Labrador uranium mining moratorium lifted

The Nunatsiavut Assembly is lifting a three-year-old moratorium on uranium mining on Labrador Inuit Lands.
Nunasiavut, which means Our Beautiful land, is the Inuit-governed area of northern Labrador. (CBC)

The Nunatsiavut Assembly is lifting a three-year-old moratorium on uranium mining on Labrador Inuit lands.

"We imposed this moratorium in April of 2008 to give us sufficient time to ensure we make an informed decision," said Nunatsiavut’s Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Glen Sheppard, in a news release.

"Since [2008] we have established a lands administration system, developed environmental protection legislation and have made tremendous progress on a land use plan for the Labrador Inuit Settlement Area."  

The amendment to the Labrador Inuit Lands Act that imposed the moratorium required a review of the decision be conducted after March 31, 2011. That review process, which began in September, has been completed.

"As part of that review process, we held public consultations throughout Nunatsiavut, Upper Lake Melville and St. John’s," said Sheppard.

"The general consensus from beneficiaries and other stakeholders is that the moratorium should be lifted to allow any proposed development to proceed to environmental assessment."

Labrador's Nunatsiavut government narrowly passed a controversial bill to put the moratorium in place in April 2008. It passed in the Nunatsiavut assembly by a vote of 8-7.

The decision to lift the moratorium was made unanimously.

The Nunatsiavut Environmental Protection Act is expected to come into force in March 2012.

The amendment to the Labrador Inuit Lands Act to lift the moratorium will not come into effect before the environmental protection legislation is in place, said the minister.

Mining companies wanted ban lifted

The mining industry has been pushing Nunatsiavut to drop the moratorium.

There would be significant potential economic benefits if development proceeds.

Aurora Energy recently estimated that its Michelin project could create 700 construction jobs over a three-year period. Under the existing mine plan, there would be about 17 years of mining and milling operations, employing 400.

Aurora is a major player in the region, having identified a significant uranium deposit in 2006. But the company halted exploration work in Labrador after the moratorium was put into effect in 2008.

Uranium exploration in Newfoundland and Labrador plunged during the moratorium, from $58.1 million in 2008 to $3.2 million in 2010, according to federal figures. That's a 95 per cent drop.

Exploration in other jurisdictions was down over the same time frame, although not as much — 25 per cent in Nunvaut, and 54 per cent in Quebec.

No pressure

In April, the government said it wouldn't let mining companies pressure it to make a decision about lifting the ban.

At the time, Sheppard said he knew the moratorium is costing companies money, but said they would have to wait until a mining plan is developed.

"We totally understand the exploration company's concerns, frustrations — what have you — but at the same time we must also remember those who've elected us into those positions, our beneficiaries," he said.

Some residents on the north coast have said they worry about the environmental impact if the moratorium is lifted.