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#609 - May 7, 2004

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Full issue

25 Years ago

(May 7, 2004) What happened 25 years ago? We go back to news from our 1979 WISE Bulletin, comparing anti-nuclear news "then" and "now".

In WISE Bulletin 5 we reported on a demonstration against uranium mining in Australia: "On April 6th and 7th, major rallies took place in all major Australian cities. […] Organisers say this is the largest ever anti-nuclear demonstration in Sydney." (WISE Bulletin 5, May/June 1979)

Uranium ore was discovered in Australia in the 1890s and was initially mined as a source of radium. Primarily intended for the U.S. and U.K. weapons programs, mining for the element uranium began in the 1950s and was followed in the 1960s with mining for civil nuclear energy. Australia's uranium is exported to the U.S., Canada, Japan, South Korea and the European Union countries. (Uranium Information Center Issues Briefing, February 2004)

Uranium mining is polluting, costly and negatively affects aboriginal landowners whose local environment is threatened by high levels of radioactivity contained in uranium tailings. Leaks have resulted in the contamination of the areas surrounding the mines. Mining is capital-intensive, which means low employability per invested dollar, and in the 1990s uranium prices dramatically fell below actual production costs. Sacred sites of cultural and spiritual significance to aboriginal landowners are regularly destroyed. (Uranium Mining in Australia, Movement against Uranium Mining, July 1991)

Studies have shown that the living conditions of aborigines have not been improved by mining activities as was claimed by the industry. Employment levels for aboriginals are extremely low as are their social circumstances. According to the 1976 Aboriginal Land Rights act, the traditional owners have the right to veto commercial activities on their territories. But in 1978 the federal government made an exception for uranium mining. (Vergeten Volken [NL], June 1999)

In 1983 the Labour Party won government elections and introduced the "Three Named Uranium Mines" policy. This policy limited mining to the Ranger, Nabarlek (now closed) and Olympic Dam (Roxby Downs) mines with the intention of eventually phasing out uranium mining in the long term. In 1996, however, a Liberal-National coalition came to power and abandoned the three mines policy.

The liberal government also allowed the operation of three new mines: Beverly, Honeymoon and Jabiluka. Suggestions for more new mines have been made at six other locations. (Sustainable Energy and Anti-Uranium Service Inc., 4 January 2004)

Beverly began operation in late 2000 but following a trial operation, the Honeymoon mine lies idle as financing remains unclear. (Sustainable Energy and Anti-Uranium Service Inc., 4 January 2004; WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 600, 19 December 2003)

In 1998, the federal government approved mining at Jabiluka, known for being one of the world's biggest uranium reserves. The mine is located near a unique nature park (Kakadu National Park) and the proposal raised strong protest from the traditional landowners. Following much protest, the traditional owners finally won. Although exploitation had begun on a small scale, the uranium ore was returned to the mine and the mine was cleaned up in 2003. In April 2004 the Northern Land Council, acting on behalf of traditional owners, adopted an agreement with owner ERA that gave them the right to veto future development of the mine. (Vergeten Volken [NL], June 1999; The Age, 22 April 2004)




ISSN: 1570-4629



Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Special Issue: 25 Years Since the TMI Disaster

We learned the obvious - that a combination of bad design, mechanical failure and operator error can lead to a nuclear meltdown, widespread panic, and scared and dying people. If we did not learn that then, we certainly did seven years later at Chernobyl.

(605-606.5583) NIRS

(March 12, 2004) - We learned that nuclear power, if it is to be even remotely safe, is not cheap; nuclear utilities spent tens of millions of dollars refitting existing reactors to meet post-TMI safety guidelines. Utilities building reactors at the time were forced to spend more to meet stricter safety standards. Of course, none of that made the reactors safe, nothing can.

We learned that electric utilities, once considered a safe stock option for widowers and retirement funds, lie when threatened, and that governments lie to protect them.

A significant number of people learned that their homes and their lives really were not very important to institutions many had thought little about-the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the US Congress, the Judiciary, the utilities, state governments, nuclear trade associations, the National Cancer Institute, just about every big-time player in the business of providing electricity and reassurance to the United States. Instead, they learned that their homes and lives were pretty much expendable to the myth of safe nuclear power.

In the end, that may have been the biggest, longest-lasting lesson: people are expendable when the nuclear industry is in trouble.

