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Australian government green-lights yellowcake sales to India

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Dave Sweeney − Nuclear-Free Campaigner, Australian Conservation Foundation

Civil society groups have condemned the Australian federal government's recent completion of contested uranium supply deals with both the United Arab Emirates and India.

The deal is in direct conflict with a finding in September by a government-controlled Parliamentary review that "Australian uranium not be sold to India" until unresolved safety, security, legal and nuclear weapons issues were addressed.

The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) recommended that no uranium sales take place at this time or under the current terms of the Australia-India Nuclear Co-operation Agreement.

It further argued that uranium must not be sold to India until key checks and balances including evidence of improved safety, monitoring and regulatory standards, the establishment of an independent Indian nuclear regulator and full separation of the military and civil dimensions of India's nuclear sector were put in place.

Despite this clear call for caution only two months later in late November the federal government issued a response that "the Government does not accept the Committee's recommendation that exports of uranium to India should be deferred" and further announced that all formalities had been completed so that 'uranium exports can begin immediately'.

The development, which was only briefly in the mainstream Australian media, drew anger from environment, faith, public health and peace groups who described the fast-tracking of uranium sales as a derelict and dangerous move that puts nuclear interests ahead of the national interest.

In the shadow of the Australian uranium-fuelled Fukushima nuclear disaster the countries under-performing but politically favoured uranium sector is under increased scrutiny and pressure with production rates, employment and share value all declining.

With both the industry and federal government now seeking to fast track new sales Australia increasingly risks being globally regarded as an irresponsible supplier of one of the riskiest substances on the planet, providing the source material for nuclear power, weapons and waste without proper scrutiny and against the recommendations of its own review processes.

Critics of the new sales deal have highlighted that India is actively expanding its nuclear arsenal and weapons capabilities through missile tests, increased uranium enrichment capacity and work around multiple weapons launch platforms, including advancing improved submarine launch capabilities.

The newly approved uranium sales treaty places no practical, political or perception barrier to any of these activities. Instead it effectively gives a green light to India's nuclear weapons ambitions.

This cavalier approach is not in the best interests of Australia or the region and undermines both collective safety and Australia's domestic legal and existing international treaty obligations, particularly under the provisions of the 1985 South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (the Treaty of Rarotonga).

Australia clearly has a role to play in providing clean energy solutions to assist in meeting India's energy aspirations, especially given the large number of rural poor remain living in energy poverty.

Using Australian expertise to facilitate India's renewable sector would allow the country to leapfrog the dangerous and dirty old energy sources that threaten public health and regional stability and provide fast, flexible and secure power that keeps village lights on and global Geiger counters off.

In fast-tracking poorly considered uranium sales and ignoring the non-partisan advice of its own expert parliamentary committee the government of new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has failed its first nuclear test and set itself up for escalated community contest on nuclear issues.



Plans to export uranium from Australia to India hit a hurdle

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
M.V. Ramana − Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University

Plans to export uranium from Australia to India may have hit their most significant hurdle so far in the form of Report 151 of the federal Parliament's influential Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT). After much deliberation and expert testimony, the Committee has put forward a number of recommendations that India has to abide by before Australian uranium is sold to India. The history of India's nuclear programme and the country's stand in various diplomatic fora suggest that there is little chance of India agreeing to these conditions.

The first three recommendations laid out in the JSCOT report are particularly important. The first and second recommendations pertain to India acceding to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and negotiating a fissile material cut-off treaty as well as a nuclear arms limitation treaty for the Indian subcontinent region. The third recommendation is focused on the safety and efficacy of the safeguards and standards of nuclear facilities in India arguing that a series of key checks and balances must be put into practice and proven to work before any uranium sales. If taken seriously, these recommendations will make it all but impossible for the Australian government to sell any uranium to India.

Diplomatically, for nearly two decades successive Indian governments have opposed India signing the CTBT, offering only a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing. By definition such an arrangement can also be unilaterally reversed. As noted in the JSCOT report, the Indian government is unlikely to change this position. There has been a long-standing demand from several quarters – strategists, former defense personnel and even some retired chairmen of the Atomic Energy Commission – to conduct one or more nuclear weapon tests. In 2009 a senior member of India's Defense Research and Development Organization revealed that the yield of the thermonuclear device tested in 1998 was "much lower than what was claimed" and argued that this meant, "India should not rush into signing the CTBT".

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1172 calls "upon India and Pakistan immediately to stop their nuclear weapon development programmes, to refrain from weaponisation or from the deployment of nuclear weapons, to cease development of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons and any further production of fissile material for nuclear weapons". Nevertheless, both countries continue to pursue all of these activities and have resisted calls for limiting their nuclear and missile programs.

Of particular relevance to the question of uranium exports is the continued production of fissile material for nuclear weapons by both India and Pakistan; cessation of these activities in the near term seems politically infeasible. In India, an important source of demand for fissile material is the expanding naval wing of India's nuclear triad. India is in the process of deploying its first nuclear submarine, Arihant; a second nuclear submarine is reportedly ready and a third vessel under construction. These submarines are said to be designed to carry up to 12 ballistic missiles, with a range of 700 to 750 kilometers, each armed with one nuclear warhead. Naval planners have called for ballistic missiles of at least intermediate range (3,000 - 5,500 km). The first test of a 3000 km range submarine-launched ballistic missile was carried out last year. This February, the government approved the construction of six nuclear powered attack submarines. To fuel all these submarines, India is setting up a new uranium centrifuge plant (expelling villagers who live in the area in the process) in order to significantly expand its enrichment capacity. Implementing these plans will require substantial quantities of plutonium and enriched uranium; it is hard to imagine the Indian government negotiating-in good faith-a treaty to ban their production.

There are also good reasons to be worried about the risk of severe accidents at Indian nuclear facilities. Most nuclear facilities in the country have experienced small or large accidents. Fortunately none of these has been catastrophic. Many were caused by inattention to recurring problems or other warnings and, to the extent that those responsible for safety have tried to fix them, they have not always been successful. Disturbingly, the latest reactor to be commissioned, Koodankulam-I, a Russian designed light water reactor, has had a spotty operating record since it became critical. Safety concerns have been at the heart of intense local opposition in various parts of India to nuclear power plants.

An added concern, highlighted by the JSCOT report, is the absence of an independent regulator. In the last few years, two government bodies in India, the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee and the Auditor General, have recommended that the government effect a true separation, but to date this has not been done. The lack of separation between the regulator and the regulated industry is not an accident, but a choice made and preserved by the nuclear establishment over decades. The attempt to restructure the regulatory system in response to widespread concern following the Fukushima accident has been marred by various weaknesses, including that the planned process calls upon the head of the nuclear establishment to play a part in appointing members.

Given the catastrophic consequences of a nuclear accident in India, let alone the use of nuclear weapons, the need to end nuclear fissile material production and significantly improve the safety and regulation of nuclear facilities is urgent. JSCOT's recommendations are the minimum precautions required before any Australian uranium is exported. The question now is will the Australian government meet its responsibilities?

The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties report is posted at:

[Reprinted from Online Opinion,]

Former IAEA Chair takes aim at Australia-India nuclear deal

Ron Walker, a former Australian diplomat and former Chairman of the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, writes:

Besides its collateral damage to Australia's security, commercial and diplomatic interests, the soon-to-be ratified Australia-India nuclear cooperation agreement notably fails to meet its objectives.

The aim was to give a green light to Australian uranium exports to India. Two objectives were to be served, one commercial, the other diplomatic. A vast new market was to be opened for Australian uranium exporters and India was to be convinced Australia was a reliable partner, worthy of a closer relationship.

Instead, as has been exposed in the Joint Parliamentary Committee, the Australian side gave away so much in the course of the negotiations on safeguards against nuclear proliferation and left open such loopholes for Australian uranium to end up in bombs or otherwise help their manufacture, that this proposed treaty does not do what Australia's 23 existing nuclear safeguards treaties do.

Unlike them, it does not give Australian exporters legally watertight guarantees that the trade will be subject to effective controls against misuse of the uranium in ways Australian companies neither want nor could afford. So many deficiencies in the proposed treaty have been exposed it amounts at best, not to a greenlight but to a blinking yellow one. Not 'all is guaranteed safe' but 'proceed carefully at your own peril'. And JSCOT's main recommendation is a red light: no uranium exports to be permitted for the foreseeable future.

How Australian companies will respond and what risks they will be prepared to take remains to be seen, but no responsible government would have placed them in this situation.

The Indian Government has every reason to feel it too has been dudded. Instead of a reliable supply, there is a big element of precariousness. As for a demonstration of the Australian Government's trustworthiness as a close partner, the contrary impression is conveyed of a bumbling inability to manage our own end of the deal.

[Reprinted from

Uranium mining companies in Africa: The case of Paladin Energy in Malawi

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Anica Niepraschk

Poor work conditions with a high exposure to radiation, such as when workers are forced to continue working despite an insufficient supply of dust masks at the mine. The use of flammable chemicals in dangerous quantities resulting in a flash fire causing the deaths of two people and serious injuries to another. A workshop accident causing the death of another worker. Several road accidents resulting in two more fatalities and in a spill of highly radioactive yellowcake, concentrated uranium, near the mine. The failure of a tailings dam causing the release of radioactive tailings into the environment and the ‘controlled' release of tailings without public information on the residual contamination of the discharged water after treatment into the nearby Sere river which partly serves as drinking water source for local residents and runs into Lake Malawi, which provides a source of water and fish for millions of people.

These are just some of the reported incidents at the Kayelekera uranium mine in Malawi. The mine is located in the north of the country, close to the Tanzanian border and started operation in 2009. It is the country's first and only uranium mine and is operated by Paladin Africa, a 100% subsidiary of Paladin Energy, which is based in Perth, Western Australia. Since February 2014, Kayelekera has been placed in care and maintenance due to continuing low uranium prices and the high production cost of the mine. According to Paladin, this would make operation of the mine uneconomical and cost the company millions to run each year.

Paladin is the first of a large number of Australian junior exploration and mining companies trying to tap into Africa's huge uranium deposits. They are attracted not only by the large deposits but also by less sophisticated environmental and health regulations and legislative frameworks. Many African countries do not have appropriate mining and radiation legislation in place to minimise the risks of mining and uranium mining in particular, which is still relatively new to the continent and has unique radiological risks. Furthermore, tax and royalties' regulations as well as other legislation to ensure the host country benefits economically from the mining operations are often inadequate.

Junior companies which do not have the operational experience, financial and other capacity to comply with stricter regulations in the experienced uranium mining environments of Europe, North America and Australia increasingly try to use these circumstances to pave their way into the uranium market by venturing into Africa. This is well illustrated by Paladin's CEO and Executive Director John Borshoff, who in 2006 stated that: "The Australians and the Canadians have become over-sophisticated in their environmental and social concerns over uranium mining, the future is in Africa."

This attitude puts at risk the people and environment in the targeted African countries.

Holding Paladin accountable

In the case of Kayelekera, civil society has been enormously concerned over the impacts of the mine and tries to hold Paladin accountable. Access to the site and key monitoring documents like environmental reports and radiation doses for workers and the public were and are requested, but with the exemption of one site visit have continuously been denied or subject to avoidance strategies. Paladin, however, claims to comply with international reporting, health and safety as well as environmental standards. While Paladin recently talked about stewardship and sustainability at the Australian Uranium Conference1 in Perth, it is worth having a look at the actual reality of its operations.

In a 2012 monitoring trip, followed up by a recent visit to Kayelekera, CRIIRAD2, a French NGO specialising in independent radiation monitoring, found uranium levels in the Sere river downstream from the mine of 0.042 mg/l, exceeding the WHO guideline of 0.030mg/l and 194 times higher than upstream from the mine. There is no information publicly available on how radiation levels are monitored on and off site and on the measured individual exposure levels of workers. This is against both the official company policy and international labour laws. There is no indication as to what treatment or compensation is available to workers who suffer from long-term health impacts.

The tailings dam is located on a site with negative geological and hydrogeological characteristics such as seismic activity, fault lines, high rainfall and strong erosion and is not subject to proper confinement. Furthermore there is no clear plan available as to how run-off water will be handled after mine closure. These are just a few issues CRIIRAD raised on the significant impacts of Kayelekera on the health and safety of workers and on the environment.

Moreover, Paladin's operations fail to contribute to Malawi's economic development. Malawi is ranked the world's poorest country. Yet, as a recent report3 by ActionAid states, the country loses out on US$43 million revenue from the Kayelekera operation due to a number of royalties and tax reductions stipulated in the mining agreement between Paladin Africa and the government of Malawi. According to the report, Paladin is also avoiding outstanding payments through transfer pricing. This refers to the company making tax-free payments to the Netherlands, where it has a holding company without staff, and thereby running Kayelekera on thin capitalisation. Paladin Africa thereby gains excessive interest reductions, further stripping Malawi of any economic benefit derived from the mining operations.

Operations like this damage not only the lives and livelihood of people in African countries but also the reputation of Australian mining companies abroad. The poor health and safety track record of Australian companies operating in Africa, including numerous fatalities4, is heavily criticised in a new report by an International Consortium of Investigatory Journalists.5 The report notes that some of the practices used in Africa would be impermissible and unthinkable in Australia.

Australian Senate Inquiry

In 2011, the results of a Senate Inquiry into Australia's relationship with African countries were published.6 Mining companies' operations in Africa were highlighted as having a good record in establishing policies on the protection of human rights and the environment but their implementation is often limited. So are corporate and social accountability. It was also found that this is a particular challenge with junior companies.

The Senate Inquiry recommended that the Australian government should undertake steps for Australia to become an Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative7 (EITI) compliant country and to continue to promote EITI principles and other corporate social responsibility instruments. EITI is a coalition of governments, companies and civil society groups, investors and international organisations, which has developed a global standard that promotes revenue transparency on a country level. It aims to strengthen governance by improving transparency and accountability over payments and revenues in the extractives sector.

Although there is a broad support for developing countries joining EITI, few industrialised countries have. In 2001, under a Labor Party government, Australia stated that it would implement an EITI pilot, which was completed last year. A multi-stakeholder group analysed the report and found that moving to implementation of EITI candidature would be appropriate. This result is currently being considered by the conservative Liberal/National government.

Becoming EITI compliant would set a good example for other countries to follow as well as build trust in Australia's exploration and mining operations overseas. A further recommendation by the Senate Inquiry was to establish and fund a special unit tasked with developing a regulatory framework model for the mining and resources sector, which African countries could consider adopting according to their requirements. This recommendation has so far not been pursued.

It is clear that essential conditions for local benefits from mining operations, like the experience and frameworks to negotiate equitable agreements, regulation, legislation and the mechanisms for local oversight and regulatory enforcement have to be developed and implemented in the respective host countries. This includes, for example, modernising mining and revenue laws, the administration of land title and mining registries and the creation of publicly available databases.

There is an ongoing need for civil society engagement with and oversight of Australian mining companies operating overseas. Time and time again problems are identified not by governments or regulators, but by workers and civil society. That will not change even if Australia does become EITI compliant, but EITI compliance would help facilitate such engagement and thereby pave the way to improved accountability and transparency. Achieving a responsible and accountable mining culture, however, takes much more than that and is an ongoing challenge − both at home and abroad.

Anica Niepraschk is a political scientist specialised in governance issues and civil society participation. She has a working background in Zambia, the DR Congo and Botswana and currently follows governance issues in the nuclear sector.









Thor-bores and uro-sceptics: thorium's friendly fire

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green − Nuclear Monitor editor

Many Nuclear Monitor readers will be familiar with the tiresome rhetoric of thorium enthusiasts − let's call them thor-bores. Their arguments have little merit but they refuse to go away.

Here's a thor-bore in full flight − a science journalist who should know better:

"Thorium is a superior nuclear fuel to uranium in almost every conceivable way ... If there is such a thing as green nuclear power, thorium is it. ... For one, a thorium-powered nuclear reactor can never undergo a meltdown. It just can't. ... Thorium is also thoroughly useless for making nuclear weapons. ... But wait, there's more. Thorium doesn't only produce less waste, it can be used to consume existing waste."1
Thankfully, there is a healthy degree of scepticism about thorium, even among nuclear industry insiders, experts and enthusiasts (other than the thor-bores themselves, of course). Some of that 'friendly fire' is noted here.


