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Arctic


WWF-Canada applauds decision by Nunavut Impact Review Board to halt Kiggavik uranium mine

The Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) made the right decision in denying approval for a uranium mine development at Kiggavik that has no set start date.

On May 8 the NIRB announced that because AREVA Resources Canada Inc. cannot provide a definite start date or development schedule for the project, an accurate assessment of future environmental and social impacts is not possible at this time.

A komatik, a traditional Inuit sled, lies on the beach of Baker Lake, Nunavut, Canada. © Monte HUMMEL / WWF-Canada

A komatik, a traditional Inuit sled, lies on the beach of Baker Lake, Nunavut, Canada. © Monte HUMMEL / WWF-Canada

In other words, questions still remain as to whether or not this project would enhance and protect the existing and future well-being of the residents and communities of the Nunavut Settlement Area.

The NIRB decision gives us confidence, once again, that the regulatory process is working as it should. It was the right decision considering all the factors, and we hope the NIRB will continue to refuse to “pre-approve” projects that have no start date.

It was determined by the NIRB that pre-approving the project would adversely affect the weight and confidence which it could give to assessments of future ecosystemic and socio-economic effects. Overall, the complete lack of scientific evidence does not support long-term economic, social and cultural interests of Inuit and Nunavummiut.

There is a noted lack of scientific certainty about population health of caribou herds in the Kivalliq region, or about fish and marine wildlife populations of significance to the communities of Nunavut Settlement Area.

One thing that is certain, is that the Kiggavik mine would open the area to other mining developments. A major concern for the Baker Lake Hunters and Trappers Organization and other intervenor groups is the additional development that the mine would create. The Kiggavik area is surrounded by other uranium exploration programs. If Kiggavik is approved, it could be the first step in the creation of a uranium mining agglomeration economy in the Baker Lake area, leading to massive networks of roads, open pits, tailing impoundment facilities, and radioactive waste rock piles across the tundra.

As noted, the development would add significant stress to several major caribou herds that reside in the region in the summer months. The Kivalliq Wildlife Board also opposed the project. (The Government of Nunavut declared a moratorium on caribou harvesting on nearby Baffin Island, January 2015.)

Taking a precautionary approach in view of the lack of scientific certainty regarding impacts on caribou and other wildlife was the right course of action. This region is used by the Qamanirjuaq caribou herd, and is also an important habitat for muskox, Tundra grizzlies, wolverine, wolf, and other terrestrial wildlife.

The NIRB has now given its recommendation to Bernard Valcourt, minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, who can either accept the report, reject it on the grounds that the project is in the national or regional interest, or, upon rejection, ask NIRB to consider terms and conditions that should be attached to a project approval.

However, this does not rule out the possibility of uranium mine in the future. AREVA has said that they want to develop Kiggavik only after market conditions improve.

WWF-Canada supports the NIRB and agrees that before any development happens, measures need to be put in place to manage cumulative effects such as securing much more robust scientific baseline information that will allow for the serious monitoring that uranium mining, with its multi-generational impacts, requires.