Areva to Valcourt: reject Nunavut board’s Kiggavik decision
Company says NIRB did not use "available remedies" to deal with uranium project’s unknown start date
Areva Canada has asked the federal government to reject the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s final report, which recommends the company’s proposed uranium project not go ahead because of the company’s inability to provide a firm start date.
After a lengthy environmental assessment process that began in 2009, the NIRB said this past May that Areva’s Kiggavik uranium project “should not proceed at this time.”
The absence of a project start date raises too many questions about the future environmental and social impacts of the mine and makes it too difficult to accurately assess those impacts, the NIRB said.
The NIRB delivered that report to Bernard Valcourt, the minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, who now must decide to accept or reject it.
In a July 3 letter penned by Vincent Martin, the president and CEO of Areva Resources Canada Inc., the company encourages Valcourt to do the latter, saying it’s “disappointed” in the board’s recommendation.
“It is our view that in making its recommendation to the minister, the board did not use the [Environmental Assessment] process in the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement as a planning tool, nor did it utilize existing and available remedies to address the project’s lack of firm project start date,” the letter said.
“To deny the project approval in the absence of significant, unresolvable issues is inconsistent with current economic strategies and development policies that speak to responsible resource development that can contribute to self-reliance and improved quality of life.”
Areva goes on to say that all participating federal agencies, including Aboriginal Affairs, Environment Canada and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, found there were no outstanding or unresolvable issues that would prevent the project from being approved.
The NIRB held final public hearings on the Kiggavik proposal this past March in Baker Lake, where numerous government agencies, non-governmental organizations and Baker Lake residents weighed in on Areva’s 10,000-page environmental impact statement.
Opponents of the proposal, such as the Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit group, said the Kiggavik proposal poses a serious risk to the long-term viability of the Kivalliq region’s caribou herds and that its environmental risks outweigh its economic benefits.
The Baker Lake Hunters and Trappers Organization went on to say that Areva’s uncertain start date for the project means the environmental review in March was essentially a waste of time.
But Areva has touted its uranium project as a major economic boost for the territory, capable of employing hundreds of people through its construction and operation phases.
“With few other sources of economic development on the horizon, the mining industry forms a cornerstone of the North’s economic and social development plans…,” the letter said.
Areva argued that the NIRB report fails to recognize the legislative intent of EAs across Canada, which is to use them as planning tools.
Having start date uncertainty is not unique to the Kiggavik project, Areva said, pointing to the Hope Bay Gold project in the Kitikmeot, which TMAC Resources hopes to revive this year.
“We believe the board erred by failing to consider existing and available remedies to address the concerns associated with lack of a firm project start date,” Areva said.
Areva said, once rejected, the final report should be returned to the NIRB for re-consideration, including “appropriate terms and conditions that should be attached to project approval.”
The Kiggavik scheme, which would have been located at two sites, Kiggavik and Sissons, comprised four open pits and one underground operation, with an estimated lifespan of about 12 years.
During the March hearings in Baker Lake, the company said it envisioned the project could be operating by some time in the 2020s or 2030s.
Areva isn’t the only company appealing to Ottawa to reject a made-in-Nunavut decision; Baffinland Iron Mines has also approached Valcourt to overturn the Nunavut Planning Commission’s land use plan ruling, so it can send its expanding shipping project straight to the NIRB instead.