The World Nuclear Association (WNA) notes that the commercialization of thorium fuels faces some "significant hurdles in terms of building an economic case to undertake the necessary development work." The WNA states:

"A great deal of testing, analysis and licensing and qualification work is required before any thorium fuel can enter into service. This is expensive and will not eventuate without a clear business case and government support. Also, uranium is abundant and cheap and forms only a small part of the cost of nuclear electricity generation, so there are no real incentives for investment in a new fuel type that may save uranium resources.

"Other impediments to the development of thorium fuel cycle are the higher cost of fuel fabrication and the cost of reprocessing to provide the fissile plutonium driver material. The high cost of fuel fabrication (for solid fuel) is due partly to the high level of radioactivity that builds up in U-233 chemically separated from the irradiated thorium fuel. Separated U-233 is always contaminated with traces of U-232 which decays (with a 69-year half-life) to daughter nuclides such as thallium-208 that are high-energy gamma emitters. Although this confers proliferation resistance to the fuel cycle by making U-233 hard to handle and easy to detect, it results in increased costs. There are similar problems in recycling thorium itself due to highly radioactive Th-228 (an alpha emitter with two-year half life) present."2

A 2012 report by the UK National Nuclear Laboratory states:

"NNL has assessed the Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) of the thorium fuel cycle. For all of the system options more work is needed at the fundamental level to establish the basic knowledge and understanding. Thorium reprocessing and waste management are poorly understood. The thorium fuel cycle cannot be considered to be mature in any area."3

Fiona Rayment from the UK National Nuclear Laboratory states:

"It is conceivable that thorium could be introduced in current generation reactors within about 15 years, if there was a clear economic benefit to utilities. This would be a once-through fuel cycle that would partly realise the strategic benefits of thorium.

"To obtain the full strategic benefit of the thorium fuel cycle would require recycle, for which the technological development timescale is longer, probably 25 to 30 years.

"To develop radical new reactor designs, specifically designed around thorium, would take at least 30 years. It will therefore be some time before the thorium fuel cycle can realistically be expected to make a significant contribution to emissions reductions targets."4

Thorium is no 'silver bullet'

Do thorium reactors potentially offer significant advantages compared to conventional uranium reactors?

Nuclear physicist Prof. George Dracoulis states: "Some of the rhetoric associated with thorium gives the impression that thorium is, somehow, magical. In reality it isn't."5

The UK National Nuclear Laboratory report argues that thorium has "theoretical advantages regarding sustainability, reducing radiotoxicity and reducing proliferation risk" but that "while there is some justification for these benefits, they are often over stated." The report further states that the purported benefits "have yet to be demonstrated or substantiated, particularly in a commercial or regulatory environment."3

The UK National Nuclear Laboratory report is sceptical about safety claims:

"Thorium fuelled reactors have already been advocated as being inherently safer than LWRs [light water reactors], but the basis of these claims is not sufficiently substantiated and will not be for many years, if at all."3

False distinction

Thor-bores posit a sharp distinction between thorium and uranium. But there is little to distinguish the two. A much more important distinction is between conventional reactor technology and some 'Generation IV' concepts − in particular, those based on repeated (or continuous) fuel recycling and the 'breeding' of fissile isotopes from fertile isotopes (Th-232>U-233 or U-238>Pu-239).

A report by the Idaho National Laboratory states:

"For fuel type, either uranium-based or thorium-based, it is only in the case of continuous recycle where these two fuel types exhibit different characteristics, and it is important to emphasize that this difference only exists for a fissile breeder strategy. The comparison between the thorium/U-233 and uranium/Pu-239 option shows that the thorium option would have lower, but probably not significantly lower, TRU [transuranic waste] inventory and disposal requirements, both having essentially equivalent proliferation risks.

"For these reasons, the choice between uranium-based fuel and thorium-based fuels is seen basically as one of preference, with no fundamental difference in addressing the nuclear power issues.

"Since no infrastructure currently exists in the U.S. for thorium-based fuels, and processing of thorium-based fuels is at a lower level of technical maturity when compared to processing of uranium-based fuels, costs and RD&D requirements for using thorium are anticipated to be higher."7

George Dracoulis takes issue with the "particularly silly claim" by a science journalist (and many others) that almost all the thorium is usable as fuel compared to just 0.7% of uranium (i.e. uranium-235), and that thorium can therefore power civilization for millennia. Dracoulis states:

"In fact, in that sense, none of the thorium is usable since it is not fissile. The comparison should be with the analogous fertile isotope uranium-238, which makes up nearly 100% of natural uranium. If you wanted to go that way (breeding that is), there is already enough uranium-238 to 'power civilization for millennia'."5

Some Generation IV concepts promise major advantages, such as the potential to use long-lived nuclear waste and weapons-usable material (esp. plutonium) as reactor fuel. On the other hand, Generation IV concepts are generally those that face the greatest technical challenges and are the furthest away from commercial deployment; and they will gobble up a great deal of R&D funding before they gobble up any waste or weapons material.

Moreover, uranium/plutonium fast reactor technology might more accurately be described as failed Generation I technology. The first reactor to produce electricity − the EBR-I fast reactor in the US, a.k.a. Zinn's Infernal Pile − suffered a partial fuel meltdown in 1955. The subsequent history of fast reactors has largely been one of extremely expensive, underperforming and accident-prone reactors which have contributed far more to WMD proliferation problems than to the resolution of those problems.

Most importantly, whether Generation IV concepts deliver on their potential depends on a myriad of factors − not just the resolution of technical challenges. India's fast reactor / thorium program illustrates how badly things can go wrong, and it illustrates problems that can't be solved with technical innovation. John Carlson, a nuclear advocate and former Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, writes:

"India has a plan to produce [weapons-grade] plutonium in fast breeder reactors for use as driver fuel in thorium reactors. This is problematic on non-proliferation and nuclear security grounds. Pakistan believes the real purpose of the fast breeder program is to produce plutonium for weapons (so this plan raises tensions between the two countries); and transport and use of weapons-grade plutonium in civil reactors presents a serious terrorism risk (weapons-grade material would be a priority target for seizure by terrorists)."8

Generation IV thorium concepts such as molten salt reactors (MSR) have a lengthy, uncertain R&D road ahead of them − notwithstanding the fact that there is some previous R&D to build upon.4,9

Kirk Sorensen, founder of a US firm which aims to build a demonstration 'liquid fluoride thorium reactor' (a type of MSR), notes that "several technical hurdles" confront thorium-fuelled MSRs, including materials corrosion, reactor control and in-line processing of the fuel.4

George Dracoulis writes:

"MSRs are not currently available at an industrial scale, but test reactors with different configurations have operated for extended periods in the past. But there are a number of technical challenges that have been encountered along the way. One such challenge is that the hot beryllium and lithium "salts" – in which the fuel and heavy wastes are dissolved – are highly reactive and corrosive. Building a large-scale system that can operate reliably for decades is non-trivial. That said, many of the components have been the subject of extensive research programs."10

Weapons proliferation

Claims that thorium reactors would be proliferation-resistant or proliferation-proof do not stand up to scrutiny.11 Irradiation of thorium-232 produces uranium-233, which can be and has been used in nuclear weapons.

The World Nuclear Association states:

"The USA produced about 2 tonnes of U-233 from thorium during the 'Cold War', at various levels of chemical and isotopic purity, in plutonium production reactors. It is possible to use U-233 in a nuclear weapon, and in 1955 the USA detonated a device with a plutonium-U-233 composite pit, in Operation Teapot. The explosive yield was less than anticipated, at 22 kilotons. In 1998 India detonated a very small device based on U-233 called Shakti V."2

According to Assoc. Prof. Nigel Marks, both the US and the USSR tested uranium-233 bombs in 1955.6

Uranium-233 is contaminated with uranium-232 but there are ways around that problem. Kang and von Hippel note:

"[J]ust as it is possible to produce weapon-grade plutonium in low-burnup fuel, it is also practical to use heavy-water reactors to produce U-233 containing only a few ppm of U-232 if the thorium is segregated in "target" channels and discharged a few times more frequently than the natural-uranium "driver" fuel."12

John Carlson discusses the proliferation risks associated with thorium:

"The thorium fuel cycle has similarities to the fast neutron fuel cycle – it depends on breeding fissile material (U-233) in the reactor, and reprocessing to recover this fissile material for recycle. ...

"Proponents argue that the thorium fuel cycle is proliferation resistant because it does not produce plutonium. Proponents claim that it is not practicable to use U-233 for nuclear weapons.

"There is no doubt that use of U-233 for nuclear weapons would present significant technical difficulties, due to the high gamma radiation and heat output arising from decay of U-232 which is unavoidably produced with U-233. Heat levels would become excessive within a few weeks, degrading the high explosive and electronic components of a weapon and making use of U‑233 impracticable for stockpiled weapons. However, it would be possible to develop strategies to deal with these drawbacks, e.g. designing weapons where the fissile "pit" (the core of the nuclear weapon) is not inserted until required, and where ongoing production and treatment of U-233 allows for pits to be continually replaced. This might not be practical for a large arsenal, but could certainly be done on a small scale.

"In addition, there are other considerations. A thorium reactor requires initial core fuel – LEU or plutonium – until it reaches the point where it is producing sufficient U-233 for self-sustainability, so the cycle is not entirely free of issues applying to the uranium fuel cycle (i.e. requirement for enrichment or reprocessing). Further, while the thorium cycle can be self-sustaining on produced U‑233, it is much more efficient if the U-233 is supplemented by additional "driver" fuel, such as LEU or plutonium. For example, India, which has spent some decades developing a comprehensive thorium fuel cycle concept, is proposing production of weapons grade plutonium in fast breeder reactors specifically for use as driver fuel for thorium reactors. This approach has obvious problems in terms of proliferation and terrorism risks.

"A concept for a liquid fuel thorium reactor is under consideration (in which the thorium/uranium fuel would be dissolved in molten fluoride salts), which would avoid the need for reprocessing to separate U-233. If it proceeds, this concept would have non-proliferation advantages.

"Finally, it cannot be excluded that a thorium reactor – as in the case of other reactors – could be used for plutonium production through irradiation of uranium targets.

"Arguments that the thorium fuel cycle is inherently proliferation resistant are overstated. In some circumstances the thorium cycle could involve significant proliferation risks."13

Sometimes thor-bores posit conspiracy theories. Former International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Hans Blix said "it is almost impossible to make a bomb out of thorium" and thorium is being held back by the "vested interests" of the uranium-based nuclear industry.14

But Julian Kelly from Thor Energy, a Norwegian company developing and testing thorium-plutonium fuels for use in commercial light water reactors, states:

"Conspiracy theories about funding denials for thorium work are for the entertainment sector. A greater risk is that there will be a classic R&D bubble [that] divides R&D effort and investment into fragmented camps and feifdoms."4

Thor-bores and uro-sceptics

Might the considered opinions of nuclear insiders, experts and enthusiasts help to shut the thor-bores up? Perhaps not − critics are dismissed with claims that they have ideological or financial connections to the vested interests of the uranium-based nuclear industry, or they are dismissed with claims that they are ideologically opposed to all things nuclear. But we live in hope.

Thor-bores do serve one useful purpose − they sometimes serve up pointed criticisms of the uranium fuel cycle. In other words, some thor-bores are uro-sceptics. For example, thorium enthusiast and former Shell executive John Hofmeister states:

"The days of nuclear power based upon uranium-based fission are coming to a close because the fear of nuclear proliferation, the reality of nuclear waste and the difficulty of managing it have proven too difficult over time."15

1. Tim Dean, 16 March 2011, 'The greener nuclear alternative',
3. UK National Nuclear Laboratory Ltd., 5 March 2012, 'Comparison of thorium and uranium fuel cycles',
4. Stephen Harris, 9 Jan 2014, 'Your questions answered: thorium-powered nuclear',
5. George Dracoulis, 5 Aug 2011, 'Thorium is no silver bullet when it comes to nuclear energy, but it could play a role',
6. Nigel Marks, 2 March 2015, 'Should Australia consider thorium nuclear power?',
7. Idaho National Laboratory, Sept 2009, 'AFCI Options Study', INL/EXT-10-17639,
8. John Carlson, 2014, submission to Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, Parliament of Australia,
9. Oliver Tickell, August/September 2012, 'Thorium: Not 'green', not 'viable', and not likely',
10. George Dracoulis, 19 Dec 2011, 'Thoughts from a thorium 'symposium'',
12. Jungmin Kang and Frank N. von Hippel, 2001, "U-232 and the Proliferation-Resistance of U-233 in Spent Fuel", Science & Global Security, Volume 9, pp.1-32,
13. John Carlson, 2009, 'Introduction to the Concept of Proliferation Resistance',
14. Herman Trabish, 10 Dec 2013, 'Thorium Reactors: Nuclear Redemption or Nuclear Hazard?',
15. Pia Akerman, 7 Oct 2013, 'Ex-Shell boss issues nuclear call', The Australian,

Stand Against Uranium: The James Bay Crees' fight against uranium development

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Grand Chief Dr. Matthew Coon Come − Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees

My people, the Eeyouch or James Bay Crees, call our lands Eeyou Istchee, which means "The People's Land". Our territory is located in northern Quebec, on the eastern shore of James Bay and Hudson's Bay. For thousands of years, we have lived off our lands by hunting, fishing and trapping. Our family hunting grounds cover the entire area of Eeyou Istchee. Our people have used and continue to use the entire territory of Eeyou Istchee to practice our traditional way of life.

For thousands of years, our identity has been shaped by our relationship with the land and all that that it contains. Today, we face the very real challenge of maintaining our culture and identity in the context of intensifying development on our territory. Our people continue to practice many aspects of our traditional way of life. We have also fought to ensure that we are active participants in many of the development activities occurring on our lands.

Recently, my people have confronted the challenge of uranium development in Eeyou Istchee. This is not the first time development has threatened our territory and our way of life, and I am certain it will not be the last. It is a challenge that we have taken very seriously.

My people have concluded that the risks associated with uranium development represent an unacceptable threat to our very way of life in Eeyou Istchee. Uranium mining could cause severe and irreparable harm to my people and the animals and lands that sustain us. Radioactive and toxic emissions and wastes from uranium mining will remain with our future generations for hundreds of thousands of years. These risks, and the burdens they create for generations to come, are unacceptable to us.

We have drawn a hard line against uranium development in Eeyou Istchee. The Cree Nation's position is that our consent and participation is required for any and all development on our land. And we have said NO to uranium.

Uranium mining in Eeyou Istchee

The Cree Nation's consideration of and eventual opposition to uranium mining began in 2006 in the community of Mistissini, Quebec, one of the nine communities of the James Bay Cree Nation. In that year, Strateco Resources, a junior mining company, commenced an intensive program of uranium exploration on the family hunting grounds of the Mistissini community in the Otish Mountains. In 2008, Strateco announced its plans to undertake advanced exploration efforts at a site in the Otish mountains at the crest of two major watersheds that bring water to Mistissini and throughout Eeyou Istchee. Eventually, if the results of the advanced exploration project were positive, Strateco intended to build a large-scale uranium mine and mill at this site.

When confronted with this prospect, Mistissini's leaders consulted experts in uranium as well as experts in the land and traditional practices. Town hall meetings were held. The community was polled and the decision was made: Mistissini would not support uranium mining on its territory.

In 2010, the Cree Nation of Mistissini passed a resolution asking the government of Quebec to impose a moratorium on uranium mining on its territory. In 2012, the Grand Council of the Crees – the political organization representing all the Cree communities and people – passed a unanimous resolution banning uranium development throughout all of Eeyou Istchee.

The Cree Nation did not make this decision lightly. We are not anti-development. We support and participate in sustainable and responsible resource development within our territory, in mining, forestry, hydroelectric development and tourism. But uranium is a special case.

