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Denison Mines begins EIA process at the Wheeler River Project

Published by , Assistant Editor
Global Mining Review,

Denison Mines Corp. (Denison) has announced that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment (SK MOE) have accepted the Provincial Technical Proposal and Federal Project Description (the Project Description) submitted by Denison for the in-situ recovery (ISR) uranium mine and processing plant proposed for the company's 90% owned Wheeler River Project (Wheeler River). Denison has executed a series of Memoranda of Understanding (the MOUs) with Indigenous communities in support of the advancement of the Project. 

David Cates, President and CEO of Denison commented: "Acceptance of the Project Description by the regulatory agencies is a critical first step for the development of the Wheeler River Project. The company is excited to continue working with Indigenous communities, regulatory agencies, and the public during the environmental assessment process – to achieve the company's objectives of advancing Wheeler River through the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), regulatory approval, and feasibility study processes. 

Successfully engaging, and entering into MOUs with local Indigenous communities, ahead of the initiation of the EIA process, signals strong support for the advancement of Wheeler River in future years. We look forward to building on the relationships that we've established over the past several years to develop a collaborative vision for the future of the Project."

Project Description

Acceptance of the Project Description is the first formal step to officially commence the EIA process in accordance with the requirements of both the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (Canada) (CEAA 2012) and The Environmental Assessment Act (Saskatchewan). The Project Description outlines the major components of the Project and the potential interactions with the environment.  The executive summary of the Project Description is available in English, French, Dene and Cree on the company's website at

The CNSC and the SK MOE are expected to carry out a coordinated Federal-Provincial EIA that will follow the spirit of the Canada-Saskatchewan Agreement on Environmental Assessment Cooperation (2005), to the extent possible. The cooperation agreement allows for the production of a single Environmental Impact Statement for the Project (the Project EIS), which is intended to present the findings of the EIA in accordance with the requirements of both levels of government.  A successful EIA process is critical to securing the approvals necessary to develop and operate a mine in Canada. 

The company identified the EIA process as a key element of the Project's critical path.  Accordingly, Denison plans to initiate various studies and assessments as part of the EIA process, which is intended to culminate in the preparation of the Project EIS. The EIA is a planning and decision-making tool, which involves predicting potential environmental effects throughout the project lifecycle (construction, operation, decommissioning and post-decommissioning) at the site, and within the local and regional assessment areas. The EIA objectives are to minimise or avoid adverse environmental effects before they occur and incorporate environmental factors into decision making processes. In addition to predictions made, effective monitoring programs will be developed based on results of the assessments and implemented as part of the ‘plan, do, check, act’ style system for continual improvement and adaptive management. The EIA work builds upon the comprehensive environmental baseline dataset Denison has prepared for the Project, and feedback collected from engagement activities completed to date.

Environmental advantages of the proposed Wheeler River Project

After careful consideration of the strong economic results produced by the Pre-Feasibility Study (PFS), prepared in accordance with NI 43-101 for the Project in late 2018, Denison and the Wheeler River Joint Venture (WRJV) approved plans to initiate the EIA process as well as the engineering studies and related programs required to advance the development of an ISR mining operation, highlighted by the high-grade Phoenix deposit, with an on-site processing plant (see Denison's news release dated 18 December 2018).  

As outlined within the Project Description, the company's evaluation of the ISR mining method has identified several significant environmental and permitting advantages – particularly when compared to the impacts associated with conventional uranium mining in Canada. The Project's ISR mining operation is expected to produce no tailings, generate very small volumes of waste rock, and has the potential for low volumes or possibly no water discharge to surface water bodies, as well as the potential to use the existing power grid to operate on a near zero carbon emissions basis. The proposed use of a freeze wall, to encapsulate the ore zone and contain the mining solution used in the ISR operation, streamlines the mining process, minimises interaction with the environment, and facilitates controlled reclamation of the site at decommissioning. Taken together, the Project has the potential to be one of the most environmentally friendly uranium mining and processing operations in the world. Owing largely to these benefits, engagement with local Indigenous communities, the public, and federal and provincial representatives, to date, has been encouraging regarding the use of ISR mining.

Community support

As reported within the Project Description, Denison has executed a series of MOUs, in support of the advancement of the Project, with a number of Indigenous communities who assert that the Project falls partially or entirely within their traditional territories, and where traditional land use activities are currently practiced within the local and regional area surrounding the Project.

These non-binding MOUs formalise the signing parties' intent to work together in a spirit of mutual respect and cooperation in order to collectively identify practical means by which to avoid, mitigate, or otherwise address potential impacts of the Project upon the exercise of Indigenous rights, Treaty rights, and other interests, as well as to facilitate sharing in the benefits that will flow from the Project.  The MOUs provide a process for continued engagement and information-sharing and establish a platform to identify business, employment and training opportunities for the parties with respect to the Project.

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