facility at Kuantan in Malaysia. Similar facilities in Mongolia have turned once-pristine environments into cancer-causing wastelands.
According to Mamatec’s website, the Zeus site has a total of seven rare earth deposits, mostly consisting of Neodymium, Europium, Terbium, Dysprosium, Yttrium and Zirconium. There are also deposits of uranium and gold.
Eagle Village Chief, Madeleine Paul, stated “our two First Nation governments want to have an accurate understanding of the environmental impacts of building, operating and reclaiming the Zeus mine, including the associated processing and other facilities. We also want to ensure the project is manageable and represents low impacts before we consider supporting the development of the Rare Earth Element open pit mine.”
Wolf Lake Chief, Harry St. Denis, added “our two First Nation governments are going to wait to support the proposed mine until we are satisfied that the social cultural studies conducted by our First Nations and the environmental studies conducted by Matamec, provide us with a comprehensive and accurate portrait of all the impacts and related impacts of the Rare Earth Elements Zeus mine and we are satisfied the proposed project is manageable with low impacts.”
There is another REE controversy that Republicans and mining industry enthusiasts in the United States have been using for quite some time now to promote the idea that environmentalists who oppose mining are “hypocrites”. REEs are crucial for the production of several green technologies including wind turbines, low-energy light bulbs and hybrid car batteries. They’re also used in smart-phones, flat screen televisions, cordless power tools, computer disc drives, X-ray imaging machines as well as Tomahawk cruise-missiles, smart bombs, Predator drones, electromagnetic railguns, and submarine communications systems.
While Matamec boasts that the Zeus mine would be the first “North American producer of a combination of rare earths-yttrium and zirconium”, there are several other rare earth mines in the works that Intercontinental Cry wishes to highlight.
Overall there are 71 corporations pursuing rare earth projects around the world.
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