Cree consent is required for all development activities on our land. We must be a real partner in development projects in our territory. Our rights must be respected, appropriate measures must be taken to protect the environment, and social and economic benefits must flow to our communities. Most importantly, we cannot support development that is incompatible with Cree values or our way of life.

The Cree Nation's Stand Against Uranium

While there is much that concerns the Cree Nation about uranium development in Eeyou Istchee, there are three areas that are particularly troubling.

First of all, uranium development presents serious health and environmental impacts. We are particularly concerned about the risk of contamination of our water, through a leak, spill or breach. As a result of the river diversions and flooding that accompanied hydroelectric development in Eeyou Istchee, the water bodies in our territory are heavily interconnected As a result, contamination of the water could have far-reaching, disastrous effects on our communities.

For Crees, our health and the environment are deeply interconnected. It is impossible to speak of environmental impacts without also speaking of the health implications that they present. Land on which we can hunt and trap without fear, healthy animals and plants, and uncontaminated drinking water are the building blocks for Cree health. Uranium development presents serious risks to the environment, to our health and, as a result, to our traditional lifestyle.

Secondly, uranium tailings present unique long-term hazards which in turn create long-term technological and institutional challenges that cannot be ignored. Uranium tailings must be monitored for thousands of years. This time period defies human understanding and generates significant uncertainties and unknowns. It makes long-term stewardship needs impossible to predict and therefore impossible to adequately plan for. At the end of the day, is the local population that truly bears the risks associated with these hazards.

Finally, the inadequacy of the financial guarantees that mining companies are required to set aside for uranium mining projects are a source of concern. This systemic deficiency raises serious questions about who will be responsible for technological failures and unforeseen events if and when they do occur.

The financial guarantees required by Canadian and Quebec regulatory bodies to cover monitoring, remediation and unforeseen events are completely insufficient to deal with the long-term obligations imposed by uranium tailings management. Under the approach adopted by provincial authorities and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Canada's nuclear industry watchdog, the evaluation of future costs is considered over decades not centuries, let alone millennia. There is therefore inadequate funding set aside to remedy the damages that could occur, reinforcing the concern that the local communities will ultimately bear the financial risks along with health and environmental risks.

Standing together against uranium

The Cree Nation has fought hard against uranium development on our land, and our refusal to back down has paid off. In 2013, the Government of Quebec refused to grant Strateco a permit to begin advanced uranium exploration efforts. The Government's decision was largely due to the fact that the project lacked social acceptability amongst the Crees, the population that would be most directly impacted by the project.

The Government of Quebec has also mandated the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement (BAPE), Quebec's environmental watchdog, to hold public hearings and undertake a review of the industry. The Government declared a moratorium on uranium mining until the BAPE issues its recommendations.

The BAPE held public hearings throughout the province, including in Eeyou Istchee, from May to December 2014. In December 2014, as the BAPE hearings were coming to a close in Montreal, a group of Cree youth marched over 850 km through Northern Quebec, braving the elements of the Canadian winter, to hand-deliver this message to BAPE: the Cree Nation stands united in its opposition to uranium development in Eeyou Istchee, our traditional territory.

We have said from the start that once Quebecers learned the true facts about uranium development, they will join the Cree Nation in our stand against uranium. The Cree Marchers experienced this firsthand: in every community they passed through, Quebecers came out to support their position and march with them. The BAPE hearings also proved this to be true. During the BAPE's public hearings, the opposition to uranium mining in the province was overwhelming. In fact, the BAPE received more submissions regarding uranium that it had ever received for any environmental hearing it had ever conducted. It has never been more obvious that Quebec as a whole stands with the Cree Nation in our opposition to uranium.

We are grateful for the support of our allies. This support has never been more crucial. In May 2015, the BAPE will be issuing its recommendations to the Government of Quebec, and our stand must remain unwavering. Two upcoming events in Quebec will help keep uranium in the spotlight: the World Uranium Symposium will be held in Quebec City from April 14 to 16, and the International Uranium Film Festival will be held in Quebec City from April 15 to 25, with additional screenings in Mistissini (April 18) and Montreal (April 23).

Now, more than ever, the Cree Nation, its allies and all of Quebec must stand united against uranium development. There are considerable benefits associated with development, but the challenges associated with uranium mining are numerous and cannot be ignored. For the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee, the long-term management of uranium tailings and the stewardship obligations imposed on future generations are fundamentally incompatible with Cree values, culture and way of life. For this reason, we have taken a Stand Against Uranium. We invite you to stand with us.

Matthew Coon Come is the Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees, the political body representing the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee (Quebec). He is known throughout Canada and internationally for his tireless leadership and advocacy to protect and advance the aboriginal, treaty and other human rights of indigenous peoples in Canada and internationally.

Stand Against Uranium:

Grand Council of the Crees:


World Uranium Symposium

The World Uranium Symposium will be held in Quebec City, Canada, from April 14 to 16. The Symposium will address issues arising from the life cycle of uranium, from mining to its end-uses and byproducts for civilian or military purposes. Both scientific and community-based, the Symposium is organized around the following themes: health, environment, economy, ethics, governance, human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples.

The Symposium is jointly organized by Physicians for Global Survival, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Nature Quebec, the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, and the Coalition pour que le Québec ait meilleure mine. It also receives support from the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (Swiss chapter), the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Sustainable Development Institute, the Cree Nation of Mistissini, MiningWatch Canada, and a number of other local, national and international partners. 

Uranium Mining Issues: 2014 Review

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Peter Diehl − WISE Uranium

1. Uranium price
2. Uranium exploration projects
3. Uranium mine development projects
4. Alternate uranium recovery projects
5. Issues at operating uranium mines
6. Abandoned mines issues
7. Decommissioning issues
8. Legal and regulatory issues
9. Uranium trade and foreign investment issues
10. This and that

1. Uranium price

During the first quarter of the year, UxC's weekly spot price (in US$/lb U3O8) remained close to its first value of $34.65. It then fell to approx. $28, where it remained during June and July. Subsequently it increased until reaching a sharp peak at $44.00 on Nov. 17, from where it then declined to its year-end value of $35.50, not very far from the value at the beginning of the year.

So, once again, the uranium price remained below the lower bound of approx. US$60−70 per lb U3O8 required for the profitability of many of the mine projects currently under consideration or under development, sending the already battered uranium industry into some sort of hibernation mode − not counting the cackle of all kinds of charlatans around the November peak.

Oddly enough, though, other than in the preceding years, we noticed no further companies removing the term "uranium" from their names. On the contrary, one company even added the U-word to its name, which then became "NX Uranium, Inc.". This makes, however, sense, if the name is correctly read as "Nix Uranium, Inc."

2. Uranium exploration projects

Moratoria/Bans (establishing/extending/keeping):

− In British Columbia, Canada, a settlement agreement was closed on the C$30 million government payoff for the Blizzard deposit claim, pre-existing to the province's anti-uranium policy.
− In Québec, the inquiry commission looking into the impacts of proposed uranium mining held hearings all over the province. A temporary moratorium remains in effect until the commission's task is completed.
− Meanwhile, Strateco Resources Inc. claimed C$190 million in damages from the Québec government for losses with its Matoush uranium exploration project.
− In the US, a court denied a mining company in May the payout for the loss of expected profits over the Grand Canyon uranium mining ban imposed in 2012. In September, a federal court upheld the ban; the mining industry appealed that ruling, however.

Moratoria/Bans (lifting/weakening):

− In Denmark, a demonstration was held in Copenhagen in August against proposed uranium mining in Greenland. In Greenland, the opposition called in November for a referendum on the country's uranium policy, after the newly elected government had lifted the 25-year old zero-tolerance policy in a narrow vote in October 2013. An opinion polled showed that a majority want such a referendum.

Exploration issues:

− In Colorado, US, future development of uranium mines in the San Miguel Basin could pose a threat to an already small and vulnerable population of Gunnison sage-grouse, according to findings of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
− In Bolivia, a uranium discovery was announced in the Santa Cruz department.
− In Sweden, uranium exploration ended in northern Billingen, Västergötland, while a court upheld the license for uranium exploration in Oviken, Jämtland.
− In the Czech Republic, the Ministry of Environment again rejected uranium exploration at Osecná-Kotel in North Bohemia.
− In Slovakia, the renewal of the Kurisková exploration licence was approved in January 2014 despite opposition. In February, the Kosice City Council and the Kosice Region Council called the government to withdraw from a Memorandum of Understanding on the development of the Kurisková uranium mine. In March, 300 people held a protest against the proposed mine. In December, the company requested an extension of its exploration licence for rare earth metals; opponents suspect that this is to circumvent a local referendum on the project. With newly enacted legislation (see below), such a referendum has become mandatory for the approval of any uranium mines in the country.
− China announced the discovery of more uranium deposits around the Daying uranium mine in its Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
− In Nepal, a radiometric ground survey located a potential uranium deposit in the Upper Mustang region near the China border.
− In Australia, the government of New South Wales invited six companies to apply for the right to explore for uranium in the state, one of which oddly enough denied any interest in uranium. A 26-year-old ban on uranium exploration had been repealed by the NSW parliament in 2012.
− In Queensland, Paladin Energy Ltd announced a massive write-down on its Valhalla and Mt Isa North properties, although the state had ended its decades-long ban on uranium mining in 2012.

Environmental opposition against uranium exploration:

− In Northern Saskatchewan, Canada, a group of Dene Trappers blocked a highway in November, fighting for their livelihood and the environment and protesting against mineral and oil exploration.
− In Québec, a Regional Directorate of Public Health committee report confirmed worries about environmental impacts of proposed uranium mining in the Sept-Îles area. In September, First Nations in Québec reaffirmed their opposition to uranium mining, and in November, Northern Québec Cree held a 850 km trek to protest against uranium mining.
− In south-western Poland, a community continues the fight against uranium exploration at Kopaniec despite an unfavourable court decision.
− In Mongolia, a demonstration was held in Ulaanbaatar in June against uranium extraction in the country.

Positive preliminary economic assessments:

Positive preliminary economic assessments, preliminary feasibility studies, or scoping studies were announced for the following uranium mine projects − however, all of them assume selling prices way above current market prices:

− Anderson uranium mine / heap leach project in Arizona,
− Slick Rock uranium and vanadium mine project in Colorado,
− Laguna Salada near-surface uranium deposit in Argentina (the company boldly claimed that "the project would have a healthy operating margin even at current uranium prices", although a uranium price of $60/lb U3O8 is assumed and the ore grade is extraordinarily low at 0.0051% U)
− Reguibat mine project in Mauritania,
− Madaouéla mine project in Niger,
− MMS Viken multi-metal mine project in Sweden,
− Carley Bore in situ leach (ISL) project in Western Australia.

3. Uranium mine development projects

A license application for a new uranium mine was filed for the following project:

− Burke Hollow ISL mine project in Texas.

Mining/milling licenses were issued for:

− Ross ISL mine project in Wyoming.
− Dewey-Burdock ISL mine project in South Dakota.

Two mine development projects were temporarily suspended due to the unfavourable market situation (in addition to those already suspended in previous years):

− Cameco's Millennium mine project in Saskatchewan,
− Areva's Imouraren mine project in Niger, where Areva lost confidence in the uranium reserves (previously announced 'proven reserves' were degraded to 'probable reserves').

Two uranium mine development projects were abandoned or terminated due to the unfavourable market situation:

− Energy Fuels' Lower Gas Hills open pit / heap leach mine project in Wyoming,
− Wildhorse Energy Ltd's Mecsek Hills mine project in Hungary.

Projects currently under development, or being prepared for development:

In Canada:

− In January, the French anti-nuclear network 'Sortir du nucléaire' handed French Ministers a petition with 30,000-signatures against Areva's Kiggavik mining project near Baker Lake, Nunavut. In October, Areva submitted its Final Environmental Impact Statement on the project.
− In September, a lawsuit against the deal concluded by Cameco and Areva with the northern community of Pinehouse in Saskatchewan was dismissed; the deal provides an estimated C$200 million in benefits to the community.
− After years of delays, ore production finally began at Cameco's Cigar Lake high-grade mine in Saskatchewan in March, but had to be suspended again in July due to a freezing problem; ore production resumed in September.

In the USA:

− In July, the Navajo Nation Council reversed a standing committee resolution that allowed Uranium Resources Inc. access to its Church Rock / Crownpoint ISL mine site in New Mexico. In November, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) put the license renewal for the project on hold to give the company time to complete its discussions with the Navajo Nation Council.
− In February, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved Cameco's Gas Hills ISL project in Wyoming.
− In March, Energy Fuels Inc. announced plans for an open pit mine with heap leaching at Juniper Ridge in Wyoming.
− In April, the NRC issued an operating licence for the Ross ISL project in Wyoming; in July, an NRC Board announced its decision to grant intervenors a hearing.
− In April, the Nichols Ranch ISL mine in Wyoming started operation; the uranium-loaded resin is sent to Cameco's Smith Ranch plant for further processing.
− In April, the NRC issued a license for Powertech Uranium Corp.'s Dewey-Burdock ISL mine project in South Dakota. The Oglala Sioux Tribe then invoked federal treaties and international agreements against the mine, and an NRC Board issued a temporary stay against the operating license. In August, an NRC Board ruled that Powertech must release geological survey data for the mine. In October, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assessment found radioactive contamination at abandoned uranium mines in the project area of the proposed Dewey-Burdock uranium mine (see below).
− The Forest Service issued a favourable draft decision for the La Sal mine in Utah.
− In July, Energy Fuels Inc. announced the sale of its Piñon Ridge uranium mill license and several mining assets in Colorado. In September, a Denver district judge suspended the license to build the Piñon Ridge uranium mill again, as the state's hearing process did not comply with the requirements.
− The EPA partly withdrew the aquifer exemption for the Goliad ISL mine project in Texas.

In Central/South America:

− In April, public comment was invited on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Itataia uranium/phosphate mine project in Santa Quitéria, Ceará, Brazil. In July, the hearings on the project were postponed.
− In March, protestors against a uranium mining project in Quebrada de Alipán blocked a highway in La Rioja, Argentina; they blamed the project for a water shortage experienced in the area.
− An Environmental Impact Study was presented for the Sierra Pintada mine in Mendoza, Argentina.
− Residents filed an appeal to the Supreme Court to prevent mining in the UNESCO World Heritage area of Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy, Argentina.

In Africa:

− The National Environmental Management Council (NEMC) of Tanzania has decided that the Madaba project which is located in the World Heritage Selous Game Reserve does not require a full Environmental Impact Assessment.
− Denison Mines further wrote down the value of its Mutanga mine project in Zambia.
− The Letlhakane mine in Botswana will be opened in 2016, according to the Botswana Chamber of Mines.
− In January, public comment was invited on the Environmental Impact Assessment for the heap leach pilot plant at Bannerman Resources' Etango mine project in Namibia. In September, contracts were awarded for the heap leach pilot plant.
− Areva announced that it has no plans to restart its mothballed Trekkopje mine project in Namibia.
− In May, the Chinese-owned Husab mine (formerly Rössing South) in Namibia was commissioned. Cameco Corp. has shown interest in buying offtake output from the mine. In August, construction of a sulfuric-acid plant was to start at the mine.
− Deep Yellow Ltd plans to develop the Tubas Sand mine in Namibia as an interim standalone project, until its Omahola project would come on stream. For the latter, heap leaching is being eyed now as the preferred development strategy.
− Construction of Forsys Metals Corp's Valencia mine in Namibia is to start in early 2015.
− In May, the first consignment of uranium was shipped from Sibanye Gold Ltd's Ezulwini plant in South Africa.

In Europe:

− In Greenland, the plan for an overseas refinery for the rare earth / uranium concentrates to be produced at the proposed Kvanefjeld mine was abandoned. Greenland Minerals and Energy Ltd now considers that the most suitable location for the hydrometallurgical refinery is in Greenland, adjacent to the mine and concentrator.
− The Czech government announced in March that it will consider reopening the Brzkov mine in the Vysocina region. In September, a demonstration was held against the re-opening of the mine. A petition against the mine project was supported by over 1,500 people. In December, the Czech Cabinet approved the preparation of a study on possible uranium mining in Brzkov.− In Spain, a mining licence was granted in April for Berkeley Resources' Retortillo deposit in Salamanca. In December, 115,000 signatures against the project were handed over to the Ministry of Industry, and a protest march was held in Retortillo.

