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Review board rejects proposed uranium exploration in Thelon Basin

Proposed uranium exploration in the Thelon Basin in the Northwest Territories has been rejected by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board.

Proposed uranium exploration in the Thelon Basin in the Northwest Territories has been rejected by the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board.

In a report dated Monday, the board recommended that Ur-Energy Inc., which has headquarters in Colorado and Ontario,not be allowed to conduct exploratory drilling near the basin, in the easternmost section of the Northwest Territories.

The board is responsible for environmental assessments of development projects in the territory.

The company had wanted to drill up to 20 holes on its mineral lease, about 300 kilometres northeast of Lutselk'e.

The board's report will go to Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Jim Prentice, who will decide whether to accept the recommendation.

The decision marks the second time in the board's history that it has decided against a development proposal.

The board ruled that even a small-scale exploratory project on the Upper Thelon River would have a huge and irreversible cultural impact on the Lutselk'e Dene people.

While the Lutselk'e Dene live 300 kilometres from the proposed site, they have a long history in the area, which is considered to have special cultural and spiritual significance to them.

Valley seen as 'place where God began'

Dozens of people spoke against the proposalto the review board during two days of public hearings in January. They described the fertile valley in the midst of the barrenlands as "the place where God began."

Lutselk'e Dene First Nation Chief Adie Jonasson said Wednesday she was relieved by the board'sdecision.

"People haven't been listening to us, but this time they did," she said."Our voices were finally heard."

Canoe guiding companies were also opposed to the proposal,fearing the impact development couldhave ontheir business.

"People that pay large amounts of money to go into a remote wilderness… it's really going to turn them off to see something like that," said Alex Hall, whoconducts half-a-dozen trips down the river each summer.

In its 70-page report, the board said it drew heavily on traditional knowledge of Lutselk'e Dene eldersin making its decision. The board said that in most cases, scientific evidence has agreed with traditional knowledge.

Eric Craigie, Ur-Energy's senior vice-president of exploration, said the company is considering its next steps, including a meeting with Prentice.