Nunavut board starts long review of Kiggavik uranium project
NIRB hearings start process that could stretch until 2019
Five uranium mines in one — that sums up the much-talked about Kiggavik project that Areva Resources Canada wants to build near Baker Lake, now the subject of public meetings throughout the Kivalliq’s seven communities.
During these meetings, organized by the Nunavut Impact Review Board, people can learn more about the $1.5 billion project and at the same time, tell the review board what they think.
These meetings, which started April 25 in Baker Lake and will end May 10 in Rankin Inlet, are aimed at helping the review board draft guidelines for Kiggavik’s final environmental impact statement, a detailed study of every part of the project and its potential impacts on people and the environment.
So far, Kivalliq residents have said they want to know more about the social and economic impacts of the project, which promises to create between 400 and 600 jobs worth at least $200 million in wages over 25 years.
And they want more information about Kiggavik’s possible impacts on the land, water, air and wildlife and how Areva plans to limit these impacts.
Areva intends to submit its EIS on Kiggavik, with “all the answers” to these question in early 2011, Barry McCallum, the project’s Nunavut manager, said in an April 29 interview from Repulse Bay.
If the EIS passes its review and is accepted, construction on the project could begin in 2017 and the mine would start production in 2020, he said.
But the final decision to move ahead with Kiggavik wouldn’t be made until all the permits are in place, sometime in 2019 and 2020.
“Community acceptance will have to be passed, environmental protection will have to be passed and economics will have to be passed. If we’re missing any one of those, the project cannot proceed,” McCallum said.
“We can’t be sure that the economics will be there until we get fairly close. It’s a test that will always have to be passed,” he said.
The project calls for one underground and four open-pit mines on two nearby sites, a 100-km road from Baker Lake to the main complex, bridges, a port facility, an airstrip, a residence for employees, warehouse and maintenance facilities, fuel tanks, explosives storage, water treatment plants, administration buildings, and haul roads.
That’s all set out in the 2008 project proposal, developed by Areva, which acquired the Kiggavik and Sissons uranium properties in 1993.
Those properties, 70 per cent of which cover Inuit-owned land, are basically the same ones that Urangesellschaft Canada Ltd. wanted to develop about 20 years ago.
Then, a hamlet plebiscite led by a group of concerned citizen’s in Baker Lake’s produced an overwhelming vote against project, with nine in 10 voters casting “no” ballots.
Urangesellschaft then asked an environmental assessment panel for an “indefinite delay” of the review process.
Areva’s new plan for Kiggavik is to excavate uranium ore, truck it to a mill, and produce between 2,000 and 4,000 tonnes of uranium per year as a concentrate, called “yellowcake.”
Areva says they would use clean waste rock from the mines as construction material or spread it over the land. It would stockpile “special waste” rock on the surface during operations and then backfill it into mined-out open pits afterwards.
Areva plans to treat tailings resulting from the extraction of uranium from the ore and deposit them underground in two mined-out open pits.
The mill would use site drainage, recycled tailings water, and fresh water from nearby lakes, treating all waste water afterwards, Areva says.
When Kiggavik’s activities wrap up, Areva proposes covering the site with crushed rock and soil, and building ramps “to allow safe caribou transit across the pile slopes.”
“The Kiggavik Project can be carried out safely, all potential environmental effects can be mitigated, and benefits to the people of the Kivalliq region can be realized,” Areva says.
However, NIRB said in its 2009 screening decision report that it has no doubt “this project may have significant adverse effects on the ecosystem, wildlife habitat or Inuit harvesting activities; adverse socio-economic effects on northerners; will cause significant public concern; and involves technological innovations for which the effects are unknown.”
Areva says its mitigation measures will minimize impacts to wildlife, although the company admits “given the large range of caribou, port, road, mine and associated construction and operation of these developments could result in increased human interaction and access to caribou herds.”
McCallum said the footprint of Kiggavik’s mine site is small, covering only about a two square-kilometre-square.
When the mine stops production after 17 years, another five years will be spent putting restoring the land as close to its natural state as possible, he said.
However, some research says uranium mine tailings remain hazardous due to radioactivity for more than 250,000 years and are associated with an increased cancer rate among humans, in addition to birth defects, high infant mortality and chronic lung, eye, skin and reproductive illnesses.
In 2007, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. reversed its longstanding opposition to uranium mining in Nunavut with a new policy that supports uranium mining that is socially and environmentally responsible.
Inuit impact and benefit agreements, which must be signed before any mining projects take place in the territory, are enough to protect Nunavummiut from the downsides of mining, NTI president Paul Kaludjak has repeatedly said.