Mining and exploration review north of the 60th parallel

Can Our Future Help to Protect Our Past? Using the knowledge and history of both Nunavut and AREVA to design the proposed Kiggavik Project.

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Discussions about northern development of any type, including mining, have often been a question of “either-or.” Do you want a traditional lifestyle, or do you want jobs? Do you want to protect the environment, or do you want major investment and economic spinoffs? The list goes on.

AREVA has been working hard in Nunavut for the past five years to come up with answers that are not “either-or,” but in fact both. For example, the hiring policy for the Kiggavik Project will strongly favour Nunavut residents, but they will continue to be based with their families in their home communities. It is a model that has worked well in northern Saskatchewan, and has avoided the creation of “mining towns.” In this way, a young person can get a well-paying, full-time job without having to move away. The benefits of that work schedule will enable workers and their families to preserve their traditional community values, while at the same time bringing new skills and benefits back to their home. A person who becomes trained as a mechanic, for example, not only has a very good-paying job with health and training benefits, he or she can also use their new skills to help their neighbours.

Protecting the caribou, which is certainly a priority, doesn’t depend just on scientific studies and surveys to come up with the answers. Knowledge from hunters, trappers, and elders who know caribou and the land in ways the scientists can’t has been and will continue to be considered and influence the project.

Even though people can have very different interests and motives, they can share the same vision. AREVA’s vision, and commitment, is that 25-years from now Kiggavik’s mining days may be over, but the project will have been positive and the environment protected and available for traditional uses.

In the past seven-years, AREVA has held or attended more than 300 events in communities throughout the region to let Nunavummuit know what the plans are, how things are progressing, and to learn from the traditional knowledge and local advice to make sure the planning for Kiggavik is done right. AREVA is thankful for the sharing of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) and plan to continue integrating this knowledge into the way business is done and the design and potentially the implementation of the Kiggavik Project. On top of that, AREVA is complying with very strict regulatory procedures and guidelines governed by independent bodies such as the Nunavut Impact Review Board, the organization leading the environmental assessment for the Kiggavik Project.

20 - 0907-5345Currently, the focus is on AREVA’s environmental impact statement, a series of documents that addresses some very tough questions affecting the people of the region, the wildlife, and the environment. It covers projections for the three-year construction of the mine, 14-years of operation, and five-years of decommissioning (i.e. shutdown and restoration). The plan also calls for an estimated additional 10-years of monitoring, to ensure that the remediation has been successful.

To its credit, AREVA has a strong track record to the south, in what is called the Athabasca Basin in northern Saskatchewan. It would be wrong to think that northern Saskatchewan is the same as Nunavut – there are some very significant differences. But at least four of AREVA’s accomplishments over the past 40-years in the Athabasca region are relevant to the Kiggavik discussion.

Firstly, the policy of hiring and training northern peoples, and giving preference to local businesses, has been widely recognized for its success. AREVA and the Saskatchewan uranium mining industry are among Canada’s top employers of Aboriginal people. What’s more, the jobs offer above-average pay and benefits, they are full-time jobs (not seasonal), and there are exceptional opportunities for training and advancement, including over $100,000 in 2011 for scholarships for students. A number of northerners who are now university graduates with engineering and other degrees will tell you it never would have happened without the mining industry. Northern preferences also come into play for donations to non-profit community initiatives (including those in Nunavut). The overall charitable donations and sponsorships amounts are significant: in 2011, they amounted to an average of $2,500 per employee.

Along with jobs is the top priority at any of AREVA’s sites – safety. Employees at AREVA’s McClean Lake site had zero lost-time accidents in 2011. Safety policies are continually updated, and safety training is ongoing. Also of importance is protecting workers from radiation. Today’s uranium mineworker receives on average only about five per cent of the federal government’s regulated dose limit; that’s about one thousand times less than workers 60-years ago.

Local northerner concerns about protecting the wildlife and the environment in Saskatchewan led to some of the world’s toughest mining regulations. Here again AREVA has performed very well. In 30-years of trucking products from the uranium sites in Saskatchewan, not a single ounce of uranium concentrate has been spilled.

A fourth example is AREVA’s mine and mill at Cluff Lake that operated for 22-years. Following Cluff’s closure in 2002, AREVA has demolished the buildings, covered the tailings area, filled the pits and reclaimed the waste rock piles. The “before and after” photos of the site tell the story of AREVA’s success. With more monitoring underway, AREVA is first mining company to fulfill its commitment in mine decommissioning under the province of Saskatchewan’s modern-day regulations.

20 - 0907-5844In short, detailed studies show that, especially compared to international standards, modern uranium development by AREVA has proven to be safe for workers and the public.

But, what does this all mean for the Kiggavik Project? It means there is every reason to believe that AREVA will live up to its shared commitment to maintaining the natural habitat, traditional hunting, and wildlife migration patterns, and desired lifestyles of Nunavummiut. It also means a projected capital investment of $2.1 billion at the site, along with operating costs of $240 million a year. With preferences given to Nunavut residents, AREVA will create an estimated 750 full-time jobs during construction, along with 600 jobs when the mine and mill are operating. Another estimated 1,300 jobs will be created through contractors and sub-contractors – again, with preference given to Nunavut-based businesses. On top of that will be an estimated $1 billion paid out in taxes and royalties. The company will also continue to be a strong supporter of charitable donations to non-profit organizations in the communities near which it operates.

There is one other “win-win” scenario, this time involving Nunavut and the world. AREVA internationally is a leader in providing sustainable alternatives to energies that produce CO2 . The Kiggavik mine, if it were operating today, would supply roughly nine per cent of the resources needed for the world’s nuclear-generated electricity, which is a key component in the fight against global warming. By helping an energy-hungry world, the mine at Kiggavik may, over the long term, help to reduce the growing climate change threat to the Arctic.

In the 21st Century, there are no simple answers or promises. One thing we do know, however, is that if we work together, we can get it right.

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