You are here

NCCEH Student Project Award 2012 - R Moorhouse, G Habibi, D Richard, T Byambaa, T Fabro

Uranium Mining: Assessing the potential health impact of uranium mining in Nunavut

R Moorhouse, G Habibi, D Richard, T Byambaa, T Fabro
Simon Fraser University: Master’s in Public Health

Uranium mining has been proposed in the Kivalliq Region of Nunavut, 80km west of Baker Lake. Historically, the Nunavummiut have rejected uranium mining in the territory with 90% of the community voting against it in 1990 (McPherson, 2003). The question of uranium mining in Nunavut has recently re-opened with the Kiggavik mining project proposed by a French company, Areva Resources. Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI), the Inuit organization responsible for overseeing the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and for promoting mineral rights, has recently reversed its ban on uranium mining and is working on a new position and policy (Mining Watch Canada, 2011). The territorial government is also interested in fostering industrial development. The Kiggavik project is in the early stages of conducting an environmental impact assessment (EIA). Mainstream EIAs are often limited to exploring physical health rather than broader determinants of health. However, sensitive Northern ecologies and Aboriginal health inequities in Canada make it vital that EIA construct appropriate frameworks for evaluating the long-term effects of resource development in Inuit communities (Kryzanowski and McIntyre, 2011; Noble and Bronson, 2010). This paper reviews the pathways by which uranium mining affects population health from the societal level to the cellular level, assesses health risks, and offers prevention recommendations to minimize negative impacts of uranium mining in Nunavut. The intended primary users of this report are Nunavummiut themselves, who will hopefully have the opportunity to shape policies related to uranium mining in Nunavut and in developing prevention and risk mitigation strategies that are responsive to community concerns. In conclusion, the uranium mining proposal for the Kivalliq Region of Nunavut presents many concerns for involved stakeholders, including Nunavut’s government, Inuit communities, and public health practitioners. Furthermore, the susceptibility and vulnerability of the Northern Aboriginal context potentially puts Inuit communities near the Kivalliq region at risk for negative health impacts from mining development. Preventative strategies discussed involve the strengthening of regulatory and industrial standards, environmental monitoring, screening, and health care infrastructure. Since this report used a rapid assessment approach, further research is encouraged to understand the long-term health impacts of uranium mining development in Northern Canadian Inuit communities.