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Vol. 15, No. 22 Week of May 30, 2010
Providing coverage of Alaska and Northwest Canada's mineral industry

Mining News: Regulators kick-start Kiggavik review

Planning for first uranium mine in Nunavut’s Thelon Basin swings into high gear with environmental impact, feasibility analysis

Rose Ragsdale

For Mining News

Areva Resources Canada Inc. is working away at its plan to develop the Kiggavik Project in Nunavut within the next decade.

A subsidiary of France-based Areva, the world’s largest uranium producer with output of 22 million pounds in 2009, Areva Canada considers the 10-year plan very good news. That’s because a decade in the world of uranium mining is a relatively brief interlude.

“Uranium mining is a long-term business,” said Areva Canada executive Richard Gladue told a crowd at the 2010 Nunavut Mining Symposium in Iqaluit in April.

Gladue pointed out that exploration began in Nunavut’s Thelon Basin where Kiggavik is located in the early 1970s, and nearly 40 years later, explorers are just beginning to get a handle of the region’s geology and plan for construction of a mine.

Extensive exploration in the Thelon Basin started after the discovery of high-grade uranium deposits in the Athabasca Basin directly south in northern Saskatchewan.

Areva Canada owns interests in at least four uranium mines in Saskatchewan, including the McClean Lake Mine, which won an eight-year extension of its operating license in 2009 from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

Located 80 kilometers, or 50 miles, west of Baker Lake in the Kivalliq Region, Kiggavik is the largest and most advanced uranium project in Nunavut.

The Kiggavik property consists of 17 Crown mining leases totaling 3,972 hectares, or 9,811 acres. The Sissons site is situated about 17 kilometers southwest of Kiggavik and consists of 22 mining leases totaling 14,730 hectares, or 36,383 acres, and 18 mineral claims covering 16,695 hectares, or 41,237 acres, comprise the St. Tropez block to the north of the Kiggavik property. Collectively these three property blocks form the Kiggavik Project.

Considering the vastness of Nunavut, which is one-fifth of Canada’s land mass, the Kiggavik Project, ironically, is fairly close to Nunavut’s only operating mine, the recently commissioned Meadowbank gold mine near Baker Lake.

Complex geology

The geology is complex and all but the main Kiggavik deposit are blind, meaning the other deposits are not visible from the surface.

Peter Wollenberg, Areva Canada’s director of exploration and acquisition, said the Kiggavik Main Zone was discovered in 1974 by airborne survey, though it has a mineralized frost boil at the surface.

Structurally, the Kiggavik area is located between two regional fault zones, the Thelon fault to the north and the Sissons fault to the south. Uranium mineralization is localized near structures at the Kiggavik, Andrew Lake and End Grid deposits.

Uranium mineralization within the Kiggavik Project is hosted in exposed meta-arkose and meta-volcanic basement rocks close to the current margin of the unconformably overlying Thelon sandstone basin. The deposits are aligned in a northeast-southwest trending structural trend, the “Kiggavik Structural Trend,” which appears to continue to the south.

The Kiggavik deposits (End, Center and Main) are located 2 kilometers, or 1.24 miles, south of the fault contact between the Thelon Sandstone and the basement metasedimentary units. Uranium mineralization occurs in altered metasediments and to a lesser extent in altered granite and intrusive rocks. Cross-cutting diabase dikes are not mineralized. Alteration associated with mineralization is characterized by desilification and conversion of feldspar and mica to illite and sericite. The two major uranium minerals are pitchblende and coffinite.

The Sissons deposits (Andrew Lake and End Grid) are proximal to a major structure, oriented east-northeast at the Andrew Lake deposit and northeast at the End Grid deposit. Mineralization consists mainly of pitchblende in both deposits.

Within the Andrew Lake deposit, mineralization is controlled by the lithologies within steeply dipping shear zones. Higher grade mineralization is present as remobilized mineralization along fractures and tension faults. At End Grid, several sub-vertical faults have created horst and graben structures in the metasediments which control the location and extent of mineralized zones.

Wollenberg, who spent 13 seasons exploring the Thelon Basin, is credit with discovering the Andrew Lake deposit, which he named after his eldest son, and with other discoveries in the area, including a smaller deposit, which he dubbed “Jane,” after his wife.

Though the hard work of many individuals went into discovering uranium in the Thelon Basin, Wollenberg said he cannot forget that “luck” also played a significant role in making the discoveries.

The Kiggavik Project has a total resource that exceeds 130 million pounds of U308, and Areva Canada currently envisions producing at 114 million pounds of U3O8 from project. That’s enough uranium to meet 100 percent of Canada’s electricity needs for five years, Gladue said.

Potential also exists for expanding the resource in other targets at the Kiggavik site.

In 2009, drilling focused in 2009 on testing geotechnical features within the End Grid, Andrew Lake and Main Zone deposits. A detailed airborne gravity survey was completed over the project area. Environmental baseline and engineering studies in support of the feasibility study continued.