That is, admittedly, a sad commentary. Many of those who have caused that lesson to sink in would vigorously deny it. They would say, no, TMI did not kill anyone, the accident was contained and no, we do not want to admit anything.

Of course, they may well believe themselves, but the facts prove otherwise, as does real life. The facts, and real life, show that cancer rates have risen since the TMI accident, in precisely those areas most impacted by the radiation releases. The facts, and real life, demonstrate that TMI did kill - people, animals, plants - and caused mutations that still provoke a combination of wonder and disgust. The facts, and real life, admit that some 2,000 cases of harm were settled out of court for millions of dollars and records sealed because the utility did not want to admit the fact, and the reality of the TMI accident. Potentially thousands more cases were thrown out of court, because the court did not want to admit into evidence the facts, and reality, that more radiation was released from TMI than the utility and government want to admit.

The court can hide behind its judicial powers, but the facts and reality stand out nonetheless. People died because of Three Mile Island, and anyone who tries to tell you differently does not know the facts, nor the reality.

Just as some people and institutions would try to make you believe that only a few dozen people died as a result of Chernobyl - all firefighters and reactor operators - when, in fact, thousands, probably tens of thousands will die prematurely because of that accident, some people and institutions try to proclaim Three Mile Island as some sort of "success," some sort of proof that the nuclear age does not kill.

It is difficult, of course, to prove that a cancer is a direct result of any single thing - even cigarette smoking is for some a debatable cause of cancer. So it is for nuclear utilities also. Who, after all, would want to be blamed for death and destruction? Much better to blame it on unknown, unseen, or already improper influences. When Dr. Steve Wing finds stark evidence of increased cancer rates directly attributable to radiation released from TMI, of course those who caused it want to deny it. Especially since it might affect their ability to continue that industry.

And, 25 years later, is that not where we have arrived? Whether or not the nuclear industry will continue? Three Mile Island was not a local mishap, it was an international awakening and acknowledgement that nuclear power is a technology without fail-safe guarantees, it was the live demonstration that there is no such thing as inherently-safe nuclear power.

Back in 1979, a lot of people thought we would have learned our lesson by now. Nuclear power would be dead, or at least clearly on its way out. Even former US President Jimmy Carter, who toured TMI clad in little plastic booties to reassure an anxious nation, sought to create a renewable energy-powered future. And if TMI, and then Chernobyl, failed to kill the industry, then the waste problem will…

Give nuclear industry some credit, it is a resilient industry, one that takes punches and bounces back as if nothing had ever happened. It is an industry that can cause utilities purchasing its products to drown into bankruptcy, and then, without even taking a breath, espouse its economic benefits. It is an industry that has no hesitation in arguing that creating the world's most tempting terrorist target - thousands of high-level nuclear waste casks sitting unguarded in an open-air parking lot in Nevada - is somehow preferable to dispersed, protected storage at 70 or so nuclear reactor sites. In short, it is an industry that has no shame.

Even worse, it is a shameless industry that has many high-level backers. Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, for one wants to create, in his own words, a "nuclear corridor" running from the Texas border to the outskirts of Albuquerque. Senator Larry Craig of Idaho wants to move Idaho's high-level waste to Yucca Mountain, but nonetheless has steadfastly promoted construction of a new reactor in his state to produce hydrogen for a non-existent hydrogen fuel cell program for automobiles. New House Energy Committee Chairman Joe Barton is another who has yet to meet a nuclear-related program, initiative or relaxation of regulations to benefit the nuclear industry that he doesn't like.

And that is just in the U.S.! Across the world, the nuclear power industry is fighting back. You can read it in their internal communications; this industry feels like it has been trod upon and stomped down and we, the people, are interfering with their right to pollute, irradiate and kill as many of us as they choose, and by God, they're tired of that opposition!

Now Finland has ordered a new reactor. The temporary moratorium on new reactors in France is in jeopardy because of French nuclear pressure. In Asia, they still build reactors, don't they? And in the U.S., hiding behind the smokescreen of a licensing process that allows utilities to obtain essential site permits without ever admitting they want to build a reactor, there are three utilities seeking permits to build reactors. No, we are not fooled, we know what an Early Site Permit means - it is not just the first chance to participate in reactor licensing decisions, it is the last chance. After this, it is too late, the utility can do what it wants. This is why NIRS and Public Citizen, together with BREDL and other local and regional groups, have joined forces to challenge every single Early Site Permit applications being considered by the NRC: at Grand Gulf, Mississippi; North Anna, Virginia; and Clinton, Illinois.

