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French transnational seeks open-pit uranium mine near Baker Lake

Baker Lake

Baker Lake

The French corporation Areva is planning to build the Kiggavik uranium mine near Baker Lake in Nunavut.

The Canadian Press reports, “The $2.1-billion project called for one underground and four open-pit mines just west of Baker Lake… [It would also be near] the calving grounds for one of the North’s great caribou herds and near the largest and most remote wildlife sanctuary on the continent. Areva’s plans would have emptied part of a lake, built a road through the caribou habitat and stretched a bridge across a Canadian heritage river. Planes loaded with radioactive concentrate would take off from its airstrip.” A Nunatsiaq article further specifies, “Under Areva’s proposal, the project would span two properties about 80 kilometres west of Baker Lake, encompassing five pits, a mill, a 20-km road and an airstrip to transport yellowcake by air to Saskatchewan for processing.”

For now, the Nunavut Impact Review Board has recommended against allowing the mine to proceed given the project lacks a development schedule, but is open to the Paris-based corporation applying again once it has set a start date. The board says that it could then assess the impact the mine would have on caribou, fish and other marine life. The article adds, “The review board’s final report further recommends there be more information on caribou and marine wildlife trends. It also called for more education programs that could enable Inuit to qualify for mine jobs beyond entry level positions.”

That said, the board’s report now goes to the pro-mining Harper government which could reject the report and ask the board to attach conditions to the approval of the mine. It’s worth noting that in November 2013 Reuters reported, “Canada has agreed to waive for European companies a longstanding requirement that buyers take on a Canadian partner in uranium mines, a move that may spur greater investment in developing the country’s rich uranium reserves.” The news agency notes this concession by Harper to the uranium mining industry came after intense lobbying by Areva.

Dr. Gordon Edwards has noted that Inuit residents voted for a moratorium on uranium mining in 1989, but after Nunavut became a self-governing territory the moratorium was overturned by Nunavut Tunngavik, Inc, the land claims administration for the territory. The Council of Canadians also calls for a ban on all uranium exploration and mining, strengthening of legislation to ensure that any exploration or mining of other materials does not disturb or uncover uranium deposits, and fair just transition programs for all communities and workers involved in the uranium mining industry.

We note too that if the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) were ratified, European transnational corporations could have the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision and other disciplines to challenge a rejection of – or even public consultation on – mining projects like this one. For example, the company developing the Matoush uranium mine in the Otish Mountains in Quebec threatened in 2013 to use the Chapter 11 investor-state clause of the North American Free Trade Agreement to challenge the delay of an 18-month public consultation on the mine.

For more on our campaign against CETA, please click here.