The B.C. government has formed a new advisory committee to help guide it in the creation of a provincial critical minerals strategy, which Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation Minister Josie Osborne expects to be finalized and released in early 2024.
But the provincial strategy may disagree with a federal critical minerals strategy on one key point: It may not include uranium or thorium – the fuels used in nuclear power, which has been acknowledged by the federal government as an important part of the energy transition.
The federal government last year launched a Canadian critical minerals strategy, backed by $3.8 billion. The B.C. government is still working on its own provincial strategy, and has earmarked $6 million to it so far. First Nations are also working on a critical minerals strategy.
A new provincial advisory committee for the provincial critical minerals strategy will be co-chaired by Osborne and the First Nations Leadership Council. It will have 12 advisers representing First Nations, mining and exploration, environmental groups, research and academia, organized labour and financial sectors.
The federal strategy identifies 31 metals and minerals considered critical to the energy transition, including uranium, copper, nickel, cobalt, lithium, graphite, aluminum and rare earths.
The draft provincial strategy also includes 31 minerals, Osborne said, but uranium apparently isn’t one of them.
The B.C. government has had on-again, off-again moratoria on uranium mining and exploration since the early 1980s. The last moratorium was put in place in 2008.
Since then, many policymakers – including Canadian federal ministers – have come around to acknowledging that nuclear power is among the solutions needed to transition away from fossil fuels to lower carbon energy sources.
“As we go forward, it is critically important that like-minded nations come together to ensure a future that is sustainable,” Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said a year ago at the International Atomic Energy Agency Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power.
“Nuclear energy must be part of such a sustainable future. And Canada is here to help make that happen.”
But nuclear power needs metals like uranium or thorium, which explains why the federal critical minerals strategy includes uranium.
While Saskatchewan has Canada’s biggest uranium reserves, B.C. does have unexplored uranium and thorium deposits, though exploration companies have never been allowed to prove up those resources, let alone try to mine them.
Osborne confirmed the 31 minerals on B.C.’s critical minerals strategy currently does not include uranium or thorium.
“At this time it’s not on the list,” Osborne said.
It’s not clear whether the provincial moratorium might be reconsidered and uranium and thorium included on the list.
“Through the work of this critical mineral advisory committee, we’re going to be able to get advice from people on all of those opportunities,” Osborne told BIV News.
“I don’t know where exactly that’s going to go, and I don’t want to bias the process, if you will, because it’s really important that it be based on not just the science, in terms of what minerals we have, but our opportunities for getting them out of the ground in a responsible way and safe way.”
Asked how else the provincial strategy might differ from the federal one, Osborne said: “We’re going to see what the opportunities that we have here in British Columbia that are specific to B.C.’s geology -- to the minerals that we have in the ground here -- to the opportunities that we have in working with indigenous nations and with industry.”
The strategy is expected to address not just exploration and mining, but processing, smelting and manufacturing opportunities as well.
“Something I’m particularly excited about is the recycling opportunity,” Osborne said. “So, understanding what opportunities we have to recycle, for example, car batteries and literally kind of remine the minerals out of that and put them back into the value chain.”
Osborne acknowledged that permitting remains one of the most urgent most issues for the exploration and mining sector in B.C.
“We hear over and over from industry that permitting is one of the key issues, and so everything that we can do to reduce those times so that it makes it easier and more feasible for exploration companies to establish mining operations is going to help. So that's a key part of the critical minerals strategy as well."