Wollenberg said Areva also will mount a strong exploration program again this year at Kiggavik.

Long review process

Eighteen months after submitting a proposal to regulators for developing an open-pit and underground mining operation with milling facilities at the Kiggavik and Sissons sites, Areva Canada is settling in for a review process expected to last until 2020.

The company wants to build three open-pit mines (East Zone, Center Zone, and Main

Zone) at Kiggavik and both an open-pit mine (Andrew Lake) and an underground mine (End Grid) at Sissons. Ore would be excavated, trucked to an ore stockpile and directed to a mill to produce yellowcake, a uranium concentrate.

A dock site at Baker Lake would serve as a transfer and storage facility for materials and supplies. A 90 – 100 kilometer, or 50-62-mile, haul road would be constructed to link the Baker Lake dock to the main project site. An airstrip would be constructed on site for the transport of both employees and materials. The airstrip also would be used to transport drums of uranium concentrate by air to southern Canada.

Areva Canada also envisions shipping a limited number of concentrate drums by barge during the open-water season. The concentrate would go to refineries to be made into fuel for nuclear reactors.

The Kiggavik project also would include the construction of an accommodation complex for employees, warehouse and maintenance facilities, fuel and explosives storage, water treatment plants, administration buildings, and roads.

Clean waste rock from the mines would be used as construction material or placed on the land in designated areas. Sub-economic mineralized waste rock would be temporarily placed on surface in managed stockpiles during operation and then backfilled in the mined-out open pits after mining is complete. Tailings resulting from the extraction of uranium from the ore would be treated and also deposited below ground in two mined-out open pits converted for use as tailings management facilities.

The Kiggavik project falls under the jurisdiction of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, and is therefore subject to the Nunavut Impact Review Board’s environmental assessment process rather than the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The commission will provide technical advice to the Nunavut Impact Review Board and participate in their process.

The proposal received a positive conformity determination from the Nunavut Planning Commission with respect to the Keewatin Land Use Plan. After extensive review, the Nunavut Impact Review Board last year recommended to Canada’s Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development that an environmental assessment of the proposal should be carried out. The NIRB cited various concerns about the project’s potential adverse impact on the environment.

INAC directed the review board in April to proceed under Part 5 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

“We expected the regulatory process to take two to five years,” Gladue said.

Community outreach

As part of Areva Canada’s ongoing feasibility study, the company held community engagement sessions in seven Kivalliq communities in April and May. The meetings were designed to help the review board draft guidelines for Kiggavik’s final environmental impact statement, a detailed study of every part of the project and its potential impacts on people and the environment.

Kivalliq residents have expressed keen interest in the project, especially its potential social, environmental and economic effects. Areva Canada has said the project would likely create 400 to 600 jobs worth at least C$200 million in wages over 25 years.

Kiggavik’s current resources will support annual production of up to 8.8 million pounds, or between 2,000 and 4,000 metric tons, of uranium (as U3O8 yellowcake) over a mine-life of about 17 years.

Areva Canada’s outreach efforts included conducting tours of its uranium mining operations in Saskatchewan for elders from Nunavut communities near Kiggavik. The tour and other outreach activities attracted favorable reactions from the community.In 2007 Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Inuit organization that oversees implementation of Nunavut’s land claims agreement, reversed its longstanding opposition to uranium mining in Nunavut with a new policy that supports uranium mining that is socially and environmentally responsible.

Inuit impact and benefit agreements, which must be signed before any mining projects take place in the territory, are enough to protect Nunavummiut from the down side of mining, NTI President Paul Kaludjak has said

Gladue, who is vice president, corporate social responsibility for Areva Canada, said a significant factor in the increasingly positive view of the Kiggavik Project is the company’s keen focus on quality control in its operations. In 2004, Areva Canada became the first uranium producer in Saskatchewan to become ISO 14001-certified for exploration activities. In 2009, Areva Canada earned the ISO 14001 certification for its exploration camp at Kiggavik.

Final EIS in 2016

Areva Canada is currently working on a draft environmental impact statement and initial feasibility study for the project, which it hopes to complete by early 2011.

“Then we expect to be answering lots of questions and providing additional information,” he said.

By year’s end 2013, Areva Canada would like to submit a final EIS for the project and move forward with developing and submitting licensing applications. By 2016, it wants to have developed and submitted a final feasibility study.

If the EIS passes its review and is accepted, construction on the project could begin in 2017 and the mine would start production in 2020.

Gladue said the latter timetable depends on market conditions.

The uranium market is expected to rebound as demand for non-carbon dioxide sources of power generation grows worldwide. Manufacturers of refrigerator-sized nuclear reactors, for example, are expected to soon seek approval from U.S. authorities to help supply the world’s growing electricity demand. World demand for electricity is likely to grow 2.7 percent a year from now until 2015 and then 2.4 percent annually until 2030, according to the International Energy Association.

The final green light for Kiggavik, however, must wait until all permits are in place, sometime in 2019 and 2020, according to Areva Canada.

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