In Asia:

− Jordan plans to develop its first uranium deposit in 2015; exports are expected by 2020.
− In India's north-eastern state of Meghalaya, neighbouring villages urge the start of uranium mining in Kylleng-Pyndeng-Sohiong, while regional parties and the District Council oppose the project.
− In Andhra Pradesh, groundwater contamination is expected to increase beyond standards once mining commences at the Lambapur-Peddagattu project, researchers say.

In Australia:

− Areva is suing the Australian government over the inclusion of the Koongarra uranium deposit in Kakadu National Park (Northern Territory).
− The Queensland government invited tender for reopening the abandoned Mary Kathleen uranium mine.
− Cameco submitted a new referral with a doubled production rate for its Yeelirrie mine project (Western Australia).
− Comments were invited on the Environmental Scoping Document for Energy and Minerals Australia Ltd's Mulga Rock mine project (Western Australia).
− The licensing process was initiated for the Millipede and Lake Maitland extensions of Toro Energy Ltd's Wiluna mine project in Western Australia. Wiluna Martu Elders have condemned the move to expand the yet unrealised Wiluna mine plan into a much larger uranium precinct spanning 100 km and which will destroy ecologically sensitive lake systems.
− Cameco's Kintyre mine project in Western Australia obtained state environmental approval; environmental groups filed an appeal (which was rejected in January 2015).
− The Beverley Four Mile ISL mine in South Australia, majority-owned by General Atomics' subsidiary Quasar Resources, started operation, while operations at the nearby Beverley Four Mile mine were put on hold due to low prices.

4. Alternate uranium recovery projects

By-product recovery of uranium from mining primarily for other ores:

− Uranium recovery is planned for the Charley Creek Rare Earth Project in the Northern Territory (Australia).
− Talvivaara's Sotkamo mine in Finland, where uranium recovery is planned as a by-product from nickel mining, still struggled with the aftermath of the major gypsum pond leak that occurred in 2012. In February, an investigation report on the pond leak blamed the company and the authorities. Cameco announced that it wrote down its investment in the uranium recovery at the mine. In March, a serious release of hydrogen sulphide occurred at the mine's processing plant. In April, Talvivaara received a (not yet final) environmental permit decision for the uranium recovery at the mine. In September, criminal proceedings started after reports that Talvivaara mine directors ignored toxic-leak warnings before the gypsum pond spill. In November, Talvivaara Sotkamo announced that it will apply for bankruptcy.

5. Issues at operating uranium mines

Mine expansion projects delayed because of the low uranium price:

− The development halt of new well fields at the Willow Creek ISL mine in Wyoming continues for another year.
− The Stage 4 expansion of Paladin Energy's Langer Heinrich mine in Namibia was postponed.

Planned expansion of existing uranium mines and mills, with licensing processes at various stages:

− In October, the McClean Lake mill produced the first uranium concentrate from ore mined at the Cigar Lake mine in Saskatchewan.
− Uranerz Energy submitted a license application for the Jane Dough ISL project as an extension of its Nichols Ranch mine in Wyoming.
− At the Caetité site in Bahia, Brazil, a new uranium mining area is in the licensing process.
− The Krasnokamensk mine in Russia starts a project for heap leaching and block in-situ leaching of low-grade deposits.
− New deposits are under development for in situ leaching at the Vitimsky mine in Buryatia, Russia.
− The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Ranger 3 Deeps Underground Mine in the Northern Territory, Australia, was made available for comment.
− A heap leach trial to achieve lower processing cost at the Olympic Dam (Roxby Downs) mine expansion project in South Australia obtained an environmental waiver.

Natural forces affecting operating uranium mines and mills:

− In March, the Inkay ISL mine in Kazakhstan suspended operation due to floodings.

Environmental issues at operating uranium mines and mills:

− In February, a spill continued unnoticed for nine days at Uranium One's Willow Creek ISL mine in Wyoming. In December, the NRC issued a Notice of Violation to Uranium One USA Inc. for failures at the mine.
− In May, an injection well at Uranerz Energy's Nichols Ranch ISL mine in Wyoming was found to be still in use after failing a mechanical integrity test in February. In October, the state regulator issued a Notice of Violation over two spills at the mine. Uranerz Energy Corp. agreed to pay a US$5,000 penalty.
− A freeboard exceedance of holding ponds at Ur-Energy's Lost Creek ISL mine in Wyoming went unnoticed for six weeks.
− In April, the Grand Canyon Trust sued Energy Fuels over excessive radon emissions and other environmental issues at the White Mesa uranium mill in Utah. In October, the Ute Mountain Tribe and environmentalists opposed the relaxation of EPA uranium mill tailings standards, affecting the mill site. In December, the group Uranium Watch released findings of unacceptably high levels of radon emissions at the site.
− Conservation groups urged the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to suspend operations at the Pinenut mine near the Grand Canyon in Arizona in response to groundwater contamination.
− Argentina's National Nuclear Energy Commission (CNEA) was fined for negligence in avoiding discharges from the idle Sierra Pintada uranium mill site in Mendoza.− In November, NGOs warned Paladin Energy against a planned release of tailings water from the Kayelekera uranium mill in Malawi into a river used for drinking water.
− In January, Rio Tinto's Rössing mine in Namibia resumed operation after the leach tank failure in December 2013.
− In March, it became known that the provisions of Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) for the rehabilitation of its Ranger mine in the Northern Territory, Australia, may be insufficient. Operation of the open pit mine was halted due to resource depletion in December 2012, while the mill is still processing stockpiled ore. In April, ERA parent company Rio Tinto refused a guarantee to cover the rehabilitation cost.
− In June, processing operations of stockpiled ore resumed at the Ranger uranium mill after the December 2013 leach tank collapse. In July, an interim report concluded that the burst had caused no environmental impact. In October, the Australian government declared an independent expert report into the Ranger leach tank failure confidential and declined to follow its recommendation on a review of the regulatory framework.

Uranium transport incidents:

− In February, uranium ore concentrate spilled in a transport accident near Paladin's Kayelekera mine in Malawi.
− In July, a uranium ore concentrate transport from Kazakhstan to France provoked protests during transit across Germany. In August and November, activists organised blockades of trains carrying uranium ore concentrate in and near Hamburg.

Miners' health issues at operating uranium mines and mills:

− The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a Notice of Violation for three license violations at Ur-Energy's Lost Creek ISL mine in Wyoming, involving worker exposure to yellowcake dust, among others.
− A health review of miners who worked in the 1970s at Rio Tinto's Rössing mine in Namibia is still at the scoping stage. Miners from this period are said to be dying of cancers and unexplained illnesses.
− The excessive radiation doses to workers at the Rozná underground mine in the Czech Republic increased in 2013 even further, with an average annual effective dose of 8.2 mSv and a maximum annual effective dose of 35.6 mSv.

Residents' health issues at operating uranium mines and mills:

− In August, a court ordered India's Union government to prepare a report on the radiation situation around the Jaduguda mine in Jharkhand, after concerns about radiation impacts with the local population had repeatedly been raised.

Supply issues at operating uranium mines and mills:

− Niger launched the construction of a coal-fired power plant to supply cities and uranium mines in the north of the country with electricity.
− Areva's Trekkopje desalination plant in Namibia is to supply water to three other uranium mines.
− Rio Tinto's Rössing mine in Namibia is to construct a desalination plant of its own; a Draft Social and Environmental Impact Assessment was released for public comment.

Shutdown, downsizing, etc. of operating mines and mills due to poor economics:

− In July, the production rate at Ur-Energy's recently opened Lost Creek ISL mine in Wyoming almost halved due to the low uranium spot price.
− In May, Paladin Energy's Kayelekera mine in Malawi suspended production until the uranium price recovers. In October, residents opposed the reopening of the mine under the current development agreement due to lack of benefit for the local district.
− In June, Rio Tinto's Rössing mine in Namibia announced job cuts and reduced production targets.
− The closure of the depleted Rozná mine in the Czech Republic is now foreseen for 2017.
− The complete production from the years 2014 and 2015 at the newly opened Four Mile ISL mine in South Australia is to be stockpiled in expectation of higher uranium prices.

Other issues at operating uranium mines and mills:

− In May, protests were held at Cameco's Annual General Meeting in Canada, criticising the collaboration agreements with the English River First Nation and the Northern Village of Pinehouse Lake, the company's alleged tax evasion scheme via its Swiss subsidiary, and possible ill-effects of mining byproducts and waste on the environment in the long term.
− On September 8, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a Notice of Violation to Uranium One for failure to follow procedures established to prevent pressure buildup in drums filled with yellowcake at the Willow Creek ISL mine in Wyoming. The procedures had been established after pressure build up in drums filled at Willow Creek had led to a contamination incident at Cameco's Blind River, Ontario, refinery on June 23, 2012.
− Only one day later, on September 9, pressure buildup in a drum filled with yellowcake at Willow Creek again caused a contamination incident at a conversion plant − this time in Metropolis, Illinois.
− In October, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the processing of yellowcake from the mothballed South Australian Honeymoon mine at the processing plant of the Willow Creek ISL mine.
− In March, Black Range Minerals' plan to acquire Uranium One's idle Shootaring Canyon uranium mill in Utah failed. The group Uranium Watch then called for the decommissioning of the mill after 30 years of "standby". Uranium One requested a six-month license extension and postponement of obligation to begin decommissioning for the idle mill. In August, Anfield Resources Inc. announced it will acquire the mill.
− In July, the Utah state regulator approved the processing of residues from the Midnite Mine in Washington as alternate feed at Energy Fuels' White Mesa mill. The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe filed a Petition to Intervene against this approval.
− In February, the New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the designation of Traditional Cultural Property status to Mount Taylor in New Mexico.
− In November, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission renewed the license for Cameco's Crow Butte ISL mine in Nebraska.
− In January and February, hundreds protested against Areva in Niger. In October, Niger finally renewed the uranium production agreement with Areva after protracted negotiations.
− The newly opened Chinese-owned Azelik mine in Niger is struggling with high cost and low output.
− In October, contract workers claimed unfair treatment at Paladin Energy's Langer Heinrich mine in Namibia.
− In April, cost reductions were announced for Russia's flagship Krasnokamensk mine which is unprofitable due to the low uranium price and decreasing productivity. In August, the mine started processing of subeconomic ore dumps for residual uranium. In November, two mines at Krasnokamensk were to resume operations after implementation of cost reductions and use of acid block in situ leaching.
− A joint venture between Kazakhstan's national atomic company Kazatomprom and Uranium One plans to launch scandium production at uranium mines in Kazakhstan.
− In September, mining at the Jaduguda mine in Jharkhand, India, stopped following a ministry order; the license had already expired in 2007. In December, the clearance for mining work was issued.
− In May, ore transport from the Bagjata mine in Jharkhand, India, was suspended, after rebels set a truck with ore on fire.
− India's government cited "public interest" for not divulging annual uranium production figures.
− Anti-uranium mining activist Salku Chaki was murdered on August 4. His body was found in the UCIL Turamdih colony in Jharkhand, India.
− In November, protests were held outside the annual meeting of BHP Billiton, owner of the Olympic Dam copper/uranium mine in South Australia.

6. Abandoned mines issues

− In November, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission held a hearing on the licence application for the decommissioning of the former Gunnar mine site in Saskatchewan. A decision has not yet been published.
− A US EPA preliminary assessment found radioactive contamination at abandoned uranium mines in the project area of the proposed Dewey-Burdock mine in South Dakota (see above). The EPA is planning to conduct a site investigation to determine if hazardous substance releases from the abandoned mines are impacting sensitive environments.
− In April, the US Department of Justice announced that, from a settlement with Anadarko Petroleum Corp., the Navajo Nation is to get more than US$1 billion for the clean-up of about 50 abandoned uranium mines. The settlement gives another US$179 million for the clean-up of the abandoned Riley Pass mine in South Dakota. In November, the settlement received final approval from a federal judge.
− In May, a US Government Accountability Office report found that not all targets were met for the clean-up of a few uranium mining and processing sites that is currently being performed on the Navajo Reservation by several federal agencies. In August, the US EPA ordered the very first phase of clean-up work at four abandoned uranium mines in the Mariano Lake and Smith Lake areas on the Navajo Nation.
− While relocation of Tailing No. 3 − one of the abandoned uranium mill tailings piles at Mailuu Suu in Kyrgyzstan − is ongoing, Tailing No. 5, the pile found to contribute the largest amount of uranium seepage to the Mailuu-Say river, is still unsecured. At Tailing No. 12, a government inspection found that two houses were built on top of the pile.
− Remediation of the abandoned Shekaftar uranium mine dumps in Kyrgyzstan is "most urgent", according to a scientific study. Several low-grade ore heaps and waste rock piles are located along the Sumsar-Say River. One heap is exposed to the erosion of the river throughout the year, while the bases of the others become flooded annually. In addition, a giant landslide is developing on the mountain slopes around the former uranium mine.
− In Angren, Uzbekistan, local markets sell meat from cattle grazing on uranium mill tailings left abandoned in the mountain gorges between Angren and Yangiabad.
− Australia's Northern Territory is seeking A$200 million from the Federal Government to rehabilitate the abandoned Rum Jungle mine site.

7. Decommissioning issues


In the USA:

Again, not all is going well with the current groundwater restoration efforts at uranium mill tailings sites in the USA:

− Attenuation of radium concentrations in groundwater is not functioning as predicted at Umetco's former Gas Hills uranium mill site in Wyoming, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) found.
− The NRC is not convinced that the Shirley Basin South uranium mill tailings impoundment in Wyoming is not leaking.
− A groundwater contaminant plume continues to spread off-site from the ANC Gas Hills uranium mill tailings site in Wyoming. In view of insufficient reclamation funds, an extension of the site boundary is envisaged as a creative low-cost response.
− Natural flushing of the contaminated aquifer at the Riverton site in Wyoming may not be accomplished in the 100-year regulatory time frame.
− The uranium concentration in a groundwater monitoring well at the Durango uranium mill tailings disposal site in Colorado still exceeds the standard, by a factor of two.
− The NRC again demanded resumption of groundwater monitoring at the Durita uranium mill site in Colorado, finding that the state regulator's permission to Hecla Mining Co. to discontinue the groundwater detection monitoring program and plug the wells was premature. The NRC demands Hecla install new monitoring wells.
− The uranium concentration in a groundwater monitoring well at the Grand Junction uranium mill tailings disposal site in Colorado increases further, now exceeding the standard three-fold.
− Contaminated alluvial and bedrock groundwater continues to leave the former Bluewater uranium mill site in New Mexico. However, a Department of Energy (DOE) report found that the uranium plume "does not present an imminent or foreseeable risk to community water systems".
− The DOE presented a plan for an improved active groundwater remediation at the former Monticello uranium mill tailings site in Utah, replacing the failed natural attenuation scheme.
− The DOE discontinued the groundwater pump and treat scheme at the Tuba City uranium mill tailings site in Arizona due to ineffectiveness.

Other USA decommissioning issues:

− The clean-up plan for the former Midnite mine in Washington is under review by the EPA. The work is on track to begin next year.
− On May 7, 2014, the Colorado legislature approved a measure to ensure the clean-up of 30 years of groundwater contamination at Cotter Corp.'s closed Cañon City uranium mill. On August 27, 2014, heavy rains caused a mudflow at the mill site. An ATSDR Public Health Assessment report identified health hazards for residents living near the site, in particular from drinking water from private wells and from eating lots of home-grown fruits and vegetables.
− Any uranium mill tailings found in ongoing road construction in Durango, Colorado, have to be re-buried under the roadway, according to a special management plan.
− In September, the state approved a modified discharge permit for Homestake Mining Co's Grants uranium mill site in New Mexico; community members have opposed the renewal and have repeatedly advocated for relocating the tailings pile.
− A study published in June showed that contaminants added to the soil by irrigation of waste waters at the Grants reclamation site are expected to migrate deeper almost unattenuated. In December, Homestake issued a closure plan for the irrigation areas used at Grants for the disposal ("land application") of groundwater with elevated levels of uranium and selenium.
− The Moab tailings relocation project in Utah received additional funding, allowing for an uninterrupted operation. As of the end of July, a total of 7 million short tons of mill tailings (44% of the initial amount) had been removed from the DOE Moab Project Site. On Nov. 20, a rockslide hit the train line used for the tailings relocation project − again.

