Hunters, elders and community members voice concerns at Nunavut Impact Review Board information sessions

From May 22 to May 30, the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) held a series of information sessions in the Kivalliq. The purpose of these meetings was to provide information to Nunavummiut about AREVA’s draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and the NIRB review process. On May 22 and 23rd, sessions were held in the community of Baker Lake. During the question and answer period at both sessions, community members raised a number of important concerns.

Numerous concerns were raised about the impacts the Kiggavik mine would have on caribou and hunting. Several hunters pointed out that AREVA’s proposed road routes are close to areas where caribou cross the Thelon River. Some community members complained about the affects Agnico-Eagle’s Meadowbank gold mine (located near Baker Lake) is having on caribou migration routes. They said that, since Meadowbank began production, caribou do not migrate as close to the community as they used to, and that if they do come close to the community, they only stay nearby for a very short time. They complained that this is impacting Inuit hunting, and making it difficult for Inuit to harvest enough caribou. They were worried that this problem would only get worse if the Kiggavik mine was approved and built.

Concerns were also raised about the potential for the Kiggavik mine to contaminate the air, water and wildlife. For some, this concern was related to the fact that uranium mining has never been attempted in an Arctic environment, and there is no way of knowing what affect blizzards and melting permafrost will have on tailings management and the ability to control accidents. Some Elders expressed frustration that Inuit lands were being destroyed for the profit of people who live elsewhere. Some expressed firm opposition to AREVA’s proposal, and one suggested that the community should start a petition to stop the mine.

One audience member raised the question of what a “safe” dose of radiation actually means. She asked whether or not the “safe” dose permitted for uranium miners (fifty times the amount permitted for the general public) would make someone more likely to get cancer. A representative from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) responded, after a long pause, that “There has been no proven information on that. Many studies have been conducted on radiation damage and exposure limits. And the CNSC has special provisions in place that would put no one at harm.” Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit disagrees entirely with this response from the CNSC. There have been numerous studies that have demonstrated that there is no such thing as a “safe” dose of radiation, and that any exposure to radiation increases the risk of developing cancer. For more information about the fallacy of “safe” radiation doses, see the letter Doctors Cathy Vakil and Linda Harvey submitted to the leadership of Nunavut in 2010. In this letter, Vakil and Harvey state:

…radiation is capable of damaging tissue — plant, animal or human. There is no safe dose – in other words, even small doses cause harm. Radioactive particles which have entered the body through inhalation or ingestion, are particularly harmful. Some of this damage the body can repair, but often the repairs are imperfect. Over time, cancers can arise. Cancer is a well- known sequella of exposure to radiation. It can often take decades, sometimes 40 or 50 years to manifest itself, and there is no way of knowing that it is developing until it does. It is very difficult sometimes to trace it back to its origins; this is one reason that poorly designed ‘studies’ so often fail to show any harm from a given exposure. It is important to remember that ‘no proof of harm’ is not the same as ‘proof of no harm’.

The full text of this letter is available in both English and Inuktitut. Readers can also refer to a more extensive report on the health implications of uranium mining by Vakil and Harvey.

Some audience members had concerns about AREVA’s activities to date. One woman complained that AREVA’s Community Liaison Committee does not meet often enough, and that they are not provided with enough information about AREVA’s plans and activities. One employee of AREVA had complaints about AREVA’s baseline studies. He was disappointed that the results of baseline studies have not been communicated to the people in Baker Lake. More pressingly, he was concerned that AREVA’s archeological baseline study involved the removal of artifacts from the Kiggavik area. He wanted to know where the artifacts ended up, and why the mining industry was permitted to remove Inuit archeological heritage, when both the Government of Nunavut and Inuit Elders instruct Inuit to leave artifacts alone. Another audience member voiced concern about the fact that AREVA was proposing multiple “road alternatives” and had not yet decided what sort of road (winter or all season) they want to build, or which route the road will take. She said that leaving these “alternatives” open makes it difficult for the community to know what exactly AREVA is proposing, which makes it difficult for people to form opinions on AREVA’s plans.

