Not here, not now: Nunavut residents, others, still wary of uranium project
“Will the caribou be safe? Will it be safe to eat?”
Too many unaddressed community concerns persist for many Kivalliq residents, and others, to support Areva Resources Canada’s proposed uranium mine near Baker Lake.
That came across loud and clear from a number of organizations who submitted comments and recommendations on Areva’s final environmental impact assessment of the proposed Kivalliq project to the Nunavut Impact Review Board.
How Nunavut’s first uranium mine might affect nearby caribou herds, the absence of a project timeline, and the likelihood that this project would lead to other uranium mining and exploration in the area top the list of unanswered questions.
“In a nutshell, our concern is that there are uncertainties that have not been addressed in the final statement, that we have raised,” said Ross Thompson, executive director of the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board, in an interview Jan. 22.
The NIRB received comments and recommendations on Kiggavik from the caribou management board, along with 15 other local, territorial and federal agencies, as well as from a Baker Lake land claim beneficiary.
Areva’s mining proposal, first submitted in 2008, includes two properties roughly 80 kilometres west of Baker Lake.
The project, located on post-calving caribou grounds, would consist of five pits and a mill, connected by a 20-km road. Areva also wants to build an airstrip to transport uranium as yellowcake for processing in Saskatchewan.
The management board wants Areva to take a careful, precautionary approach to the project, Thompson said, because of numerous variables that could impact caribou.
Those variables include not just the direct impact of uranium mining on caribou and their calves in the area, but also how industrial activity could impact their migration routes, nearby vegetation and the dust stirred up by transportation to and within the mine.
“Our position is that no development or exploration should be allowed on calving or post-calving areas, and post-calving areas is the one that Areva is proposing to develop,” Thompson said.
“If all these uncertainties can’t be addressed, and the precautionary principle cannot be brought forward, then the project should not proceed.”
Thompson said potential radioactive dust near the project worries caribou hunters and their families.
“Will the caribou be safe? Will it be safe to eat? What can replace the caribou if all the impacts of these different variables are so severe that the caribou aren’t available?” Thompson asked.
“There has to be a stronger balance of bringing forth those community concerns.”
The Baker Lake hunters and trappers organization is also concerned about the caribou and the lack of a development timeline included in Areva’s proposal.
“If Kiggavik is built far into the future (five or 10 years), the studies done today will be badly outdated,” the HTO’s NIRB submission says.
“Climate change and other mining development may seriously change caribou habitat over the next decade, which means new studies would have to be carried out.”
The HTO cites a list of unfulfilled conditions submitted to Nunavut regulators in April 2014 — including banning exploration and mining on calving and post-calving grounds, as well as other areas mapped out for cultural preservation— in its reasons for recommending the NIRB not approve Areva’s proposal at this time.
Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit (Makita) a non-governmental public interest group that opposes uranium mining in Nunavut right now, also recommended that the NIRB not approve the Kiggavik mine.
In addition to noting a lack of project timeline and protection of caribou in the proposal, Makita also pointed out that the current lack of a land use plan means other mining activity could quickly follow the Kiggavik project, if it goes ahead.
The Nunavut Planning Commission’s task of drafting a land use plan for the territory — including identifying protected areas— hit a snag in August when the commission took the federal government to court over funding issues. A Federal Court judicial review process to force Ottawa to pay for public hearings is currently underway.
“The uranium deposit at Kiggavik is not the only deposit around here in Baker Lake. That’s what we’re concerned about,” Hugh Ikoe, a member of Makita, said from his home in Baker Lake.
“If Areva’s project was to be approved, obviously it’s going to make it easier for other companies to open up other deposits as well… we could have a whole lot of other mines to follow,” Ikoe said, adding that other companies are closely watching how this project is unfolding.
But there are other reasons to be concerned.
“Makita believes Areva may simply be moving the Kiggavik project through the assessment process in order to sell it to another company,” Makita said in its submission to the NIRB.
Makita wrote that the Areva Group of Companies — the parent company of Areva Resources Canada, headquartered in France — has undergone “significant financial turmoil” in the recent past and is currently liquidating its assets to balance its books.
Ikoe said the NIRB is unclear about what it may require from another company, should Areva get approval for the project and then sell it.
“The concern is: would [the] NIRB accept the environmental assessment as it is, or would they have to go through the assessment all over again?” he said.
Makita also cites European newspaper articles and documentary films that criticise the company’s uranium mining in two African countries — Niger and Gabon.
The environmental and social problems left in the wake of uranium mining by Areva in those countries contradicts Areva’s self-portrayal as a socially responsible enterprise, Makita’s submission to the NIRB says.
“Areva does not have a very good record in countries like Niger, so we’re somewhat concerned about some of the things that Areva is saying about itself,” Ikoe said.
“We think that Areva has put the most positive, least-impact spin on things and we don’t think that’s fair or responsible,” said the management board’s Thompson.
“They’re trying to be open and accountable but we just think there are things that still remain to be addressed.”
The NIRB will hold its final hearing on the Kiggavik project in Baker Lake from March 2 to March 14.
Technical hearings will take place first and then community roundtables will follow.
To build public awareness and community engagement, the NIRB has scheduled community hall information sessions in each Kivalliq community prior to the March final hearing:
• Chesterfield Inlet, Jan. 27
• Naujaat, Jan. 28
• Coral Harbour, Jan. 29
• Rankin Inlet, Jan. 30
• Arviat, Jan. 31
• Whale Cove, Feb. 2
• Baker Lake, Feb. 3
The management board is also inviting five community representatives from each Kivalliq community to attend the final hearings with the NIRB covering the cost of travel, accommodations and meals.
The management board is currently requesting nominations from hamlet councils and local HTOs to fill these positions.