In Europe:

− In March, a family was evacuated from their home in the Limousin area in France; the home was built with uranium mill tailings backfill and was used for childcare; later it was decided to completely pull it down.
− In July, the government released an inventory of dispersion and usage of waste from former uranium mines in the Limousin area.
− Uranium mine waste rock on a camping ground in the Pays-de-la-Loire region in western France was found to cause gamma dose rates up to more than 20 times background.
− A 3.7 MW solar park was constructed on the site of the former l'Écarpière uranium mill in western France.
− In May, about 70 miners from the former uranium mines at Urgeiriça in Portugal held a vigil in front of the official residence of the Prime Minister, again demanding compensation for the families of those who died from occupational diseases.
− The top plateau of Wismut's reclaimed Trünzig uranium mill tailings pile in Thuringia, Germany, is now being used for grazing by a horse breeder. The vegetative cover of the deposit thus remains open land, as requested by the Nature Conservation Authority.
− Groups in Thuringia have asked the state government for more efforts to locate the whereabouts of uranium mine waste material used for road construction and other purposes in Thuringia during the GDR era. So far, 370,000 tonnes have been located and disposed of, while the total amount used was around 1.9 million tonnes.
− The €6.5 billion in funds provided by the German government for the decommissioning of Wismut's uranium mines turned out to be not sufficient to cover longterm maintenance. It is expected that the total cost until 2040 will rise to €7.1 billion.
− According to Wismut's environmental monitoring, radon concentrations in part of the town of Niederschlema in Saxony have increased above the 80 Bq/m3 target value as a result of rising radon release rates from reclaimed waste rock piles. The target value includes the background radon concentration and is meant to assure a 1 mSv/a dose limit for the public. The increase of the release rates from the reclaimed piles has been observed over several consecutive years already. Wismut provides no discussion nor any proposals for remedies of the situation. According to the Saxon state regulator, the doses actually reach 3−5 mSv/a in certain local areas.
− The new European Union Basic Safety Standards are in parts less stringent than currently applicable regulations in the framework of the Wismut project and may water down the standards for clean-up of the remaining Wismut uranium mine sites in Germany. The new reference values are of particular concern for the effective dose to members of the public in certain areas of Niederschlema (see above).
− In September, dismantling of the surface facilities started at the Hamr underground mine and the Stráz pod Ralskem uranium mill site in North Bohemia, Czech Republic.
− The six remaining uranium mill tailings ponds in Mydlovary in South Bohemia are to be reclaimed within ten years.

In Asia:

− In September, the government of Tajikistan approved a national concept on the rehabilitation of uranium mill tailings for the years 2014−2024; the total amount of tailings in the country is more than 55 million tonnes.
− In October, test production of rare earths from Kazakh uranium mine residues commenced.

8. Legal and regulatory issues

In the USA:

− In May, the US Department of Energy approved the Uranium Leasing Program, opening up 25,000 acres (101 sq kms) of land in western Colorado to uranium mining.
− In April, the US EPA released a proposed rule for revisions of radon emission standards for operating uranium mill tailings. The proposal would eliminate the numeric limit on radon emissions for pre-1989 impoundments, while it would establish a numeric minimum moisture content for heap leach piles, among others.
− In October, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration invited comment on the management and permissible exposure limits for chemicals in the workplace: time to overcome the current anachronistic uranium exposure limits in workplace air that may lead to annual doses of 5 to 16 times the 20 mSv/a limit.

In Africa:

− In Tanzania, groups released a report calling for tight regulation of proposed uranium mining in the country.

In Europe:

− In January, the European Union issued a revised directive on basic radiation protection standards, which may water down standards for the clean-up of the remaining Wismut uranium mine sites in Germany (see above).

− In June, the Slovak Parliament approved a new law that allows uranium mining in Slovakia only if approved in referendums taking place in all affected municipalities.

In Australia:

− The Australian parliament passed a bill to open the Woomera weapons test range in South Australia to mining.
− After lifting the uranium mining ban in the state in 2012, the Queensland government now released a "modern and robust" framework for uranium mining.

9. Uranium trade and foreign investment issues

Uranium trade

− China imported 18,968 tonnes of uranium in 2013 alone (about three times current requirements).
− India has imported 4,458 tonnes of uranium since 2008, when the Nuclear Suppliers Group lifted its ban on nuclear trade with India.
− The US Department of Energy plans to sell up to 2,705 tonnes of surplus uranium per year until 2021.
− Uzbekistan plans to increase its uranium exports to South Korea; and Uzbekistan also plans to supply 2,000 tonnes of uranium to India.
− Paraguay offers to export uranium to Argentina.
− The Australia − United Arab Emirates agreement on uranium sales entered into force.
− In view of the Ukraine crisis, Australia halted uranium sales to Russia, while there are currently no contracts, though.
− The European Commission is probing a uranium supply contract with Russia for the planned Pyhäjoki nuclear power plant in Finland,
− Australia's Macquarie Group buys the Deutsche Bank uranium book.

Proliferation issues and uranium trafficking

− Australia signed an agreement with India on uranium exports; the former chief of Australia's nuclear safeguards organisation raised doubts over the uranium deal. The agreement will be scrutinised by the Australian Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Treaties in 2015.

Foreign exploration, mining investment, and cooperation

− France: Areva plans to mine uranium in Ukraine in cooperation with the Ukrainian company VostGOK.
− Turkey plans to invest in uranium mines in Niger.
− Russia and Kazakhstan signed a road map for the development of uranium deposits in Kazakhstan.
− Russia and Algeria signed a nuclear energy cooperation agreement, including uranium prospecting and mining.
− Uganda seeks India's assistance to develop its uranium deposits.
− The government-owned Uranium Corporation of India Ltd. (UCIL) eyes stakes in overseas uranium mining companies.
− China Uranium Corporation acquired a 25% stake in Paladin Energy's Langer Heinrich uranium mine in Namibia.
− China General Nuclear is looking to invest in Canadian uranium mines.
− More Chinese companies are gaining access to uranium properties abroad.

10. This and that

− Other than in previous years, no new claim stakes were found on the Maybell uranium mill tailings disposal site in Colorado in 2013: is the end to this oddity a sign that those prospectors have finally come to their senses, or is this just an indication that they have lost the last glimmer of hope that the uranium price will ever recover in the foreseeable future?
− In February, a Paris court condemned the NGO Observatoire du nucléaire to pay penalties of several thousand Euros for "defamation" of Areva in a 2012 press release titled "Nuclear/corruption: AREVA offers a plane to the President of Niger ..." The NGO appealed the court decision. (This court opinion is quite surprising: how can it ever be possible to defame a company that has 181 entries in its Hall of Infamy on the WISE Uranium website?)
− Will uranium be extracted as a by-product of tunnel construction for the Tokyo-Nagoya Maglev train line in Japan? The route runs through mountains in Mizunami, Gifu Prefecture, that have 20 to 30 uranium deposits scattered beneath the area.
− Is nuclear-free New Zealand incidentally becoming a uranium miner? Uranium in phosphate nodules that Chatham Rock Phosphate intends to mine could threaten New Zealand's nuclear-free reputation, the seafood industry has told the government.
− In February, the Mining Warden's Court approved of the opposition of mining tycoon Andrew Forrest to uranium exploration by Cauldron Energy on his Minderoo ranch in Western Australia (Forrest is Australia's richest man who made his fortune digging up iron ore). However (and we are now offering an exclusive glimpse of next years annual review) the state Minister for Mines and Petroleum overturned the Mining Warden's decision on January 7, 2015, and allowed uranium exploration in the mining tycoon's backyard. Forrest's Minderoo understandably expressed its disappointment "at the minister's decision to allow exploration by Cauldron Energy within the historical and environmentally fragile parts of Minderoo station". Have we just found the next candidate for The Prime Minister's Environmentalist of the Year Award?

Tough times for the uranium industry

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green − Nuclear Monitor editor

In the last issue of Nuclear Monitor, we noted that some nuclear insiders and lobbyists are starting to confront the reality that the global pattern of nuclear power stagnation is likely to continue. With the number of 'operable' power reactors declining from 443 to 437 from January 2005 to January 2015, the rhetoric about a nuclear renaissance is becoming increasingly implausible.

Former World Nuclear Association executive Steve Kidd, for example, states that the "picture of the current reactors gradually shutting down with numbers of new reactors failing to replace them has more than an element of truth given the recent trends."1

Likewise, in a January 28 article for Nuclear Engineering International, nuclear economics consultant Edward D. Kee is downbeat about prospects in the US: "The US nuclear power industry geared up a decade ago for a nuclear renaissance that did not happen and is not likely to happen. ... Today, only five reactors are under construction in the US. ... Aside from these projects, no new US nuclear projects are expected to start construction in the next decade or longer. ... The US nuclear power industry will likely face unfavourable electricity industry conditions for another 20 years or longer."2

Similar opinions about the uranium industry are becoming increasingly common. Uranium and energy consultants Julian Steyn and Thomas Meade wrote in Nuclear Engineering International last October: "The uranium market is characterised by oversupply, which is forecast to continue through most the current decade. The oversupply situation has been exacerbated by the greater-than-initially-expected decline in demand following Fukushima as well as the increase in primary supply during the same period. Existing production capacity and output from mines under development could cause total supply to exceed demand through the year 2020."3

And in November, investment strategist Christopher Ecclestone from Hallgarten & Company wrote: "There has indeed been a nuclear winter verging on an Ice Age over the last few years with bad news heaped upon bad news within the context of a pretty dismal financing situation for mining all around. ... The yellow mineral had made fools and liars of many in recent years, including ourselves."4

Still, there is some hype around uranium, some of it based on implausible projections of nuclear growth. The Seeking Alpha website, for example, claims that uranium demand "is set to soar over the next 15 years as the number of reactors worldwide more than doubles from today's 437, with 557 more reactors already in the works."5

But even those prone to hype are mostly arguing that the uranium industry has to pick up because it couldn't get any worse. Thus uranium mining executive Jim Paterson wrote in December: "I believe it is an absolutely stunning time to be an investor in our business. But not stunning like how you feel after being punched in the nose repeatedly for almost four years, as participants in our industry have been. Rather, the valuations of the companies in the uranium sector are so deeply discounted, while the decade's long runway to demand growth is so clearly marked in front of us, that the opportunity for future gains is stunning."6

Massive stockpiles

Jim Paterson emphasises China's "staggering" nuclear power growth plans. He forgets that China has a history of failing to meet nuclear power projections and no hope of meeting the current target of 58 gigawatts (GW) by 2020.7 And he ignores the fact that China has amassed a huge uranium inventory.

According to Australian investment bank Macquarie, there are "serious question marks" about China's uranium requirements: "China is clearly the most positive story globally when it comes to nuclear-power-capacity expansion. The concern, however, is that China has already procured a substantial amount of uranium well in excess of what it has consumed and that this advance purchasing might limit its need to enter the market to source material over the next few years."8

Macquarie believes that China has enough uranium stockpiled to meet domestic demand for about seven years at forecast 2020 consumption rates − which is around three times greater than the current consumption rate.8

China is not the only country with large stockpiles. Raymond James analyst David Sadowski said in March 2014 that "many utilities are sitting on near-record piles" of uranium.9 Japan is estimated to have stockpiles of around 100 million pounds (or 45,000 tonnes) of uranium oxide.10 To put that in perspective, world uranium requirements for power reactors last year amounted to around 171 million pounds (78,000 tonnes). It will likely take a decade or more before Japan's stockpile is consumed given the protracted nature of the reactor restart process.

RBC Capital Markets analysts said in June 2014 that worldwide supply currently exceeds demand, and that it does not expect the uranium industry's situation to improve until at least 2021 because of accumulated inventories.11

With stagnant demand and large stockpiles, uranium miners are left clutching at straws. Some hope that supply from Russia might be curbed in response to Western sanctions, thus breathing some life into the uranium industry elsewhere. Some hope that dwindling secondary supply sources − in particular, the end of the US−Russia Megatons to Megawatts uranium downblending program − will breathe life into the uranium industry. But the Megatons to Megawatts program ended a year ago and has had little or no impact.

David Sadowski noted in August 2014: "[T]he end of the Megatons to Megawatts high-enriched uranium (HEU) deal was long anticipated to usher in a new period of higher uranium prices. But the same plants that were used to down-blend those warheads can now be used for underfeeding and tails re-enrichment. In this way, the Russian HEU-derived source of supply that provided about 24 million pounds (24 Mlb) to the market did not disappear completely; the supply level was just cut roughly in half."12

And if there was a shortfall, surplus weapons material is just one of the secondary sources that can reduce demand for primary mine production. Other secondary sources are underfeeding at enrichment plants (getting more uranium-235 from a given volume of uranium ore), re-enrichment of tails material, government and commercial inventories, and uranium recycle from reprocessing plants.

Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto has established itself as one of the uranium industry's underperformers. The company used to be one of the world's top five uranium producers, along with Kazatomprom, Cameco, AREVA and ARMZ/Uranium One.3 No more, due to problems at the Ranger mine (Northern Territory, Australia) and the Rossing mine (Namibia), including leach tank failures at both mines in December 2013.

Energy Resources of Australia (ERA), 68% owned by Rio Tinto, operates the Ranger mine. ERA recorded a loss of A$188 million (€130m; US$147m) in 201413, with losses over the past five years totally A$500 million (€345m; US$390m).14 ERA had to buy uranium on the spot market last year to cover contract shortfalls in the aftermath of the leach tank failure.15

The open pit mine at Ranger has been exhausted and ERA is milling ore stockpiles and also hoping to develop the Ranger 3 Deeps underground mine project. The company − notorious for its defeated attempt to mine uranium at Jabiluka in the late 1990s despite the unanimous opposition of Mirarr Aboriginal Traditional Owners − will decide this year whether to proceed with Ranger 3 Deeps. If ERA cancels the project, processing of stockpiles will be complete in two years, after which there will be no uranium mining or milling in the Northern Territory.


1. Steve Kidd, 21 Jan 2015, 'Is climate change the worst argument for nuclear?',
2. Edward D. Kee, 28 Jan 2015, 'US nuclear industry in decline',
3. Julian Steyn and Thomas Meade, 1 Oct 2014, 'Uranium market doldrums continue',
4. Christopher Ecclestone, 10 Nov 2014, 'Ecclestone on NexGen Energy – A Survivor of the Nuclear Winter',
5. 4 Dec 2014, 'Spot U3O8 And Uranium Miners Rebound And Retrace As Japan Readies Nuclear Reactor Restarts',
6. Jim Paterson, 21 Dec 2014, 'Stunning Uranium Industry Growth Ahead',
7. 19 Dec 2014, 'China's nuclear power plans: safety and security challenges', Nuclear Monitor #796,
8. Rhiannon Hoyle, 17 Jan 2015, 'Uranium Rally Running Low on Juice',
9. 29 March 2014, 'Conjuring Profits from Uranium's Resurgence: Interview with David Sadowski',
10. 15 Jan 2015, 'Charting Uranium's Gain, Brent Cook Looks For Sweet Spots In The Athabasca Basin',
11. Vicky Validakis, 6 June, 2014, 'Price collapse sees junior miner ditch uranium to focus on property development',
12. Peter Byrne, 5 Aug 2014, 'Why predictions of uranium price boom flopped',
13. WNN, 6 Feb 2015,
14. ECNT and ACF, 9 Feb 2015, 'Rio's investment delay adds difficulty to Ranger 3 Deeps mine proposal', media release.
15. 7 Feb 2015, 'Rio uranium unit ERA's loss widens to $188m',

Cameco signs uranium contract with India

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

A uranium supply contract was signed by Cameco and India's Department of Atomic Energy on April 15. Under the contract Cameco will supply 7.1 million pounds of uranium concentrate (about 2,730 tonnes of uranium) from 2015−2020, all of it sourced from Cameco's Canadian mines. The contract is worth around US$286 million at current spot prices.1 The two countries signed a Nuclear Cooperation Agreement in 2010 and it entered into force in September 2013.