Everywhere the nuclear industry goes, we must be there too, working tirelessly to remind people that nuclear power is not what its backers claim: it is not emission-free - reactors routinely emit radiation; it is not safe, people have died and continue to die from reactor accidents; the waste is not manageable, in fact, there is no place to put it; nuclear power is not economic, when its full costs are counted, it cannot compete with any energy source.

So, 25 years after we learned first-hand that the nuclear industry was everything its opponents feared, and not much of what its backers touted - and how it kept backers after losing US$1 billion dollar investment in a few hours is still startling - where do we stand? It would be comforting to argue that we are on the verge of a new energy age, one in which everyone has access to all the energy they need, clean, affordable and sustainable, but we are not there yet. It would be upsetting to think our future is solely nuclear, with a national security state ensuring that radiation leaks are never reported. In reality, we are somewhere between the two. There are more cases to be made, certainly better economic cases, that the first hypothesis is closer than the second, but that is by no means guaranteed. To create a better energy future, a better environmental future, a better economic future, is not an easy task. It requires incessant work, argument, education, organization and mobilization.

Three Mile Island dealt a blow to the nuclear power industry. Some hoped it would be a fatal blow, but it was not. Others hoped it would be a glancing blow; but it was not that either. 25 years later, arguments remain over what happened, who suffered and what was learned. If you look at the facts, the reality, there is really no doubt. If you talk to people who were there you will not doubt them. If you look at the science, you will not doubt it.

The next time you think about nuclear power, think not about an abstract cooling tower or reactor building behind a grove of trees. Think instead about the metallic taste people near TMI still feel in their mouths when they think about the accident. Think about the fear of pregnant women, told to evacuate more than 52 hours after the accident - then think about how the world criticized Ukraine for waiting 48 hours to issue an evacuation warning. Think about what the pain of cancer really feels like, and why some people in power feel compelled to deny it exists, when it is so clearly proven. Think about the dollars lost that day, and then think about the dollars the nuclear power industry still hopes to gain.

And that, in the end, is the lesson of TMI. Reactor accidents will happen, as long as there are reactors. The odds are it will not happen tomorrow, the odds just as conclusively are that it will happen again, in our lifetimes, perhaps even worse than ever. Stopping that reality means acquiring political power, because it will not stop by itself. If it did, if mere argument or persuasion or self-evident reality were sufficient, we would have won a long time ago. But it is not enough, political power is required and too often we surrender to the strength of our own arguments and say if "they" do not understand that, what can we do? The problem is that "they" understand power, and what we need to do is very clear: educate, do not expect TV to do it for us; organize, and don't stop; mobilize, and bring people out; and then do the same all over again… And if we all do that, then, in the history books, we can say: well, it took a while but in the end, the TMI accident really was the beginning of the end of nuclear power.

Contact: Michael Mariotte at



Between 3 and 4 a.m. on 28 March 1979, maintenance work was conducted at the secondary cooling system in the turbine building of Three Mile Island reactor 2. TMI-2, located near Harrisburg in the state of Pennsylvania, was an 880 MW reactor, built by Babcock & Wilcox. Metropolitan Edison Company (MetEd), a subsidiary of TMI owner General Public Utilities (GPU) operated both TMI reactors. TMI-2 was connected to the grid in April 1978 and was running for almost a year when the accident happened.

At around 4 a.m., a valve in the condensor closed causing circulation in the secondary coolant circuit to stop. The two main feedwater pumps stopped due to a lack of water and the turbine also scrammed and as a consequence heat was no longer removed from the steam generators. With non-functioning steam generators, the temperature and pressure in the primary cooling circuit started to rise. As increasing pressure could lead to pipes rupturing, a valve (Pilot Operated Relief Valve) opened automatically to release steam/water. The reactor itself also shut down automatically as its control rods were released. So far, everything was working as expected in emergency shutdowns.

The problems escalated when the pressure in the primary circuit began to drop. At that moment, the relief valve should have closed in order to prevent too much water being released from the cooling circuit but the valve remained opened, although an indicator in the control room wrongly showed that it had closed. This was caused by a design fault: the indicator only showed electricity supply to the valve but not whether it had really closed or not. With the valve open, more and more water escaped from the reactor.

