NIRB, uranium firm, governments look like part of same team?
The three nights of “community scoping sessions” in Baker Lake, the initial phase of the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s review of Areva Resources’ proposed Kiggavik uranium mine, were quite interesting.
The NIRB staff sometimes seemed surprised and hurt when community members commented that it appeared that the project has already been approved and was definitely going ahead.
I think I can help explain why it appeared that way to people.
At the beginning of the meeting, the people who had travelled to Baker Lake for the meeting — mostly non-Inuit — were asked to stand up and introduce themselves.
When they did so it was apparent that not only were they all sitting together, they were all mixed in together – so you had an Areva staff member next to a NIRB staff member sitting next to a federal or territorial government staff member sitting next to an Inuit organization staff member.
As the expression goes, it was hard to tell them apart without a program. It would be more appropriate to have the proponent staff, the NIRB staff, and government representatives and the Inuit organization representatives introduce themselves in clearly separate groups so they don’t all appear to be on the same team.
Throughout the meeting the NIRB facilitator used the word “will” when describing the future, for example “there will be three open pits at the Kiggavik site.”
Over and over again, they said the mine will, will will.
If I say “I will go to Rankin on Friday” it means that I am definitely going, whereas if I say “I might go to Rankin on Friday” or “I would like to go to Rankin on Friday” it would be clear that there was at least a chance that I might not do so.
If NIRB wants to be the one who describes the project proposal to people, rather than having AREVA do so themselves, the staff should be very careful about the language they use. I don’t blame anyone who left the meeting with the understanding that the Kiggavik proposal “will” proceed.
The strangest moment came at the end of the second night. A community member asked if employees would receive compensation if workers at the mine received a high dose of radiation.
The NIRB facilitator replied – incorrectly, I believe — that this would have to be negotiated in an Inuit impacts and benefits agreement, or IIBA.
But then the representative from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission took the mike and exclaimed “Workers in this mine won’t get lung cancer, so there won’t be any compensation!”
Once again an employee of a regulatory agency came off sounding like an employee of the company.
Perhaps the most far-reaching question was asked by a hunter on the third night, after the NIRB facilitator stated that the NIRB defines “cumulative effects” as “effects resulting from incremental impact of the action when added to other past, present and foreseeable future actions.”
This is what the hunter said:
“Everyone knows that this review is not really about the Kiggavik proposal, yes or no. This review is about opening the Kivalliq – and Nunavut as a whole – to uranium mining, yes or no.
“We know that there’s a lot of uranium around Baker Lake, which is why this community is surrounded by uranium exploration. AREVA has already spoken publicly about the possibility of the mill at Kiggavik being used to process uranium from other mines to be built in the future. In 20 years there could be several or many mines, with several or many roads between them, and everything else that comes with additional mines.
“For this review to be intellectually honest, you are going to have to model a realistic ‘likely scenario’ of what could very well happen if this region is politically opened up to uranium mining.
“I believe that “foreseeable future actions” resulting from approval of the Kiggavik could be six or 12 or who knows how many uranium mines. How are you going to model their cumulative effects on the caribou, on the environment and on the people of Baker Lake?”
To her credit, the NIRB facilitator gave a very clear answer: the NIRB takes cumulative effects seriously, the proponent will be asked to present a model of what the full range of possible impacts of all foreseeable future actions might be, and the board will closely examine both what the company tells them and what various intervenors and government departments have to say about it.
For the sake of our grandchildren and the caribou we would like them to be able to eat, I hope they mean it.
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