The uranium supply agreement, and the bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement, have attracted widespread criticism.

Cameco's uranium operations in Saskatchewan are facing opposition from the Clearwater Dene First Nation. A group called Holding the Line Northern Trappers Alliance has been camping in the area to block companies from further exploratory drilling in their territory. The group set up camp in November 2014 and plans to remain until mining companies leave. Spokesperson Candyce Paul said she was opposed to Cameco's uranium deal with India and that "scientific evidence is building towards proving that the uranium mining industry is killing the Indigenous people of northern Saskatchewan."2

The uranium supply contract was criticised by delegates to the World Uranium Symposium held in Quebec City from April 14−16. Shri Prakash, one of several participants from India at the Symposium, said: "India's nuclear weapons program is very active, as demonstrated by a series of nuclear test explosions. Moreover tensions between India and Pakistan, a country with its own nuclear arsenal, are running very high. The attitude of Canada is irresponsible and alarming."3

Just hours after the uranium supply contract was signed, India test-fired a nuclear-capable Agni-III ballistic missile.4

Paul Meyer, a former Canadian representative to the UN Disarmament Conference, said: "All of this flows from decisions where we essentially sold the shop some years back, sacrificing our nuclear non-proliferation principles and objectives for some other considerations, and I think it's been a very poor deal for us in terms of the risks of nuclear proliferation. ... There was a capitulation in 2008 to essentially give India all of the benefits of membership in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, without any of its obligations or responsibilities."4

Meyer summarised Canada's capitulation on safeguards tracking standards in a November 2012 article: "India bristled at the suggestion that this little, non-nuclear weapon state should presume to exercise any form of oversight over its nuclear activity. After a few rounds of talks failed to produce an agreement and as the dates for the prime minister's trip approached, it would appear the CNSC [Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission] team was instructed to cut a deal."5

Trevor Findlay, a senior research fellow at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and a member of the UN Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters, said: "Normally there's some sort of tracking and accounting system so that Canada would be receiving information from India very specifically about what Canada-sourced material is being used for. In this case, because the agreement is secret, we have no idea whether that's in place, and it probably isn't because the Indians have been pushing against that."4

Australian nuclear arms control expert Crispin Rovere noted in a 2014 paper: "As with the proposed Australia–India nuclear agreement, the text of the Canadian deal likewise abrogates the widely accepted principle that the nuclear recipient is accountable to the supplier. This is ironic given it was nuclear material diverted from a Canadian-supplied reactor that led to the India's break-out in the first place. It would be like the citizens of Hiroshima deciding it would be a good idea to host American nuclear weapons within the city – the absurdity is quite astonishing. The good news is that Canada's deal has earned the Harper government pariah status with regard to nuclear safeguards."6

Assoc. Prof. Greg Koblentz from the School of Policy Government and International Affairs at George Mason University said that even if Canadian uranium is used only for civilian purposes, "whatever uranium India produces domestically will now be freed up for a military program." He added: "There's been a tremendous amount of effort invested in preventing Iran from obtaining one nuclear weapon, but this has really left the arms race in South Asia unchecked."4

Asked if he shares concerns about the potential for Canadian uranium to free up India's domestic uranium for weapons production, Malcolm Bernard from the Canadian Nuclear Association said: "Those concerns are legitimate and we share them. Everybody should."7

Trevor Findlay commented on the broader implications of the inadequate provisions of the bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement: "Countries with existing agreements will say, 'We want the same deal as India. Why should we be supplying all this information to Canada when India doesn't.' And India is a nuclear weapons states. Most of the other receivers are non-nuclear weapons states and they're being treated less favourably than India."7


Nuclear News

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

UK: Report outlines unreliability of aging nuclear reactors

The UK Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) published a report on December 9 which details the unreliability of the UK's aging nuclear power stations.
The report, written by NFLA Policy Advisor Pete Roche, found that in the three years from 2012−2014, 62 outages were reported, over three-quarters of which were unplanned. These reported outages do not include routine refuelling closures. The list of outages is not comprehensive as EDF Energy does not provide comprehensive data on reactor performance.

At its lowest point, on 20 November 2014, less than half (43%) of UK nuclear power capacity was available due to shutdowns. Seven out of 15 reactors were offline.

Unplanned shutdowns cause serious problems for electricity supply regulation and planning. A major likely reason for poor performance is that most reactors are over 30 years old and past their use-by dates, some by considerable margins. The increasingly decrepit state of UK nuclear power stations also presents a serious safety issue. UK nuclear regulatory agencies are aware of the continual reduction in safety margins resulting from graphite loss and crumbling in the moderators of AGR reactors.

Nuclear Free Local Authorities, 9 Dec 2014, 'NFLA concerns over the reliability of aging nuclear reactors in the UK',


International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Human Weapons

On December 8−9, over 1000 people flocked into the grand ballroom of Holfsburg Palace, Vienna, to consider the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons. Delegations representing 158 nations were present, as well as nuclear survivors, civil society, media, and researchers.

This was the third International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Human Weapons − the first was in Norway in 2013, the second in Mexico in February 2014. The latest conference is intended to 'jump-start' the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) deliberations at the UN in May 2015 with a call to proceed with complete disarmament in a global, legally binding form.

The meeting resulted in a vehicle for nations to "sign on" to the Austrian Pledge. This document calls on parties to the NPT to renew their commitments under that treaty and to close any gaps that undermines prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.

The Austrian Pledge contains this remarkable provision: "Austria calls on all nuclear weapons possessor states to take concrete interim measures to reduce the risk of nuclear weapon detonations, including reducing the operational status of nuclear weapons and moving nuclear weapons away from deployment into storage, diminishing the role of nuclear weapons in military doctrines and rapid reductions of all types of nuclear weapons ..."

This provision was all the more remarkable since, for the first time, nuclear weapons states were present: the US and Britain, both of which made statements to the assembly confirming that they were not listening.

Invited to speak during the session on the Medical Consequences of Using Nuclear Weapons, I originally declined since my work has focused on energy and the environment, not the military side of nuclear. The invite was made more precise by Ambassador Alexander Kmentt: please speak on the disproportionate impact of radiation on girls and women. Such a direct invitation offered an opportunity to share information that is under-reported.

The fact that atomic bombs were dropped on two cities in Japan almost 80 years ago is no longer being widely taught. Most people don't know that a long-term study was initiated by the US to count the cancers in the survivors. Among those who were under five years old in 1945, for every boy who got cancer at some point in their lives, two girls got cancer.

The room was full of people, including Hibakusha from Japan, survivors from the US tests in the Marshall Islands, from the British tests in Australia, and from Utah (downwind of the Nevada Test Site). It was a great place to share this information.

Information on Atomic Radiation and Harm to Women is posted at:

− Mary Olson, Nuclear Information and Resource Service (US)


Sweden: Regulator calls for hike in nuclear waste fees

The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) has recommended yet another increase in the per kWh-fee on nuclear power to cover predicted costs of decommissioning reactors and the processing and storage of nuclear waste. The proposal raises the fee from an average SEK 0.022/kWh to around 0.040/kWh (US 0.5 c/kWh).

Swedish law requires the industry-owned nuclear waste management company SKB to submit an estimate of projected costs to SSM at three-year intervals. After examining the estimate and consulting other sources, SSM submits its recommendation to the government, which then sets the fee for the next period, in this case 2015−2017.

Over the past couple of terms, SSM's estimates have differed substantially from those of the industry's nuclear waste company. This time, SSM finds that SKB's estimate is short by at least SEK 11 billion (US$1.44, €1.16b). SSM bases its conclusion on a study commissioned from the National Institute of Economic Research (a state body). The conclusion is also seconded by the National Council for Nuclear Waste, an academic reference group, and the National Debt Office, whose comments call for greater transparency as to how SKB arrived at its estimates.

Principal differences concern the estimated future cost of goods and services relating to decommissioning and waste storage, and the cost of necessary reinvestments in existing waste management facilities. SSM states that SKB underestimates cost rises by as much as 12%. Sagging financial returns accruing to the Nuclear Waste Fund – a consequence of the broader economic downturn – also contribute to the gap.

Another discrepancy is that SKB bases its calculations on reactor lifetimes of 50-60 years, yet the Financing Ordinance stipulates that a lifetime of 40 years be used. The advantage from the industry's point of view is obvious: positing a 20−50% longer period of production raises the total sum deposited into the Waste Fund, thereby permitting a lower fee.

The law provides that SSM may, "should circumstances so demand," reject the industry's prognosis and fix an interim fee until satisfactory estimates are on the table. SSM is doing just that. The current recommendation will be for 2015 only, and SKB has been instructed to produce a revised estimate within the next few months.

Shortly after the general election in September 2014, the new government stated as an overall principle that nuclear energy should cover a greater share of its costs to society – which suggests that SSM's proposals would be favourably received.

But there is a catch. The government – a minority coalition – failed to gain parliamentary approval of its budget in December and has announced new elections for March 2015. A change of government before the proposal can be considered is likely, and no one can say what the political constellation after the elections will be.

− Charly Hultén / WISE Sweden


Greenland: Pro-uranium coalition forms government

The Inuit Ataqatigiit party was expected to win Greenland's November 28 election, after which it would call a referendum on the controversial issue of uranium mining.

However the pro-uranium Siumut party narrowly won the most votes and has formed a coalition with two other pro-uranium parties − Atassut and Demokraatic. The three parties hold a combined 17 seats in the new parliament while two anti-uranium parties − Inuit Ataqatigiit and Partii Naleraq − hold 14 seats.

Just before the election, a poll showed that 71% of Greenlanders want a national referendum on whether to reinstate the uranium ban. Inuit Ataqatigiit and Partii Naleraq had called for a referendum.

Before the election, former Prime Minister Aleqa Hammond announced in Parliament that if a mining permit was issued to the Australian mining company Greenland Minerals and Energy Ltd. for the Kvanefjeld uranium / rare earths project, a referendum on the project would be held in southern Greenland. That promise might still be kept ... or it might not.

The only uranium project that might be developed in the foreseeable future is the Kvanefjeld project. A feasibility study is due for completion in 2015. It could take 2−3 years before environmental assessment processes are complete.


US blocks international nuclear safety initiatives

The US was exposed at an international meeting of parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety on December 4.1 A European proposal would have led to greater efforts to prevent accidents and, should they occur, mitigate the effects of radioactive contamination. The proposal would likely have forced upgrades at existing plants.

Russia scaled back its opposition to European proposals, leaving the US as the main dissenter. Russia was prepared to endorse some of the European proposals though it balked at accepting proposals that would require retrofits of old reactors.

Defending their indefensible position, US diplomats said their opposition to the European initiative was driven by concern that an attempt to amend the convention could weaken it, because some governments would be slow to ratify changes.

Former US Nuclear Regulatory Commission member Victor Gilinsky told Bloomberg: "People in the U.S. don't realize that in many ways our nuclear safety standards lag behind those in Europe. The German and French containment structures are generally more formidable than ours and those reactors generally have more protection systems."1

Created in response to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the Convention on Nuclear Safety has struggled to improve safety standards. The group's secrecy has often undermined its objectives. A former French envoy, Jean-Pierre Clausner, said that the opacity of the organisation was "shocking" according to documents obtained under a Freedom of Information request.2



South Africa and Russia: 'Pay More for Nuclear' reports

Earthlife Africa has commissioned and released four significant reports in the second half of 2014 in a series titled 'Pay More for Nuclear'. The first report is titled 'Nuclear Technology Options for South Africa'. Prof. Steve Thomas writes: "South Africa's call for tenders for nuclear power plants [in 2008] failed because the costs were high and because the requirements to obtain funding were not politically acceptable. The response to this failure seemed to be that pursuing a wider range of technical options and partners would produce a cheaper and more readily financed offer. The new options mooted include reactors from Korea, China and Russia. The perception that these options will be cheaper is likely to be an illusion. In addition, the designs are unproven and raise serious issues of verifying that they meet the required safety standards."

The second report is titled 'Funding Nuclear Decommissioning – Lessons for South Africa'. Thomas writes: "Current policy and practice on funding nuclear power plant decommissioning in South Africa lags far behind international best practice. It risks bequeathing future generations with a hazardous and expensive task that will have to be paid for by future taxpayers."

The third report is titled 'What Does It Take To Finance New Nuclear Power Plants?'. Thomas writes: "Unless the South African government is prepared to require electricity consumers to sign what will effectively be a blank cheque to the developers of a nuclear power the current attempt to order nuclear power plants for South Africa will fail again and several more years will have been wasted pursuing an option, nuclear power, that is not financeable."

The fourth report is titled 'Russian Nuclear Industry Overview'. Report author Vladimir Slivyak covers problems with ageing reactors, planned new reactors, Russia's fast breeder program, its reactor export program, and inadequate nuclear waste and decommissioning programs. Of particular interest is the section on corruption in the Russian nuclear industry, and the role of NGOs Ecodefense and Transparency International in exposing that corruption.

The four 'Pay More for Nuclear' reports are posted at:

World Uranium Symposium

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The World Uranium Symposium took place in Quebec City, Canada, from April 14−16. Over 200 people participated, from 25 countries. The Symposium addressed a range of issues including uranium mining, radioactive waste, aboriginal rights and nuclear weapons proliferation.

Chief Richard Shecapio of the Cree Nation of Mistissini said:
"The Cree Nation has been devoted to this cause for many years now. We have fought tirelessly, and have been vocal in our opposition to uranium development on our territory. Events like the International Uranium Film Festival and the World Uranium Symposium serve to tell the stories of other people – both aboriginal and non-aboriginal – who have been affected by all phases of the nuclear cycle. It has never been more clear that the legacy of uranium development is unacceptable, and we must all do our part to put an end to it."

Peer de Rijk from WISE Amsterdam said:
"The Symposium brought together a good mix of experts and activists, and people from countries involved in all aspects of the nuclear fuel chain from uranium mining to nuclear power and waste management, as well as those affected by the nuclear weapons industry. Almost all participants were already critical of the nuclear industry so in hindsight it may have been more productive to spend more time strategising and less time on information sessions."


A cricketing ally, but will India play a straight bat on Aussie uranium?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Ian Lowe − Emeritus Professor, School of Science at Griffith University

Behind the flag-waving and cheers surrounding Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent visit to Australia are serious questions about the safety and security implications of Australia's agreement to supply uranium to New Delhi.1

When he inked the uranium deal in India in September, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott praised India's "absolutely impeccable non-proliferation record".2 He refused to answer questions about alleged serious deficiencies in India's civil nuclear sector and was reduced to cliché, declaring that Australia and India trust each other on issues like uranium safeguards because of "the fundamentally ethical principle that every cricketer is supposed to assimilate – play by the rules and accept the umpire's decision".3

Yet despite the assurances of peaceful purposes, this deal has serious nuclear security implications. After all, India has form. It used Canadian peaceful nuclear technology to develop weapons, provoking Pakistan to follow suit. Even if all goes well – and in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster that is a big assumption – Australian sales could potentially free up India's domestic uranium stocks for military use.

Whatever happens, the new deal certainly won't reduce the continuing tension with nuclear rival Pakistan, or promote nuclear non-proliferation.

Checks and balances

India is a nuclear-armed nation that has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and as such is not subject to the (admittedly fragile) checks and balances provided by full international nuclear safeguards. It is engaged in an active nuclear weapons program, has an estimated 80-100 nuclear warheads, and explicitly refuses to renounce nuclear testing.

