Nunavut review board staff to hold uranium meetings in Saskatchewan

“Our land and environment is priceless and necessary for our way of life”


Workers haul equipment at Areva's Kiggavik project site near Baker Lake. Hundreds of kilometres south, Saskatchewan Dene say they want more input into the mining project. (FILE PHOTO)

Workers haul equipment at Areva’s Kiggavik project site near Baker Lake. Hundreds of kilometres south, Saskatchewan Dene say they want more input into the mining project. (FILE PHOTO)

Nunavut Impact Review Board staff will head to northern Saskatchewan at the end of this month to hold public meetings in three Dene communities whose residents have expressed concerns about Areva Resources Canada’s proposed uranium mine in the Kivalliq region.

Those meetings will follow a Baker Lake community meeting on the proposed Kiggavik uranium mine this week. That meeting, Sept. 4 at 6:30 p.m., will be held at the community hall.

The Athabasca Denesuline Né Né Land Corp. has voiced concerns for years over the uranium project saying transportation of the milled uranium — called yellowcake — by plane over their traditional territory poses a potential risk in the case of a plane crash.

“The risks and impacts associated with a transportation accident are far greater than what we are willing to risk,” says an Aug. 18 letter from the Athabasca Dene.

“Our land and environment is priceless and necessary for our way of life. Therefore, the AD do not support the transportation of yellowcake from Kiggavik mine to Points North.”

Areva proposes to fly some 5,000 tonnes of yellowcake each year to a community called Points North, Sask. From there, it would be transported further south by truck or train.

The Dene say they have not been properly consulted and in 2010, received modest intervener funding — $5,000 — from the Indian Affairs and Northern Development department to cover the cost of correspondence and involvement in the review process.

Other organizations receiving intervener funding included:

• Beverly Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board — $90,000

• Baker Lake Hunters and Trappers Organization — $80,000

• Hamlet of Baker Lake — $10,000

The project proposal, which includes two properties — Kiggavik and Sissons — consists of an ore mining and milling operation roughly 80 kilometres west of Baker Lake.

The Saskatchewan-based Areva — part of the Areva Group of Companies headquartered in France — first submitted the uranium mine proposal to the NIRB in 2008.

In 2009, the NIRB decided a full public hearing was necessary. That complex process has been unfolding ever since.

General correspondence listed on the NIRB’s website on the review runs more than 60 documents long and includes letters sent back and forth between the company and various stakeholders, including the Athabasca Dene.

The Dene of Wollaston Lake, Black Lake and Fond du Lac, Sask. are not only concerned with the transport of yellowcake, but also the impact the mine might have on the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq caribou herds whose populations straddle Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The NIRB plans to visit those communities from Sept. 22 to Sept. 24, to “provide information about the NIRB’s environmental assessment of the Kiggavik proposal to date and the next steps in the review process,” an Aug. 27 NIRB letter states.

“The NIRB hopes that holding public meetings in these communities of northern Saskatchewan will help ensure that all interested parties are aware of our process and are informed of the ways they may participate.”

Board staff intend to hold afternoon open houses which will serve as an “informal discussion” and evening meetings with formal presentations.

According to a Government of Nunavut map, the Kiggavik project is located at the intersection of several caribou herd ranges including the Wager Bay, Qamanirjuaq, Ahiak and Lorillard herds.

But the mine site appears to be at least 60 km from the nearest official calving grounds.

The Athabasca Denesuline have also been active participants in the Nunavut Planning Commission’s drafting of its proposed Nunavut land use plan, again raising concerns about how mining exploration in the Kivalliq might affect barrenland caribou.

The Kiggavik project includes two properties: Kiggavik and Sissons. The Kiggavik site is composed of 17 mineral leases covering 9,808 acres of territory in the Kivalliq and the Sissons site is composed of 22 mineral leases and covers 36,371 acres.

The mine, if it gets approval, is expected to operate for 17 years and employ 400-600 people, according to documents filed with the NIRB in 2009.

The NIRB expects Areva to submit its final environmental impact statement by the end of September 2014. This means final public hearings would likely go forward in 2015.

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