Uranium deposit found near Nunavik park
But provincial government won’t likely open area for development
Some Nunavimmiut would prefer to get the scads of jobs, royalty payments and other mining benefits, rather than low-key ecotourism in a provincial park.
But Kangiqsualujjuaq, the community nearest the site of Nunavik’s second proposed provincial park, probably won’t have that choice, because mining isn’t allowed in lands that have been reserved for parks.
Kangiqsualujjuaq is eyeing some of the territory set aside for the future Kuururjuaq Park.
That’s because Uranor, a uranium exploration company, has found encouraging indications of uranium east of the community, near the Koroc River, just outside the limits of a proposed park — and there are also indications that more uranium lies within the park’s boundaries.
Occasionally, Quebec has “un-reserved” land set aside for parks. But Daniel Epoo, the president of the Nunavik Mineral Exploration Fund, told delegates at Makivik Corporation’s recent annual general meeting in Kangirsuk that he doesn’t think the government will budge in this case, no matter what the mineral potential of the park lands may be.
Kuururjuaq boasts spectacular scenery near the Koroc River and the Torngat mountains, including Mount d’Iberville and the slightly smaller Nuuvugilaa, a natural, 1,466-metre high tower of rock.
Uranor has $400,000 invested in its exploration permits around the river, and after making what company president Serge Genest calls a “potentially interesting” find last summer, the company plans to spend $2.5 million to evaluate the find.
“What we found allowed us to rate this as a priority project this year,” Genest said. “What I told the municipal council and the landholding corporation of Kangiqsualujjuaq is that I’d like to give them a mine, but that we’re still far away from that.”
Other areas of Nunavik also appear to be rich in uranium ore, just as the demand, and price, for uranium grows.
A second mining exploration company, Waseco, is exploring the Dieter Lake uranium deposit and other properties, about 140 to 280 southeast of Kuujjuaq. The Dieter Lake deposit covers about 8,000 hectares and is thought to have resources of up to 110 million pounds of uranium, sometimes accompanied by copper, gold, silver, lead and zinc.
Some of these properties were explored in the 1980s, but mining companies ended their activities when uranium prices dropped. This month, a pound of uranium has been selling at about $40 U.S., four times higher than a decade ago.
After 20 years of those depressed market conditions, the market for uranium is now booming. Nuclear energy is seen as a cleaner alternative to diesel or coal produced energy — and nuclear energy needs uranium.
Many of today’s supply sources of uranium will have been exhausted or in decline between 2015 and 2030. So industry analysts say the push is on to find new resources to meet a growing demand for nuclear energy.
However, uranium mining can be a mixed blessing: it provides money and jobs, but in the past it also has been associated with many negative impacts to human health.
According to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, uranium mining has been responsible for the largest collective exposure of workers to radiation.
Uranium mine workers are principally exposed to ionising radiation from radioactive uranium and the radium and radon gases emitted from the ore. This type of radiation releases high-energy particles that damage cells and their genetic structure, producing mutations, damaging the immune system and causing cancers.
Because it can take more than 20 or more years for cancer produced by low levels of ionising radiation to show up, it is not easy to trace the cause.
Radioactive pollution severely affected the Navajo of the southwestern U.S. where some Navajo miners were exposed to high levels of radioactivity in mines and mills. Of the 150 Navajo who worked at a uranium mine in New Mexico until 1970, 133 died of lung cancer or various forms of fibrosis by 1980. Radioctive tailings continue to present problems on the Navajo land.
The Uranium Information Centre says Canadian radiation safety regulations are among the most comprehensive and stringent in the world; radiation doses at Canadian uranium mines are well within regulatory limits; and uranium mining companies have generally taken active steps to reduce radiation doses wherever and whenever they can.