Contrary to Abbott's statement, India is neither playing by the rules nor recognising the authority of the international umpire. Add these facts together and the plan to sell Australian uranium to India is in clear and direct conflict with Australia's international obligations under the South Pacific Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty,4 which says: "States Parties are obliged not to manufacture or otherwise acquire, possess, or have control over any nuclear explosive device anywhere inside or outside the Treaty zone; not to seek or receive any assistance in this; not to take any action to assist or encourage the manufacture or acquisition of any nuclear explosive device by any State; and not to provide sources or special fissionable materials or equipment to any non-nuclear weapon State (NNWS), or any nuclear weapon State (NWS) unless it is subject to safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency."

Prime Minister Modi is intent on expanding India's civil and military nuclear ambitions but there are big question marks around the safety and security arrangements for India's nuclear sector. In 2012 a scathing report by India's then Auditor-General Vinod Rai warned of a "Fukushima or Chernobyl-like disaster if the nuclear safety issue is not addressed".5

The issues identified in this frank assessment from one of India's own senior officials have not been addressed, and there is no guarantee that they ever will be. The safety of India's nuclear reactors remains shaky, because the sector's regulation and governance is deficient. As we have seen with Fukushima and Chernobyl, the cost of errors or accidents can be catastrophic.

Australian uranium's role

Fukushima is a continuing nuclear crisis that has been directly fuelled by Australian uranium, so its lessons are significant. If Japan, the world's third-largest economy and a nation steeped in technological expertise, could not control the atomic genie, it bodes poorly for the application of this technology in other countries. In the aftermath of Fukushima, instead of opening up uranium exports to insecure and conflict-prone regions, we should tread more carefully.

With Australia's renewable energy expertise and resources, we are perfectly placed to turn on the lights in Indian villages while ensuring that the Geiger counter stays off.

The deal has even prompted doubts among pro-nuclear commentators. For two decades until 2010, John Carlson6 was director general of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office7 and charged with overseeing Australian uranium sales. Now he has raised serious concerns, including his worry that Australia may be unable to keep track of what happens to uranium once it's sold to India.8

As Carlson makes clear, without proper reporting Australia has no way of knowing whether India is really meeting its obligations to identify and account for all the material that is subject to the agreement, and to apply Australia's safeguard standards. It is not good enough simply to take India on trust as a fellow cricket-mad nation, or to appeal to an "impeccable" non-proliferation record that it doesn't actually have.

Carlson's assessment is that the planned deal is short-sighted, self-defeating, and compromises Australia's standards. That warning should ring loud alarms in Canberra. The deal has yet to be examined by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.9 The rigour that the committee brings to this issue will be a test of whether radioactive rhetoric or real-world responsibility is in the ascendency in Canberra.

Uranium is not just another mineral. It fuels nuclear reactors and devastating weapons. Whether used for electricity or bombs, it inevitably produces radioactive waste that must be stored for geological timescales.

As home to around a third of the world's uranium supply, Australia's decisions on this issue matter. It is important that those flagging concerns are listened to just as much as those waving flags.



Indian government cautious about nuclear power

India's Power, Coal and Renewable Energy Minister Piyush Goyal said on November 6 that the government remains "cautious" about developing nuclear power. He pointed to waning interest in the US and Europe: "This government would like to be cautious so that we are not saddled with something only under the garb of clean energy or alternate energy; something which the West has discarded and is sought to be brought to India."1

Goyal noted that India's Nuclear Liability Law remains an obstacle to nuclear vendor countries and companies. That law does not fully absolve vendors of liability in the event of an accident. Asked if a breakthrough on the liability dispute was possible ahead of President Obama's January 2015 visit to India, US Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal recently said: "I see there is a lot of hard work ahead and I would not be sanguine about announcing any early breakthrough. What is required right now is not a lot of unrealistic expectations."2

The Hindustan Times reported on November 30 that the Indian government is working on a plan to weaken the liability law. Options include setting up an insurance pool, fixing a limit on reactor components for the purpose of determining liability, and the PM providing a personal assurance that vendors won't be harassed unnecessarily in the event of an accident.5

An article in The Hindu newspaper notes that three factors have put a break on India's reactor-import plans: "the exorbitant price of French- and U.S.-origin reactors, the accident-liability issue, and grass-roots opposition to the planned multi-reactor complexes."3

Meanwhile, The Times of India reports that US investment in nuclear power in India remains far off. In addition to unresolved liability issues, India and the US are yet to complete administrative arrangements concerning safeguards and non-proliferation assurances. The US is reportedly is demanding fresh bilateral safeguards in the nature of non-proliferation assurances, and the two countries have yet to agree on matters regarding the tracking of nuclear fuel through the entire cycle.4


1. 6 Nov 2014, 'Govt cautious about tapping nuclear energy for power generation',
2. 28 Nov 2014, 'U.S. plays hardball with India on nuclear deal',
3. Brahma Chellaney, 19 Nov 2014, 'False promise of nuclear power',
4. Indrani Bagchi, 19 Nov 2014, 'American officials put up hurdles, try to scuttle India-US nuclear deal',
5. 30 Nov 2014, ''Govt plans N-revival, focuses on investor concerns',

Critique of nuclear safeguards in India

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green

The Australian government's plan to permit uranium sales to India has been subjected to a strong critique by the former Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO), John Carlson.1

Others to have raised concerns include former Defence Department Secretary Paul Barratt, and Ron Walker, former Chair of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors. But Carlson's critique carries particular weight given his 21 years experience as the head of Australia's safeguards office. Moreover, Carlson is a strident nuclear advocate who oversaw the weakening of Australia's uranium export safeguards requirements and occasionally indulged in offensive and arguably defamatory attacks on nuclear critics. He's the last person you'd expect to be criticising the India−Australia nuclear cooperation agreement.

Carlson notes that agreement signed by Australia and India in September contains "substantial departures from Australia's current safeguards conditions" which suggest "that Australia may be unable to keep track of what happens to uranium supplied to India."

Carlson writes: "Disturbingly, it is reported that Indian officials will not provide Australia with reports accounting for material under the agreement, and that the Abbott Government seems prepared to waive this requirement for India. ... The reporting procedures are not optional; they are fundamental to Australia's ability to confirm that our safeguards conditions are being met. ... There is absolutely no case to waive them for India."

Carlson notes that the 'administrative arrangement' which will append the nuclear cooperation agreement may be "even more consequential than the agreement itself" as it sets out the working procedures for the agreement. But the public will never get to see the administrative arrangement. And the public will never be able to find out any information about the separation and stockpiling of weapons-useable plutonium in India; or nuclear accounting discrepancies ('Material Unaccounted For'); or even the quantity of Australian uranium (and its by-products) held in India.

The debate has international ramifications. Carlson writes: "Disturbingly, it is reported that Indian officials will not provide Australia with reports accounting for material under the agreement, and that the Abbott Government seems prepared to waive this requirement for India. The same issue has arisen under India's arrangements with the US and Canada. In response, Washington has held firm: the US-India administrative arrangement has been outstanding for several years; reportedly the US is insisting on receiving tracking information and India is refusing. In the case of Canada, the Harper Government gave in to India, an outcome described as the 'meltdown of Canadian non-proliferation policy'. The Canadian Government refuses to reveal the details of its arrangement. If Australia follows Canada down this path, it will put the wrong kind of pressure on the US, the EU and Japan in their own dealings with India."

He further states: "If India succeeds in delinking foreign-obligated nuclear material from individual bilateral agreements, making it impossible to identify which batch of material is covered by which agreement, then India could work a 'pea and thimble' trick in which no supplier could tell whether their material was being used contrary to bilateral conditions. The mere possibility of this is sufficient to call into question India's commitment to observing bilateral agreements."

There are many concerns other than those noted by Carlson. For example, nuclear material could be diverted and reports falsified with little likelihood that the falsification would be detected.

It seems reasonable that the public should be able to find out how often IAEA safeguards inspections are carried out in India, which facilities have been inspected, and whether any accounting discrepancies were detected. But national governments refuse to supply that information.2

The IAEA used to release aggregate information on the number of inspections carried out across three countries − India, Pakistan and Israel. From 2005-09, 44–50 safeguards inspections were carried out each year in those three countries, and in 2010 the figure was 67 inspections. But the 2011, 2012 and 2013 IAEA Safeguards Statements are silent about the number of inspections carried out.3

Arms Control Today thoroughly dissected the IAEA-India safeguards agreement and noted that: "Reporting provisions ... not contained in India's agreement cover information such as nuclear fuel-cycle-related research and development, nuclear-related imports, and uranium mining. The Indian additional protocol also does not include any complementary access provisions, which provide the IAEA with the potential authority to inspect undeclared facilities."4

Even if strict safeguards were in place, uranium sales to India would create an intractable problem: uranium exports freeing up India's domestic reserves for weapons production. K. Subrahmanyam, former head of the India's National Security Advisory Board, has said that: "Given India's uranium ore crunch and the need to build up our minimum credible nuclear deterrent arsenal as fast as possible, it is to India's advantage to categorise as many power reactors as possible as civilian ones to be refuelled by imported uranium and conserve our native uranium fuel for weapons-grade plutonium production."


3. IAEA Yearly Safeguards Statement,

More information:
Tsukasa Yamamura, 28 Nov 2012, 'Status of nuclear cooperation with India',
Friends of the Earth:

Uranium mining

Uranium, a natural resource which is used for nuclear energy production, is extracted from the earth in uranium mines located in various countries worldwide. The website of the wise uranium project provides the best regular updates on developments and background information on all uranium-mining related issues.

Nuclear News

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

From WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor #785, 24 April 2014

To subscribe to Nuclear Monitor, click here.

US NRC issues uranium license on Lakota Indian land

On April 8, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued an operating license to the Powertech Uranium Corp for its proposed in-situ leach (ISL) uranium mine in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. The move came four months ahead of a public hearing scheduled to hear from opponents of the project. The proposed mine still needs final approval from the South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment, the South Dakota Water Management Board, and the US Environmental Protection Agency before it can began operations.

At least eight other uranium companies are known to be targeting the Black Hills. Lilias Jarding of the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance told The Ecologist: "We're afraid that if this project goes through ... we'll end up with a ring of uranium mines around the Black Hills.

Activists say that Powertech is working to minimise oversight of its operations. In 2011, Powertech secured the passage of legislation effectively barring South Dakota's Department of Environment and Natural Resources from regulating ISL projects, leaving the state with direct oversight only of water-use and waste-disposal issues. The company has also defeated several measures aimed at increasing oversight, including, a bill that would have required Powertech to demonstrate its ability to restore groundwater quality before opening the new mine.

Over a period of two decades beginning in the early 1950s, about a thousand open-cut uranium mines were opened in and around the Black Hills region. The last mine closed in 1973, but the region remains littered with radioactive debris.

He Sapa, the Black Hills, is a sacred site to the Lakota and numerous other Western Tribes who have long gone to the area for ceremony, hunting game, harvesting medicines and for spiritual renewal. Despite the 1980 Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Sioux Nation, that ruled the US illegally stole the Black Hills from the Lakota, the government has refused to return the lands to the Lakota and it remains a continued central source of conflict between the Lakota and the U.S. government.

The proposed uranium mine is opposed by Indian groups, ranchers, environmentalists and the Rapid City Council. Debra White Plume, an Oglala Lakota activist, said: "We're all standing together. This ain't just a handful of little Indians out on the prairies that you can run over ... this is a broad array of resistance to uranium mining. If they close every door to us, then the only door open to us is direct action. You've got to walk through that door if you're serious about protecting yourself and Mother Earth."

Lakota activists fought off a similar uranium-mining project in 2007, and Debra White Plume says she's determined to see off Powertech.

More information:
The Black Hills Clean Water Alliance
Defenders of the Black Hills
Dakota Rural Action

Protecting against insider nuclear threats

Matthew Bunn and Scott Sagan have written a useful paper on insider nuclear threats − 'A Worst Practices Guide to Insider Threats: Lessons from Past Mistakes'. The paper is part of a larger project on insider threats under the Global Nuclear Future project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

A recent example was the apparent insider sabotage of a diesel generator at the San Onofre nuclear plant in the United States in 2012; the most spectacular was a 1982 incident in which an insider placed explosives directly on the steel pressure vessel head of a nuclear reactor in South Africa and detonated them − thankfully the plant had yet to begin operating. All known thefts of plutonium or highly enriched uranium appear to have been perpetrated by insiders or with the help of insiders. Similarly, most of the sabotage incidents that have occurred at nuclear facilities were perpetrated by insiders.

Bunn and Sagan look at past disasters caused by insiders and draw from them 10 lessons about what not to do. The lessons are as follows:

#1: Don't assume that serious insider problems are NIMO (Not In My Organization)

#2: Don't assume that background checks will solve the insider problem

#3: Don't assume that red flags will be read properly

#4: Don't assume that insider conspiracies are impossible

#5: Don't rely on single protection measures

#6: Don't assume that organizational culture and employee disgruntlement don't matter

#7: Don't forget that insiders may know about security measures and how to work around them

#8: Don't assume that security rules are followed

#9: Don't assume that only consciously malicious insider actions matter

#10: Don't focus only on prevention and miss opportunities for mitigation

Matthew Bunn and Scott Sagan, April 2014, 'A Worst Practices Guide to Insider Threats: Lessons from Past Mistakes', Occasional Paper, American Academy of Arts & Sciences,

Small reactor prospects diminishing

World Nuclear News reported on April 14 that Babcock & Wilcox will slash its spending on the 'mPower' small modular reactor project, having failed to find customers or investors. B&W's mPower design was prioritised for deployment under a five-year cost-matching agreement with the US Department of Energy (DoE), and with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) named as the lead customer. The three of them supplied a budget of US$150 million [€109m] per year to develop mPower, hoping to build the first unit by 2022. Six units had been pencilled in for TVA's Clinch River site at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

With the DoE arrangement now one year old, B&W hoped to have secured a number of utility customers for the small reactor as well as investors keen to take a majority share in its development. Spokesperson Aimee Mills said: "There was interest from customers and interest from investors, but none have signed on the dotted line." B&W President E. James Ferland said: "While we have made notable progress in developing a world-class technology, there is still significant work involved in bringing this climate-friendly technology to reality."

B&W has decided to reduce its spending on mPower to a maximum of US$15 million [€10.9m] per year and has begun negotiating with TVA and the DoE to find a workable way to restructure and continue the project.

POWER Magazine notes that "air seems to be leaking out of the SMR balloon lately." In February, Westinghouse announced it would end its 225 MWe Small Modular Reactor project, after a decade of development and many millions of dollars of investment. Westinghouse failed to secure R&D funding from the DoE. CEO Danny Roderick said" "The problem I have with SMRs is not the technology, it's not the deployment − it's that there's no customers."

In the US, DoE-subsidised R&D continues into the 45 MWe NuScale reactor concept. Elsewhere in the world, construction is underway on the 27 MWe CAREM reactor in Argentina, though claims that small reactors will reduce costs are looking increasingly fanciful − the CAREM reactor equates to US$17.84 billion (€13.0 billion) per 1000 MWe. Work continues on two 105 MWe HTR units at Shidaowan in China; and in Russia, plans are in train for a floating nuclear power plant with two 35 MWe reactors mounted on a barge.

Rio Tinto under fire

The Labour Resource and Research Institute and Earthlife Namibia have released a report on the health of workers at Rio Tinto's Rössing uranium mine in Namibia.1 The report was produced as part of the project Environmental Justice Organisations, Liabilities and Trade ( The study is based on 44 questionnaires carried out with current and former mine workers. The recommendations are:

* Rio Tinto should perform a large-scale epidemiology study with independent medical experts to examine those workers who started working in the 1970s or early 1980s.

* The Ministry of Health and Social Services must get unrestricted access to all medical reports of all workers employed by Rössing.

* All mine workers should be able to have access to their own medical reports.

Historically, the Rössing mine supplied uranium for US and UK nuclear weapons. Workers faced dangerous conditions, poor regulations, and high levels of dust. During the early years of operation, Rössing operated with a migrant labor system which the International Commission of Jurists declared illegal and said was similar to slavery.

