Northern mines org unveils road, energy wish-list

Mining group touts four nuke plants for Nunavut and NWT


All-weather roads, power lines, new mining towns and even nuclear power plants are among the infrastructure projects that the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines would like to see developed in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut over the next quarter-century.

The NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines released the proposal recently as a discussion document to stimulate ideas about infrastructure planning over the next 25 years, said the organization’s manager, Mike Vaydik.

No price tag was attached to the recent proposal from the group, which represents mining and mineral exploration interests in the two territories.

But a casual look at the proposal suggests it could cost many billions to carry out

“We hope that it will eventually lead to an integrated infrastructure plan that unites the three northern territories in a plan that our governments can sell to the federal government,” Vaydik said.

The mining chamber’s proposal calls for:

  • Up to 31 new mine developments over the next 25 years, “representing a gross value of production in the order of several hundred billion dollars;”
  • A trans-northern electrical grid connected to the national grid, which would run up to eastern Nunavut through Manitoba and from Ft. MacMurray, Alberta, through Saskatchewan into western Nunavut;
  • Four 50-megawatt nuclear power plants to supply power to future mines at Mary River, Baker Lake, Lupin and Howard’s Pass;
  • All-weather roads to the Coronation Gulf and up along the western Hudson Bay coast to Baker Lake;
  • Railways from Mary River to the Foxe Basin and from Howard’s Pass to the Mackenzie River; and,
  • New town sites at Mary River and Lupin.

The proposed electrical grid would extend to Victoria Island and Baffin Island, two of the largest islands in the Arctic archipelago, a move that would support Canada’s sovereignty over the Arctic, the proposal says.

New power lines would link up most of Nunavut’s largest communities, including Arviat, Rankin Inlet, Cambridge Bay and Iqaluit to the national power grid, a map of the proposed infrastructure scheme shows.

“This will ensure optimal and ordered development of potential mines, and minimize fuel oil shipments to the North. This grid will be relatively inexpensive and environmentally less intrusive than roads, while providing mines and communities with inexpensive power,” the proposal says.

The proposal also suggests the use of small nuclear power plants to provide back-up power supplies for large mining projects.

The village of Galena, Alaska, population 580, is already looking at installing a similar small “nuclear battery” reactor, which would require only minimal staffing to run and last 30 years without refueling.

Nuclear mini-plants could provide electricity for five to 13 cents per kilowatt hour, much less than rates currently charged in Nunavut, which range from 39.39 cents per kilowatt-hour in Iqaluit to 81.72 cents per kilowatt-hour in Kugaaruk.

The mining chamber says its suggestion for building standalone communities next to the major mining sites, like Mary River’s future Baffinland mine, would help relieve the pressure on nearby communities like Pond Inlet, which have “minimal real economies.”

The construction of mining towns would shift people to tax-based communities, which could provide better schools and social services, the proposal says.

“It will also allow workers to avoid the fly-in-out situation and ensure that they are with their families on a daily basis.”

Standalone communities to house mining workers might not be such a bad idea, said Chris West, president of the Baffin Region Chamber of Commerce, who has seen the mining chamber’s proposal.

West grew up in a northern mining town, similar to Nanisivik, which was a company town built in 1975 to support the Nanisivik lead-zinc mine.

When Baffinland starts construction of the Mary River mine, almost 1,800 jobs are expected to be created on-site during the construction phase.

If the new community near the mine used the airport at Pond Inlet as its base, the impact on the community might not be detrimental, said.

But any discussion of these major infrastructure investments may be premature because most mining and mineral exploration projects in the NWT and Nunavut have stopped or cut back their operations.

Baffinland has cut its staff from 40 to 26 and reduced its use of consultants.

Earlier this year, Baffinland informed its engineering and technical service providers that due to budget constraints in 2009, the majority of their services would be “suspended until such time as it secures additional sources of financing.”

Still, West said the timing of the mining chamber’s proposal isn’t bad because he believes the global economy will rebound sooner rather than later.

When this happens, mining companies and government may be ready to spend billions on the infrastructure proposed by the NWT and Nunavut mining chamber, he said.

Download large version of map reproduced below (520 kb)

Will mines, power lines and roads someday criss-cross Nunavut? That's what the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines would like to see happen in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. (COURTESY OF THE NWT AND NUNAVUT CHAMBER OF MINES)

Will mines, power lines and roads someday criss-cross Nunavut? That’s what the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines would like to see happen in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. (COURTESY OF THE NWT AND NUNAVUT CHAMBER OF MINES)

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