Board advises against uranium mine, noting company lacks a definite start date

CAMBRIDGE BAY, Nunavut – A government advisory board in Nunavut has recommended against allowing a French company to build a uranium mine that was proposed for the edge of a caribou calving ground.

The Nunavut Impact Review Board has concluded that since Areva’s Kiggavik project lacks a definite start date or development schedule, its environmental and social impacts cannot be properly assessed.

The $2.1-billion project called for one underground and four open-pit mines just west of Baker Lake, and would have provided at least 400 jobs, many reserved for local Inuit.

But Areva acknowledged that uranium prices are currently so low it could be up to two decades before construction would actually begin.

Review Board chair Elizabeth Copland says in a statement that Areva may resubmit the proposal when it has more certainty about the start date.

She says the board could then make “more definite and confident” assessments about the effects the mine would have on caribou, fish and other marine life.

“The board does not intend that this project not proceed at any time. The board intends that the Kiggavik Project may be resubmitted for consideration at such future time when increased certainty regarding the project start date can be provided,” Copland stated in a letter Friday to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt.

The letter accompanied the board’s final report on its review of the project, which has been submitted to Valcourt.

The calving grounds are for one of the North’s great caribou herds and near the largest and most remote wildlife sanctuary on the continent.

Areva’s plans would have emptied part of a lake, built a road through the caribou habitat and stretched a bridge across a Canadian heritage river. Planes loaded with radioactive concentrate would take off from its airstrip.

Areva has been considering the project since at least 1997 and the plans have been before the regulator since 2007.

However, the report noted that Areva stated at the outset of the board’s final hearing in March that the world price of uranium made the project uneconomic at the present time.

Barry McCallum, the manager for Nunavut affairs for Areva Resources Canada Inc., said the company put forward a sound environmental impact statement for the project.

“We’ll give it a careful read and we’ll make a decision on what to do. But for now, it’s disappointing news to us,” McCallum said of the review board’s decision.

The Baker Lake Hunters and Trappers Organization told the board that it wasn’t necessarily against Kiggavik, but the uncertainty was a problem.

“We do not want this proposal approved but still hanging over our heads for decades to come, not knowing what the future of our community will be,” the organization said in its closing submission to the board.

“We would be sitting and waiting for decades totally powerless to control our own future. This would not be right … The company can return when they have a start date, when they are serious about getting this project off the ground. Then we can talk about it.”

The Kivalliq Wildlife Board, which manages wildlife in the region under the Nunavut Land Claim, opposed Kiggavik until protections for the calving ground were in place and Areva committed to a start date.

The review board’s final report further recommends there be more information on caribou and marine wildlife trends. It also called for more education programs that could enable Inuit to qualify for mine jobs beyond entry level positions.