Nunavut Inuit group puts uranium policy on hold

The president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. says she's putting her organization's uranium mining policy on hold, to ensure Inuit in the territory have been fully informed on the issue.

The president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. says she's putting her organization's uranium mining policy on hold, to ensure Inuit in the territory have been fully informed on the issue.

Two men work at a fuel storage site at Areva Resources Canada Inc.'s proposed Kiggavik uranium mine near Baker Lake, Nunavut, in this undated handout photo. ((Canadian Press))

Cathy Towtongie said there was not enough public consultation before Nunavut Tunngavik, the territory's Inuit land-claims organization, approved a policy in September 2007 that opened the territory to uranium exploration and mining.

Under the policy, the organization would support uranium projects in Nunavut as long as they are environmentally and socially responsible.

But Towtongie said Inuit were not properly informed about the pros and cons of uranium mining, and not enough people were consulted.

"It's not Arctic-designed policy, Nunavut policy. So this year … I want to do a territory-wide consultation process on uranium," Towtongie said Wednesday at a resource development summit in Ottawa.

Nunavut Tunngavik's uranium policy will be on the agenda at a meeting in Repulse Bay at the end of March, Towtongie said.

'Balanced approach' needed: Towtongie

This past fall, Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak announced she will hold a territory-wide forum on uranium development early in 2011.

Nunavut Tunngavik president Cathy Towtongie said Wednesday that she wants to hold territory-wide consultations on uranium mining this year. ((CBC))

The current debate over uranium mining stems from Areva Resources Canada Inc.'s bid to build an open-pit uranium mine at its Kiggavik site, located 80 kilometres west of Baker Lake in Nunavut's Kivalliq region.

Areva's proposal is currently undergoing an environmental review by the Nunavut Impact Review Board.

"I believe we need some other experts to get a balanced approach to uranium mining," Towtongie said.

Towtongie and other Inuit leaders from Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Russia are attending the resource development summit, which wraps up Thursday.

The Inuit Circumpolar Council organized the summit to address disagreements among Inuit leaders on whether to allow mining and offshore oil and gas development in the Arctic.

Leaders debate uranium mining

Leaders meeting at this week's summit are expected to debate whether they should support uranium mining at a closed-door session on Thursday.

Inuit leaders heard on Wednesday from Vice-Chief Donald Deranger of the Prince Albert Grand Council in northern Saskatchewan, where Cameco Corp. operates several uranium mining projects.

Deranger, who was invited to give a presentation at the summit, said uranium mining has brought jobs and prosperity to people in his region.

"I believe [the] uranium industry is demonstrating everyday in Canada that this activity can be done safely," he said, adding that uranium mining has not had an effect on area wildlife.

Greenland Premier Kuupik Kleist has already stated that his government has a "zero tolerance" policy on uranium mining, and both the Inuit Circumpolar Council and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami in Canada has long opposed it as well.

But Pita Aatami, president of Makivik Corp. in the Nunavik region of northern Quebec, said he would like a review of that opposition by Inuit Circumpolar Council and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami to uranium mining.

"With oil and gas disappearing very fast, uranium could be a replacement," Aatami said.

"If it can be used properly [and] safely, then we would be willing to look at it ourselves."