Nuclear licensing officials head to Nunavut next week
Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to hold information sessions in Kivalliq
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s decades of experience in northern Saskatchewan will help ensure any uranium mining in remote Nunavut won’t harm people, animals or the land, a commission spokesperson told Nunatsiaq News Jan. 30.
Sarah Eaton, a geologist and project manager with the commission, said Jan. 30 that even though the Kiggavik project near Baker Lake could become Nunavut’s first uranium mine, the commission’s experience and expertise should quell the public’s fears.
“The Nunavut environment is special and unique. so we have to look at those aspects, but it’s important to remember that mining has occurred in harsh environments around the world for a number of years and there are lot of lessons and technical expertise that can be gained from that,” Eaton said.
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which licences uranium mines in Canada and is charged with monitoring and compliance reviews of those facilities, will hold public information sessions in the Kivalliq next week, in:
• Rankin Inlet, Feb. 3;
• Baker Lake, Feb. 4; and,
• Chesterfield Inlet, Feb. 5.
The agenda will consist of presentations from Areva Resources — the company proposing the Kiggavik uranium mine about 80 kilometres west of Baker Lake — the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, and the Northern Projects Management Office, a unit inside the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency set up to help streamline northern development.
The commission hopes the sessions will help members of the public understand what will happen if if Areva Resources obtains a project certificate for Kiggavik and other Nunavut regulatory approvals, and then decides to go ahead with building a mine and mill.
What happens is this: after the Nunavut Impact Review Board is finished, Areva must they must go through a second technical and public hearing process to get a licence from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
Much like what happens during NIRB reviews, the commission and the proponent would make written technical submissions and the commission would hold a public hearing.
Eaton said it would be up to the commission to decide where to hold that public hearing.
In the past, hearings have been held in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, she said, near uranium projects in the northern regions of that province, so it’s not unheard of for the commission to go to remote locations.
There are five uranium projects currently operating in Canada, all of them in northern Saskatchewan. Two consist of mines, one consists of a mill and two projects have both a mill and a mine.
Areva has been operating the MacLean Lake mill there since 1999 so the company is a known entity to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Eaton said.
Areva got its current licence for MacLean Lake in 2009. That one expires in 2017, after which the company could choose to re-apply.
Once it issues a licence for a period of between five and 10 years, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is bound to visit the site five times annually to ensure the company is complying with licensing requirements and responding to any outstanding orders arising from past inspections, Eaton said.
The commission also retains a financial bond or credit from the company to safeguard the public in case of unforeseen events. Eaton said those bonds have ranged in the past from $40 million to $200 million.
It’s also the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s job to monitor the site once it’s been decommissioned, Eaton said.
Inspectors make annual site visits to closed mines and issue reports based on their observations. They have the authority to force companies to do additional work as the years go by if necessary or to use money they hold in trust to get the work done.
Only when the commission deems the site fully decommissioned — it can take decades — does the body then return the financial bond, or what’s left of it, to the company, Eaton explained.
But right now, any talk of the Kiggavik mine becoming operational is pure speculation.
Even if Areva gets its project certificate, the price of uranium may not be high enough for the company to justify investing an estimated $2.1 billion to build the facility and another $240 million a year in operating costs.
But if the company does come to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission at some point to apply for a licence, the commission would have to rely on its northern partners to provide the necessary technical expertise regarding mining on the tundra.
Eaton said permafrost conditions, wildlife concerns and other factors would affect their decision prior to licensing.
The commission is holding the meetings in February in the hope that residents, local organizations, hunters, trappers and government officials will be better informed prior to the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s final hearings into the Kiggavik environmental impact statement.
Those NIRB hearings are scheduled for the first two weeks of March in Baker Lake.
Several interveners who have sent written submissions to the NIRB have said they’re worried about the mine’s potential impact on the environment, in particular, the mine’s location in an area where caribou cows and calves graze in the summer before migrating elsewhere.
Eaton said she hopes to answer some of those concerns by showing residents the comprehensive monitoring and compliance regime that uranium mines must submit to.
“What we try to talk about when we’re in communities, whether it’s in northern Saskatchewan or in northern Quebec, or Nunavut, is to help them understand what our role is,” she said.
That role is licensing and compliance work, she said, which means oversight over environmental impacts.
“We’re aware of those concerns and we’re taking the following steps to ensure we help to mitigate those concerns.”
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s website contains information on uranium mining in Canada, the licensing process for companies and annual reports submitted by commission inspectors and any compliance orders issued to companies operating mines in Canada.
You can find that information here.