Nunavut symposium kicks off April 8
Mining delegates bask in glow of uranium
It's hard to imagine a more yawn-inducing theme for the 2008 Nunavut Mining Symposium, held in Iqaluit April 8-10, than the one chosen: "Let's talk."
But organizers can be forgiven for tip-toeing around the real theme planted within the meeting's agenda.
It's politically controversial, radioactive, and worth a lot of money.
Half of the mining projects described during the meeting's opening day this past Tuesday involved uranium.
And, during lunch, the symposium's 400-odd attendees listened to a nuclear-industry consultant who assured the crowd that mining uranium is safe, environmentally-friendly, and that nuclear opponents often resort to "lies."
Attendees also heard Patterk Netser, Nunavut's minister of economic development, say the biggest obstacle preventing a uranium mine from opening in Nunavut is a federal government policy that prohibits foreign ownership of such projects.
That policy stands in the way of the French mining giant Areva, which owns the Kigavvik uranium deposit near Baker Lake. So, since this winter, Netser said his government has lobbied hard to have these rules changed.
The Government of Nunavut and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. each support uranium mining, provide it's done safe and isn't used to build weapons. NTI has gone as even partnered with a uranium exploration company, the Vancouver-based Kaminak Gold Corp., which owns rights to the Lac Cinquante uranium deposit.
Aside from Areva, several other companies are poking around the Thelon Basin near Kigavvik, including Saskatchewan-based Cameco Corp., the world's largest uranium producer.
This surge of interest in uranium may help the Kivalliq region become Nunavut's true hub for mining activity – a title long thought to belong to the Kitikmeot.
Right now, most Kitikmeot projects are on hold. Newmont Mining Corp. has delayed plans to open a mine at the Hope Bay gold fields this year, until it reviews plans inherited from the site's former owner, Miramar Mining Corp.
Nunavut's first mine, Jericho, ground to a halt in February. The diamond mine, located near Cambridge Bay, bled money since the day it opened in July 2006. Its owners, Tahera Diamond Corp., are now busy scrounging up money for debtors.
Things look more hopeful in the Kivalliq, where, just 70 km north of Baker Lake, the Meadowbank gold mine, owned by Agnico-Eagle Mines Ltd., is expected to open by 2010.
Further away from production, but just 24 km north of Rankin Inlet, is a gold property called Meliadine. Its owners, Comaplex Minerals Corp. of Calgary, have poked around the property since the 1980s, and have poured millions of dollars into studies in recent years. More work is planned this summer.
Meanwhile, Shear Minerals Ltd. has dug up diamonds on its Churchill property, where the company is focussed on exploiting a five-km kimberlite dyke named Kahuna. Pam Strand, Shear's CEO and president, said she believes she's close to a break-through.
"We believe we're on the cusp, and a little bit more exploration should give us the key to the puzzle," Strand said.
There's also nickel, copper and cobalt buried near Ferguson Lake, about 280 km west of Rankin Inlet, and Starfield Resources Inc. claims to have developed an environmentally-friendly means of extracting metals from sulfurous rock that would avoid the use of dangerous chemicals, and generate enough electricity to power the mine.
The Starfield company hopes to have a feasibility study complete by 2010.
Across Nunavut, spending on mining has ballooned to nearly half a billion dollars in 2007. That's a ten-fold increase in the past decade, said Netser.
And mining investments are expected to keep growing, doubling over the next three years, said Gord Mackay, the Government of Nunavut's director of minerals, oil and gas.
In another decade, capital spending by money companies is expected to reach $6 billion annually, and create 2,500 jobs, Netser said.