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Canada's uranium a 'strategic asset' and NDP won't reverse Paladin exception -Mulcair

By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Canada's New Democratic Party views the country's uranium as a "strategic asset," and would not reverse a rare government decision to allow foreign ownership of a proposed mine, leader Tom Mulcair said on Thursday.

The uranium industry is unpopular in Quebec, the NDP's stronghold heading into next month's election. But it is a key part of the economy in Saskatchewan, where the party hopes to add support.

The governing Conservatives in June made an exception to the country's longstanding policy requiring uranium mines to be majority-owned by Canadian companies, and approved an application by Australia's Paladin Energy Ltd.

If the left-wing NDP forms government after the Oct. 19 election, it would not change that decision, Mulcair said during a Winnipeg campaign stop.

"The federal government has a responsibility to keep a very close eye on" uranium production, he said. "It's a strategic asset, but the (Paladin decision) seems to have opened the possibility for better investment."

Restrictions on foreign companies have reduced opportunities for companies, including Denison Mines Corp and Fission Uranium Corp, to find buyers for their planned uranium projects in Canada, the world's second-largest producer.

The radioactive metal produces fuel for reactors.

The Conservative government has said Paladin was unable to find a Canadian partner for its project in Newfoundland and Labrador. Saskatchewan-based Cameco Corp is the main owner of all of the country's uranium mines.

Canada's uranium is a "blessing," but an NDP government would rigorously enforce environmental rules, Mulcair said.

Quebec's environmental regulation agency said in July that there was little public support for uranium mining. Strateco Resources Inc has been developing a project there.

The New Democrats are in a tight three-way race with the Conservatives and Liberal Party. Polls suggest any of them could form a government, but would need support from another party to pass legislation.

Conservative Rob Clarke, who represents the northern Saskatchewan area where most of Canada's uranium deposits are located, said uranium is a "critical industry" and Prime Minister Stephen Harper is the only leader committing to expanding it. Earlier this year, Canada's Cameco and India signed a commercial uranium agreement.

Ralph Goodale, the Liberals' only member of Parliament from Saskatchewan, declined to comment on uranium ownership.

(Editing by Dan Grebler)