Uranium mining on Labrador Inuit lands was given the green light Wednesday as the Nunatsiavut Assembly voted to lift a three-year moratorium.
Members voted unanimously to remove the ban, enacted in April 2008 amid concerns among the community over environmental and health effects. Glen Sheppard, Nunatsiavut’s minister of lands and natural resources, said the general consensus in the community — after a review of the decision — supported the resumption of uranium mining.
“The consultation process reflected that most people who did speak out in our consultations supported the lifting of the moratorium,” he said. “Yes, there were concerns, but overall it was a unanimous decision by the assembly.”
Sheppard acknowledged environmental, land and health concerns were raised, but the government has now established a lands use administration system and environmental protection legislation. The Nunatsiavut Environmental Protection Act will be enacted by March 9.
“The exploration companies have been very patient with us in making our decision,” he said. “We know of a couple of companies that will be coming back into the area, doing some further exploration and possibly looking to register and to proceed to an (environmental assessment) process.”
For many people, the economic benefits in uranium mining were crucial, said Sheppard. “It’s not a good word to use, but the word ‘poverty’ played a part in some of the presentations,” he said. “Our Nunatsiavut communities, it’s sad to say, but we have a lot of social problems, and some of those social problems are related to unemployment, and the list could just go on and on. We did see a number of beneficiaries within Nunatsiavut, and even outside Nunatsiavut that did benefit from the exploration that was going on up until the moratorium became effective.”
One of the companies planning to get back to work looking for uranium is Aurora Energy. Andrea Marshall, a spokeswoman for the company, said Aurora kept its eye on the consultations but didn’t become involved.
“Some of our people attended some of the sessions, because we have people who live in the north coast of Labrador, but we’ve done our own consultation separately. But for this particular initiative, we didn’t want to interfere with the government process.”
She said the company hasn’t done any drilling — even exploratory — since completing a program in 2008. “We decided that the focus for us would be to spend time with the community members to help them get a better understanding of uranium mining and how that can be done safely. And so we spent a lot of time travelling throughout the communities and meeting with people to talk about the developments and how uranium mining is done elsewhere around the world.”
Now the moratorium has been lifted, Aurora Energy will head into the planning phase for more exploration programs, Marshall said.