Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Canadian Territory Nunavut Approves Uranium Mining for the First Time

Nunavut Government: Nunavut Facts

On June 6, the government of the Nunavut Territory, Canada approved the creation of the first uranium mine within the territory. The Nunavut Government sees the mine as an opportunity for job and economic growth through the construction and operation of the mine and the taxes it would produce for the government. In giving its approval, the Nunavut government provided specific guiding principles that must govern any uranium mining, as explained below. While community groups express concern about the formulation of the policy and the environmental impact, local leaders continue to be open minded about the mine’s potential economic benefits.

Nunavut is a federal territory in northeastern Canada created in 1999. Its land covers 20% of Canada, and has a population of 33,330 as of 2011. While it currently does not have control over its natural resources, Nunavut is in negotiations with the Canadian federal government to obtain this control and to ensure any mining of natural resources would directly benefit Nunavut. In fact, the Nunavut government stated that its approval of uranium mining is specifically contingent on ensuring that Nunavut is the main beneficiary of government revenue from mining activities within the territory.
The Nunavut government created its uranium mining policy after a mining company named Areva Resources Canada expressed interest in creating a uranium mine within the territory. In its policy, the Nunavut government approves uranium mining, provided the five stated guiding principles are met. The five guiding principles came from consultations the Nunavut government held with local communities, particularly those close to the proposed mine. The guiding principles articulated by the Nunavut government include: 1) that the mined uranium only be used for peaceful purposes, such as producing energy, and not for nuclear weapons; 2) residents of Nunavut must be the primary beneficiaries of the mining revenue; 3) uranium mining must meet national health and safety standards of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC); 4) high environmental standards must be met, as approved by the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB); and 5) Nunavut residents must approve the uranium mining. These principles are simply the first basic articulation of the Nunavut government policies, and any uranium mining operations require further approval from the NIRB and the CNSC.
The Nunavut government’s approval of uranium mining has been met by opposition and concerns from local community groups. An environmentalist group called Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit claims that the process for creating the territorial government’s policy was biased because the government hired a consultation company whose primary clients are in the mining industry and stand to directly benefit from governmental approval. Meanwhile, a local community group of hunters and trappers expressed concern about the uranium mine’s potential negative impact on the migration patterns of local caribou populations, a major source of food and income for communities around the proposed mine. The community worries that if the mine is built, the caribou would change their migration pattern to avoid the mine, and thus no longer come near the village.
In spite of these concerns, however, local leaders have expressed support for the mine as a source for increased employment and economic development. The Areva mine would provide 700 jobs during its construction and 600 jobs during its projected 14-year operation. In addition, the mine would bring an increase in infrastructure necessary for the mine—such as roads and telecommunications—which would also benefit local communities by providing greater access to economic activities.
Seeking to broaden opportunities for economic growth, the Nunavut government approved uranium mining within the territory. In doing so, it provided specific guiding principles for any uranium mining. Although local communities have environmental concerns, many residents of Nunavut are interested in the economic development a uranium mine could provide for the territory.

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