Some Baker Lake residents and organizations are expressing concerns over planned uranium exploration in Nunavut’s Thelon Basin next year.
The majority of comments submitted to the Nunavut Impact Review Board that were made public by the board have expressed concern or questions, with others writing in opposition. The review board makes recommendations to the federal minister of northern affairs about the economic and social impacts of proposed development projects in the territory.
NIRB opened up the commenting period to the public June 14; commenting closed July 5.
Some of the issues mentioned by community members include the potential negative impact on wildlife and water quality.
“This is our community, our life, our animals,” wrote resident Maggie Perkison.
In February, Forum Energy Metals Corp., an exploration company with market capitalization of $36.5 million, announced plans to set up a base camp for exploration and to conduct drilling at two sites in 2023 in the Thelon Basin, 100 kilometers west of Baker Lake.
The area that Forum acquired in February was previously held by Cameco Corp., which let its claims expire.
The 534 square kilometers of claims Forum acquired in that deal, combined with land it already had claims on, gives it 974 square kilometers of claims in that area.
Forum touted the area as “one of the largest undeveloped uranium deposits in the world” in a news release in February.
At a community consultation with Baker Lake residents on June 20, Forum outlined a helicopter exploration plan for this summer, according to a document submitted to NIRB by the Kivalliq Inuit Association.
That will include examining previous drilling sites, investigating the Aberdeen and Gerhard Lakes areas, and bringing equipment in preparation for a drilling campsite in 2023.
During that consultation, residents voiced more than 30 questions or concerns.
The impact uranium exploration will have on caribou migration was a common concern, as was the effect uranium exploration might have on Aberdeen and Gerhard Lake areas, which are a water source for wildlife and the community.
Other questions asked how the company intends to clean up and maintain the exploration site, how many local jobs will be offered, and how Forum will communicate with the community.
Forum president and chief executive officer Rick Mazur told Nunatsiaq News the company is working on responses to questions and concerns raised by local residents and organizations.
He said it will submit its responses by the July 21 deadline set by NIRB, and he would be willing to discuss them publicly after that.
As well as a town hall meeting, Mazur said Forum held meetings with the Baker Lake mayor and council, the local hunters and trappers organization and the Kivalliq Inuit Association.
He emphasized that Forum plans to do exploration, not actual uranium mining at this point.
Mazur said while uranium may carry safety-related stigma left over from the past, today uranium and the nuclear power it helps produce is a critical part of addressing climate change.
“It’s all about education [on uranium],” he said.
The Baker Lake Hunters and Trappers Association, the KIA and the hamlet of Baker Lake did not immediately respond to Nunatsiaq News’ request for comment.