Another problem occurred when emergency coolant pumps of the secondary circuit were started. Two valves in the feedwater pipes were blocked and no water could be transported to the steam generators, which ran dry. After eight minutes, the valves were opened manually.

As coolant continued to escape from the relief valve, the instruments available to reactor operators provided confusing information. None of the instruments showed the actual level of water in the reactor. The operators judged it by the level in the pressurizer (connected to the relief valve), which was still high so they were unaware of the decreasing level of water in the reactor core.

Because of the residual heat in the uranium fuel and the lack of sufficient cooling, the fuel cladding started to burst and the fuel began to melt. Within eight hours the core was (partly or completely) dry and melted fuel dropped to the bottom of the reactor vessel. It was later found that about one-half of the core had melted.

On 28 and 30 March radioactive gases were released from the plant. For the public, there was much uncertainty about the situation in the plant. The governor of Pennsylvania decided on 30 March to evacuate all pregnant women and young children within 5 miles (8 kilometers) of the reactor. Another 200,000 people left voluntarily, because of a lack of trust in the information provided by MetEd.

In 1980, decontamination work in the reactor buildings started. The reactor vessel lid was lifted in 1984 and removal work could begin inside the reactor. It was discovered that core damage and temperature levels had been much higher and water levels much lower than previously assumed. The molten fuel was removed between 1985 and 1990 and transported to the Idaho Nuclear Engineering Laboratory (INEL). Decontamination work was completed in 1993. Final dismantling of the reactor will be conducted when TMI-1 (still in operation) is to be dismantled.

Sources: Herman Damveld, 25 February 2004; fact sheet on TMI


Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(november 13, 2003) In time-honored tradition, the WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor is pleased to present the annual summary of occurrences in the world of uranium mining for the year 2003.

(600.5564) WISE Uranium - During 2003, the uranium spot market price increased by 35%, from US$ 10.20 to US$ 13.75 per lb. U3O8 (as of 8 Dec., 2003). While this increase gave rise to a few announcements for the restart of idle uranium mines, it was - also given the continuing imponderabilities of the uranium market - not strong enough to trigger a new uranium frenzy. On the contrary, the uranium extraction industry experienced a number of major blows - operational, such as the flooding of the McArthur River high-grade mine in Canada, and political, like the halt to the further development, and the subsequent backfilling, of the Jabiluka mine in Australia at the request of the Traditional Owners. Several announcements to increase uranium production capacity came from central Asia, where the legacy of Cold-War era uranium mining has not all been dealt with yet.

New uranium mining projects
In Canada, administrative preparations for the development of the Cigar Lake high-grade mine in Saskatchewan continued with CNSC's approval of Cigar Lake waste rock disposal in the mined-out Sue C pit at McClean Lake.

The licensing procedure for Powers Resources' proposed Gas Hills uranium in-situ leach (ISL) project in Wyoming, U.S., continued and in view of the rising uranium price, URI revived plans to commence production at its Vasquez uranium ISL project in Texas.

The increased price of uranium has caused Ukraine, which currently produces 34.5% of its uranium requirements, to consider exporting uranium. This would require the development of new capacities; however, given that Ukraine has not allocated sufficient funds for the reclamation of its existing uranium mill tailings (see below), the waste management problem would only be aggravated.

In Kazakhstan, construction of the Zarechnoye uranium ISL mine is scheduled to begin in 2004.

Iran is developing its first uranium mine at Saghand - a small-scale low-grade deposit.

In India, opposition grew against two uranium mine projects, Domiasiat in Meghalaya and Lambapur-Peddagattu in Andhra Pradesh. Both projects are aiming at low-grade deposits located in areas inhabited by tribal people and although mining company UCIL promised, in August, that mining at Domiasiat would not start without local consent, it was announced on 10 December that the project would commence. A guerrilla group that destroyed drilling equipment at the proposed site on December 3 has joined the opposition against the Lambapur-Peddagattu project. India is also testing a new method of extracting uranium from seawater.

After decades of controversy in Australia, Rio Tinto bowed to the opposition from the Traditional Owners to the Jabiluka uranium mine project and backfilled the material already mined. Several major mining companies have now vowed not to mine at World Heritage sites. Financing for the Honeymoon uranium ISL mine project in South Australia remains unclear and following the end of a trial operation, the mine lies idle.

