President & CEO, NexGen Energy
With the global climate crisis fully apparent, and an energy crisis hot on its heels, development of Canada’s nuclear fuel resources is essential to keeping society running while meeting net-zero targets.
The winds are changing and a new sun is rising in the Canadian energy industry. Renewable generating capacity is joining the grid at a rapid pace, but the wind and the sun will not be enough to meet the aggressive decarbonization targets necessary in the face of the ongoing climate crisis. These technologies must be augmented by a reliable low-carbon source of baseload energy. In Canada, we’re fortunate to have an ideal solution to this conundrum buried right beneath our feet.
The reascendance of clean and reliable nuclear energy
There was a time when the word uranium could hardly be uttered without Canada being mentioned in the same breath. As recently as 2016, Canada produced more than a fifth of the global uranium supply. Today, we contribute less than half that . If Canada is to be a world leader in the fight against climate change, it’s past time for us to fall in love with nuclear energy again.
“As per the International Energy Agency,” says Leigh Curyer, President and CEO of NexGen Energy, “nuclear is the most reliable of all the low-carbon sources of energy. Without the contribution of nuclear energy, we’re just not going to meet the net-zero or decarbonization targets that governments around the world have set.”
The biggest discovery in the history of uranium
Fortunately, in Saskatchewan, the stage is set for a tremendous uranium renaissance. NexGen’s Rook I Project, located in the Southwest Athabasca Basin, is home to mineral resources containing over a hundred million kilograms of uranium. The Project, 100 per cent supported by local Indigenous communities, is currently in the final stages of permitting and, once operational, will stand to entirely transform the nuclear fuel landscape in Canada and worldwide. And its discovery is as extraordinary as its role in delivering the global energy transition.
“We went into an area where many were saying you can’t find economic uranium deposits,” says Curyer. “Not only did we find an economic uranium deposit, we have delivered new industry standards in the responsible development of resources. This is the world’s highest-grade project under development by size and, when in production, at full capacity it alone will account for approximately 23 per cent of the world’s uranium production based on 2022 world production. To put that in context, the entire nation of Saudi Arabia produces ~12 per cent of the world’s oil. There’s no doubt that Canada has the natural resources and the uranium deposits to become the world’s leading producer of nuclear fuel once again. But it’s going to rely on more assets like Rook I coming into production.”
Under the IBA, the Rook I Project will respect our large, vibrant Métis community and our rights and interests over the land, while providing much-needed resources and opportunities to Northern Region II. It will leave a substantial legacy that can continue after the mine has closed and the lands have been restored.
Still, despite the incredibly low carbon footprint of nuclear power, the will to develop Canadian uranium resources depends also on the environmental impact of the mine itself. Through innovative design and diligent planning, however, Rook I is being developed in a way that’s greener and more sustainable than anything seen before.
“This will be the largest uranium-producing project in Canadian history,” says Curyer. “But it’s also unique in that it will have a very small physical footprint, less than four square kilometers on the surface. The environmental profile is also extremely benign. That’s a function of not only the geological setting — Rook I is located in competent basement rock with clean metallurgy — but also the design parameters. For example, we’re going to be putting all the tailings generated from the Project back underground for the first time in Canadian history. For these reasons, this is going to be the most environmentally friendly mine in Canada, if not the world.”
Global impact, local buy-in
With projects like Rook I, questions of impact can’t be discussed only in terms of the big picture. It must include the local communities.
“We’ve developed the Project side-by-side with very transparent community engagement across all facets of development,” says Curyer. “Everyone who has visited the Project site has come away saying that it’s the most impressive development stage project they’ve ever seen in terms of our stewardship environmentally, technically, and socially. We have 100 per cent support from the community, which sets an entirely new standard that we believe will be the template going forward for responsible resource development in Canada and around the world.”
On June 15th, full Indigenous community support for NexGen’s Rook I Project was formalized with the signing of an Impact Benefit Agreement (IBA) with the Métis Nation – Saskatchewan Northern Region II and the Métis Nation – Saskatchewan. This historic agreement comes on the heels of similar agreements with the three other Indigenous communities in the local Project area: Clearwater River Dene Nation, Birch Narrows Dene Nation, and Buffalo River Dene Nation.
“It’s our understanding that this will be, by far, the largest Métis impact and benefit agreement in Canadian history,” stated Glen McCallum, President of the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan, in a press release. “Under the IBA, the Rook I Project will respect our large, vibrant Métis community and our rights and interests over the land, while providing much-needed resources and opportunities to Northern Region II. It will leave a substantial legacy that can continue after the mine has closed and the lands have been restored.”
From local to global, the Rook I Project is a linchpin in the essential decarbonization endeavor. The energy sector currently accounts for a whopping 75 per cent of global emissions, and that number is only set to rise with the ongoing electrification of heating and transportation. Nuclear energy is the one clear path forward and, in today’s geopolitical context, it has never been more important that nuclear fuel resources be developed here in Canada under dedicated responsible stewardship. As Curyer states in an open letter to the leaders of the G7, “Together, we can deliver energy security and achieve net-zero.”
Learn more at nexgenenergy.ca.