The Baker Lake Hunters and Trappers Organization (HTO) raised a number of preliminary concerns with AREVA’s draft EIS. The HTO said that they were disappointed that many of the concerns hunters have been raising were not dealt with in-depth in the EIS, and that Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (Inuit Knowledge) was not being used enough in the EIS. The HTO was also concerned that AREVA is suggesting that quotas be put on caribou hunting and that Inuit should be banned from hunting the Beverly caribou herd. A copy of this presentation, and related background information, can be found here.

Concerns were also raised regarding the lack of enforcement of conditions placed on the Meadowbank gold mine by regulatory agencies. Audience members complained that, despite promises to do otherwise, Agnico-Eagle is not suppressing dust on the access road to the mine. Some also complained that Agnico-Eagle promised to impose reduced speed limits on the road when caribou are nearby, but hunters have observed trucks speeding down the road past groups of caribou. It should be noted that, according to the project certificate issued to Agnico-Eagle by the NIRB, Agnico is required to suppress dust on the access road. One woman complained that the NIRB is breaking a promise to monitoring and control the Meadowbank mine. Several audience members were concerned that regulators would be equally lenient on AREVA’s Kiggavik mine. For them, this was quite troublesome, because uranium mining is a much more controversial and dangerous undertaking than gold mining.

Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit would like to emphasize that the NIRB does not have a mandate to enforce the conditions of project certificates, only to monitor them. However, this does not change the fact that many Inuit feel that the regulatory system as a whole is failing them. Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit would like to draw attention to the fact that the NIRB has been instructing Agnico-Eagle to begin suppressing dust for years, to no effect. We would also like to take this opportunity to address several other conditions of Agnico-Eagle’s project certificate that are not being met, according to the NIRB’s monitoring reports.

  • Agnico-Eagle has yet to begin monitoring air quality, despite being repeatedly instructed by the NIRB to do so.
  • Agnico-Eagle’s groundwater monitoring wells are often damaged and offline.
  • Agnico-Eagle has not placed caribou deterrents near their tailings ponds.

For more information about the terms and conditions placed on the Meadowbank gold mine, as well as which terms and conditions Agnico-Eagle is not meeting, see:

Some concerns were also raised about the information sessions themselves. Several community members expressed frustration that such important meetings were being held at a time of year when most hunters and Elders spend their evenings on the land. May and June are prime months for travel, due to the weather conditions, snow conditions, ice conditions and extended day light hours. One Elder encouraged the NIRB to try and find a better balance between Inuit hunting cycles and bureaucratic time schedules. One hunter demanded that NIRB institute a mechanism whereby meetings would be forfeited if community participation was not sufficient.

Some residents were also concerned about the way the NIRB presented AREVA’s EIS to the community. The presentation just outlined what AREVA wrote, and did not provide the community with any critical feedback. The NIRB’s presentation also did little to explain important aspects of the methodology AREVA employed, which would have facilitated a more meaningful and critical discussion about the EIS.

Most shocking for some, the NIRB used the same public relations rhetoric as AREVA. A hunter pointed this out in a round-about way. During the NIRB’s presentation, the presenter repeatedly referred to “special waste rock”. During the question period, the hunter asked the NIRB “what exactly is special waste rock? How is it different from regular waste rock? What happened to it that made it so special?” The NIRB representative responded that special waste rock is dangerously radioactive, and contains other dangerous toxins.

Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit is eagerly waiting to see how these concerns will be dealt with as the review of AREVA’s Kiggavik proposal continues.

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About makitanunavut

Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit (Makita) is a Nunavut-based non-governmental organization. Made up of members from Baker Lake and Iqaluit, Makita is dedicated to fostering a critical public discussion about uranium mining in Nunavut.
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