CANADIAN PERSPECTIVE: NWT-Nunavut plan to spur development

No sooner did this writer learn about the potential of small nuclear electricity generating plants to supply c...



No sooner did this writer learn about the potential of small nuclear electricity generating plants to supply cheap power to a remote mine site in northern Quebec, than alert reader Stephen Reford, president and CEO of Darnley Bay Resources, brought the following to my attention.


The NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines has a grand plan to open up the North to development, and part of the proposal includes four small, 50-MW nuclear power stations. These "micro-nukes" could be airlifted to the designated sites, installed underground, turned on, and refuelled in 30 years.


That is undoubtedly an over-simplification, but the idea is out there for consideration. The plants would be installed at Mary River to service the developing iron ore mine belonging to Baffinland Iron Mines; Baker Lake to service Agnico-Eagle's Meadowbank gold mine which is opening next year; the former Lupin gold mine near Contwoyto Lake; and at Howard's Pass near Selwyn Resource's zinc-lead project.


Whether or not such a plan could become reality is open to debate. "Nuclear" is a hot-button word for many of the world's ecological activists. The upside for industry is cheap power, but activists often oppose industry, especially if it includes mining.


There is more to the Chamber's plan than nuclear power. It covers development of infrastructure to service 31 potential new mines, including a new electrical grid, roads through he Slave Geological Province and Kivalliq region, and new towns to be established at the former Lupin gold mine and Mary River.


The suggestion that two new towns be created is almost as controversial as the nuclear proposal. Northern residents fear that they will be populated by residents of established settlements, leaving the older hamlets without a critical mass of population.


The Chamber's plan also includes a road from Stoney Rapids, SK, to Baker Lake, a railway from Mary River to the Foxe Basin (included in Baffinland's development plan), and a second railway from Howard's Pass to the Mackenzie River.


The costs of such an ambitious undertaking have not yet been estimated. No doubt they will be in the tens-of-billions. Spending that kind of money to encourage the development of new mines, is risky. There are no guarantees that metal demand will be high enough to support 31 new producers.


Nonetheless, I give the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines full marks for ambition. I hope the Chamber's patience is in good repair, because the goal won't be reached for decades.


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