The Rössing mine was in the news last year because of the December 3 collapse of one of the 12 leach tanks in the mine's processing plant. Just days later, a similar spill occurred at Rio Tinto's Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory of Australia.

The company is also being criticised for failing to guarantee the rehabilitation of Ranger unless its plans to expand operations at the site are approved. The latest annual report of Energy Resources of Australia (majority owned by Rio Tinto) states that "... if the Ranger 3 Deeps mine is not developed, in the absence of any other successful development, ERA may require an additional source of funding to fully fund the rehabilitation of the Ranger Project Area."2 And at Rio Tinto's London AGM on April 15, executive Sam Walsh distanced the parent company from responsibility for rehabilitation, saying: "This is a public Australian company and clearly that is an issue for them."

Justin O'Brien from the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the Mirarr Traditional Owners, said: "The attitude of Rio and ERA demonstrates little has changed in the more than three decades since Galarrwuy Yunupingu described talks over the Ranger mine as 'like negotiating with a gun to my head'. The mining giants have made enormous profits at the expense of Mirarr traditional lands and are now holding the Word Heritage listed area to ransom. It is inconceivably thoughtless and arrogant of any mining company to manage its corporate social responsibilities in this way and regrettably brings to mind the comment made by Mirarr Senior Traditional Owner Yvonne Margarula in 2003: 'The promises never last, but the problems always do'."2

Dave Sweeney from the Australian Conservation Foundation said: "Only hours after the complete collapse of the tank ERA − owned by the UK based mining giant Rio Tinto − released a statement high on bravado but low on evidence claiming all contaminants had been contained and that 'there is no impact to the environment'. This predictable and premature assurance highlighted ERA's desire to at least retain control over its perception, if not its pollution. A subsequent site review commissioned by ERA recently confirmed the long held concerns of many stakeholders that the aging plant is at full stretch and raised serious questions about the adequacy of both infrastructure and management systems at Ranger, finding that the mine had 35 other failed or at risk pieces of critical plant infrastructure or equipment with the potential for major human safety or environmental impacts in operation at the time of the tank collapse. The report recommended that processing not resume processing until these items have been repaired or retired while a further 48 critical assets were recommended to be serviced, repaired or retired within 6-12 months of any future plant restart."3

On the day of the London AGM, IndustriALL Global Union released a report, 'Unsustainable: The Ugly Truth about Rio Tinto', highlighting the multinational's global practices.4 The report exposes Rio Tinto's poor performance in relation to environmental, economic, social and governance issues. Workers from numerous countries staged a protest outside the AGM. Kemal Özkan, assistant general secretary of IndustriALL, said: "Rio Tinto's blind pursuit of profit at any cost has caused disputes with numerous unions as well as environmental, community and indigenous groups. IndustriALL has launched a campaign working with civil society organizations to defend against Rio Tinto's abuses. Through demonstrating that Rio Tinto does not operate in a sustainable manner, we aim to force the company to live by its own claims."4

1. Bertchen Kohrs and Patrick Kafuka, April 2014, 'Study on low-level radiation of Rio Tinto's Rössing Uranium mine workers',




Eroding nuclear safeguards

The April 16 edition of Canada's 'Embassy' newspaper discusses the gradual erosion of safeguards requirements associated with uranium exports.1 Previously, Canada required that nuclear material exported to China could only be held in facilities in China named in a 'Voluntary Offer' list that Beijing had agreed to with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Such facilities can be inspected by the IAEA − albeit the case that IAEA inspections in nuclear weapons states are few and far between.

Under Canada's revised policy, uranium oxide can be (and has been) exported to a conversion plant in China that has not been placed on the Voluntary Offer list. Instead, if material is transferred to a facility that is not on the IAEA list, an "administrative arrangement" kicks in, requiring China to "provide additional reporting to Canada on the uranium." But the administrative arrangement, and others like it, "are considered protected documents and are not available publicly" according to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

Shawn-Patrick Stensil from Greenpeace Canada drew a parallel with Canada's nuclear exports to India: "We've now been moving to selling uranium to markets that have bomb programs, and our non-proliferation policy is dying a death by a thousand cuts. I think this will eventually come back to bite us."

Reuters reported on April 14 that the US, UK, Czech Republic and the Netherlands submitted a paper to a meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) calling on the NSG − a voluntary, 48-country group − to relax its rules to allow nuclear exports to countries such as Israel.2 The paper, seen by Reuters, is a masterpiece of obfuscation. Instead of talking about nuclear exports (to a nuclear weapons state outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), it talks about "facilitated export arrangements".

And this is the indecipherable rationale for weakening nuclear export norms: "With technology progressing at an ever increasing rate, globalised supply chains, and more and more countries developing nuclear and dual use capabilities, the possibility of trade in nuclear related goods between governments not participating in the NSG is becoming more and more likely. ... In order to stay ahead of the curve, the NSG's goals − to control the export of nuclear sensitive goods − might be best served by an open-minded approach aimed at cooperation with non-NSG members and promoting transparency of the NSG guidelines."

A former Israeli nuclear official told Reuters that Israel for years had tried to get the NSG to recognise it as a so-called adherent country "on the strength of the justified truth that Israel is a responsible state", but a number of NSG member states have objected.

There is an ongoing push from the US, UK and others to include India as a member of the NSG. India was granted a "clean waiver" by the NSG in 2008, an important step towards opening up nuclear trade despite India's status as a rogue nuclear weapons states that refuses to sign the NPT or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and is expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal.

Islamabad is also lobbying to be included in the NSG and for an end to prohibitions on nuclear trade with Pakistan.3 China is already using the US−India precedent to expand nuclear exports to Pakistan.




Kazakhstan nuclear company head arrested for corruption

Valery Shevelyov, the executive director of Kazakhstan's major uranium producer and nuclear-fuel cycle operator KazAtomProm, was arrested on April 1 on corruption charges. An investigation regarding the construction of new KazAtomProm facilities named Shevelyov as a suspect in the embezzling US$710 million [€514m], according to Kazakh State Anti-corruption Agency. Shevelyov's predecessor Muhtar Dzhakishev has been in prison since 2009 on similar charges.

European Parliament calls for action on depleted uranium

The European Parliament has called on the EU's Council of Ministers to ensure that all member states support an upcoming UN General Assembly resolution on depleted uranium (DU). The resolution will be tabled in October. Each year the European Parliament provides recommendations to the EU's Council of Ministers on positions that EU member states should take during voting. This year the parliament has called on member states to develop a common EU position that better reflects the overwhelming and repeated calls by the parliament for a global moratorium on the weapons.

At present the EU is split on the topic, with DU users the UK and France opposed during UN votes − two of only four states worldwide to oppose the resolutions, along with the US and Israel − while the rest of the EU votes in favour or abstains. While the number of EU states abstaining each time has been decreasing, continued abstentions by the likes of Sweden and Denmark have been a source of frustration for national campaigns. Globally, 155 states supported the most recent UN resolution on DU in 2012, and the split position within the EU is something of an anomaly in the face of an emerging global consensus.

Renewable energy potential in Europe

An analysis for Greenpeace suggests that it is possible to get 77% of Europe's electricity from renewable sources by 2030 with the help of smart grids, demand management, gas backup and big changes in how the power grid works. The model suggests that by taking a European approach (rather than planning by country) and using a (relatively) new type of power cable the cost of integrating new renewables into the grid can be significantly cut. The report suggests that by 2030 Europe's grid will be able to absorb a renewable share of 77% with some countries, such as Spain, getting all their power from renewable sources. The UK would be on 70%. Around half of Europe's power (53%) would come from wind and solar PV panels.

A reality check for the uranium industry

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The uranium spot price fell to US$29 / pound U3O8 on May 5. Not since mid-2005 has the price been so low. The price is less than one-half of the pre-Fukushima price, and less than one-quarter of the price at the peak of the 2007 price bubble.

FN Arena provides this snapshot: "It is worth noting that prior to about 2005, the uranium spot market was a minor distraction, existing only for the purpose of producers to make up term contract shortfalls or reduce inventories, with traders standing in as intermediaries between producers and utilities. The real uranium market was in term delivery contracts. But then as the China super-cycle became apparent, speculators stampeded into the uranium spot market. The result was a subsequent bubble to 2007 and a spot price of nearly US$140/lb before a 2008 bust back down to US$50/lb. Utilities rested on their stockpiles during the madness. Speculators were severely burned but tried their luck again ahead the 2011 tsunami, before being burned again. The final throw of the dice was prompted late in 2013 when it appeared Japan was about to announce reactor restarts. But even that didn't work. The two big intermediary players – Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank – have left the market and the only speculators left still playing, it would seem, are those still caught long. Those speculators are joined by producers stuck with product in an oversupplied market. No one is buying, at least in any quantity. ... If you went on holiday in 2005 and just returned, you would assume nothing much has changed in sport uranium, price or market volume wise. And perhaps that's the way things are going to be."1

Uranium Investing News notes that "the phrase 'uranium renaissance' has been uttered so often that it has begun to feel like a bad joke." Energy metals analyst Chris Berry points to excess supply, the high cost and lead time of nuclear reactor construction, and unease about nuclear energy as contributing to the malaise in the market. One little-mentioned reason for the malaise is that the US government is selling some of its uranium stockpile. Berry says the US Department of Energy has the authority to sell excess supply into the US domestic market and that according to his calculations the Department has about 25 years of supply for US power reactors and can sell an amount each year up to 10% of domestic demand.2

An April 22 FN Arena analysis states: "On the supply side, the Russian HEU agreement ended last year, existing producers have been limiting or mothballing production, new production plans have been shelved, and there remains a risk sanctions will be imposed on exports of Russian enriched uranium. On the demand side, Japan is close to restarting its nuclear reactors and China is ramping up its reactor construction a-pace. After three years in the post Fukushima doldrums, everything has been pointing to a long awaited rebound in price and liquidity. But the opposite has been true. ... What doesn't make a lot of sense is why utilities are not in there buying at these bargain basement prices. The answer may lie in the fact utilities maintain sufficient stockpiles in case of future supply shocks and hence are not about to run out of fuel, and had already picked up excess Japanese supply, but at some point a restocking phase must begin. That liquidity in the spot market should wane is of no great surprise. Typically the "real" players – producers and utilities – only enter the spot market on occasion to top up short falls or let go some excess supply. ... Yet there's been little activity in the term market of late as well."3

As FN Arena notes, progress towards reactor restarts in Japan "has been glacial and anti-nuclear protest has been powerful".4 Japan's uranium inventories probably amount to around 100 million pounds (45,400 tonnes) according to David Sadowski, a Raymond James analyst. Sadowski added that many utilities around the world "are sitting on near-record piles" of uranium.5 In any plausible reactor restart scenario, it will be a decade or more before Japanese utilities exhaust existing inventories.

The uranium price would be weaker still if not for Chinese purchases and stockpiling. In 2013, China's total imports reached a record level of 18,968 tonnes of uranium − three times its requirements for operating reactors. Imports in January 2014 were 22% higher than the 2013 monthly average. Since 2006, China has amassed enough uranium to meet current annual consumption eight times over. FN Arena states: "So while there is presently no end in sight to China's voracious uranium demand, as January imports would attest, at some point China is going to decide it has enough. If this occurs before demand from other major consumers starts picking up, Macquarie warns (and presumably this is a nod to Japan), look out."6
David Talbot, senior mining analyst with Dundee Capital Markets, noted in February that further mergers and acquisitions can be expected: "We do expect further consolidation. Financing is more difficult than ever. Project timelines are lengthy and costly. With some companies unable to secure supplies to advance projects, we expect further delays and/or corporate insolvencies. What often happens is the predator comes in and takes out its prey at pennies on the dollar relative to its underlying net asset value."7

French state-controlled nuclear group Areva's first-quarter revenue from its uranium mining unit fell 63%.8 One of Areva's problems is stalled negotiations with the Nigerien government over uranium mining operations in the African country. As previously reported in Nuclear Monitor, the mining arm of Russia's Rosatom has frozen uranium expansion projects in Russia and elsewhere, and Cameco has abandoned its earlier uranium production growth targets. "The next 18 months we see as being a very difficult period for the market," said Cameco President and CEO Tim Gitzel in a May 9 interview. "We continue to look to the future, the future is bright for nuclear energy."9

A nuclear insider's view

Just about everyone in and around the uranium industry consoles themselves with the thought that uranium prices will have to rebound sooner or later to stimulate new production which will be required even if global nuclear power capacity continues to stagnate. A contrary view comes from Steve Kidd, an independent consultant and economist with 17 years of work at the World Nuclear Association and its predecessor, the Uranium Institute.10

Writing in the Nuclear Engineering International Magazine on May 6, Kidd states that "the case made by the uranium bulls is in reality full of holes" and he predicts "a long period of relatively low prices, in which uranium producers will find it hard to make a living."

Kidd argues that the replacement of inefficient gaseous diffusion enrichment plants with centrifuge enrichment plants is a "crucial" factor: "Enrichment is now expected to remain cheap and abundant as centrifuge plants are modular and capacity can be expanded relatively easily to meet demand, so this substitution of enrichment for uranium will continue to be important." Huge stockpiles of depleted uranium represent "an attractive resource while there is overcapacity in enrichment and cheaper prices".

Kidd notes that despite all the hype about nuclear growth plans, uranium demand did not rise from 2003−2010 as shutdowns of ageing reactors were balanced by the commissioning of new units (mostly in China). Yet uranium production increased by 50% (mostly in Kazakhstan). Hence the over-supply in the world uranium market, lower prices, and an upsurge in uranium inventory levels in the US, Europe and Japan.

Kidd states that most nuclear growth to 2030 will be concentrated in China and Russia. But "uranium demand will almost certainly fall in the key markets in Western Europe and North America", and in Japan it will take a "long time to unwind the inventory accumulation".

In short: "Those who believe in higher uranium prices take an over-optimistic demand scenario."

Kidd argues that we are entering a new era, where the uranium market is split into three:

* The Chinese will favour investing directly in mines to satisfy their requirements; they are not going to 'play ball' with the established uranium market.

* The Russians will continue to be significant nuclear fuel exporters but their own market will remain essentially closed to outsiders. They still have secondary supplies to tap into (plenty of surplus highly-enriched uranium remains to be down-blended) and they will follow the Chinese and invest directly in uranium assets if their own domestic production remains constrained.

* The established uranium producers will have the remainder of the market to satisfy and that will likely be declining in magnitude. In the US, the number of operating reactors will fall by 2030 and the overall European situation will be one of "gentle decline".

Kidd pulls the threads of his argument together: "This market segmentation and the way the Chinese and Russians will operate means that the two prime analytical devices utilised in the uranium market are both now useless. First, calculated annual world supply-demand balances (miraculously often showing a shortage after 3-5 years) are irrelevant in a segmented market, where key actors with expanding demand choose to go it alone. For a time in the early 2000s, it looked as if a globalised world nuclear fuel market could emerge, but this has not happened and it is arguably now going into reverse. Secondly, uranium supply curves (based on mine cost data), demonstrating the need for higher prices as demand expands, are also invalidated. China and Russia (and probably India too, if it eventually gets its nuclear act together) will develop uranium assets wherever it best suits them. They have the confidence to bypass the conventional market, which could increasingly become merely a sideshow."

Kidd concludes: "In this fifth age of uranium, prices will essentially be determined by the cash costs of production of operating mines (and not by the full costs of future mines). This means a reversion to the long period of low (but relatively stable) uranium prices of the late 1980s and 1990s (the third age), but at a higher level to reflect the greater level of production now, the escalation of mining costs and the movements in currency exchange rates. The shortages predicted by many analysts (leading to rapid price increases to provide good rates of return on their favourite projects) are purely a mirage. The outlook is therefore not favourable for either current or prospective uranium producers. Only those with low-cost operations will prosper. Others will struggle to stay in business and further mine closures ... are definitely on the horizon."












(Written by Nuclear Monitor editor Jim Green.)

From WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor #786, 16 May 2014

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