Issues at operating uranium mines
McArthur River, Cameco's high-grade mine in Canada had to be temporarily shut down after water inflow. It was later discovered that McArthur River miners had been exposed to higher than usual radon levels during the mine flooding.

Following the Federal Courts decision to quash the McClean Lake mine's operating license in 2002, Cogema, along with the Province of Saskatchewan and the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, among others raised an appeal. The Appeals Court will hear the case in 2004. Meanwhile, the Saskatchewan Eco-Network named the Inter-Church Uranium Committee (ICUC) and its lawyer Stefania Fortugno, who had won the court case, "Environmental Activists of the Year". In parallel with the appeal, Cogema is pursuing a new operating license for McClean Lake, in case the appeal is lost. In addition, the licensing procedure for the Sue E extension of the McClean Lake mine is ongoing.

In the U.S., IUC's White Mesa Mill in Utah, unlike previous years, made few headlines. No new proposals to process all kinds of, "alternate feed material" (rather than uranium ore) were publicized - the company appears to be too busy with its exploration projects in Saskatchewan and Mongolia. At White Mesa, an incident occurred in July when the solution freeboard limit in tailings disposal cell #3 was exceeded, potentially affecting dam stability.

The only other active uranium mill in the country, Cotter Corp.'s Cañon City mill in Colorado, easily compensated for the lack of headlines from Utah. On January 2, the state lifted the mill's suspension on accepting radioactive waste as cover material for its tailings. By the following day, the U.S. EPA contradicted the state, finding radioactive waste shipments to the Cañon City mill unacceptable. In May, the Colorado State parliament approved a bill imposing additional requirements on Cotter Corp.'s Cañon City uranium mill, particularly targeting new waste shipments to the site. In July, the state cited Cotter for more violations at the mill and by September, it had become known that contaminated water was seeping around a plugged permeable wall at the mill site. The only good news this year was that no excess plutonium was found in Cañon City soil samples and in April an Appeals Court overturned a US$ 41 million jury award won in 2001 by residents allegedly sickened by radiation near the Cotter mill and later sent the residents' case back to district court.

Argentina intends to restart mining at the Sierra Pintada uranium deposit in Mendoza province despite the local Chamber of Commerce joining opposition against the project due to anticipated severe impacts to the regional economy.

In Namibia, Rio Tinto's large-scale low-grade Rössing uranium mine is considering early close down due to "volatile economic conditions", the decision will be announced by year-end.

Uzbekistan is aiming to boost uranium mine output 40% to 3,000 tonnes annually by 2010. While in southern Kazakhstan, a new uranium ISL refinery was completed.

Kyrgyzstan ratified the IAEA's non-proliferation regulations, a prerequisite for the planned restart of the Kara Balta mill, which will process pre-concentrate from the projected Kazakh Zarechnoye ISL uranium mine. Although such processing produces less waste than the milling of raw ore, it is surprising that a country claiming to be incapable of managing the uranium mill tailings left over from the Soviet era (see below) intends to produce more of such waste.

While other uranium mining operations struggle with the elements and/or public opposition, WMC's Olympic Dam copper/uranium mine in South Australia once again proved to be self-sufficient in this regard. After two major fires at the processing plant in 1999 and 2001, the plant this year was hit by a three-week outage caused by heat exchanger failure.

Abandoned mines
In Canada, negotiations are still ongoing with regard to who will pay for the cleanup of 42 abandoned uranium mine sites in northern Saskatchewan. The province of Saskatchewan is pressing the federal government to take full financial responsibility for the cleanup while its northern communities demand that cleanup operations begin.

Of the thousands of abandoned uranium mines in the U.S., the exploration pits in the Bighorn Canyon area, neighboring Pryor Mountains (Montana) and the Juniper mine in the Stanislaus National Forest (California) made headlines this year. The National Park Service is planning to cleanup the sites in the Bighorn Canyon area and the Forest Service closed a road near the Juniper site for high radiation readings.

In Argentina, reclamation work started at the Malargüe uranium mill tailings in Mendoza province, co-financed by the World Bank.

In Germany, after 13 years of dispute, the Federal Government and the Saxonian State Government signed an agreement on the reclamation of the uranium legacy sites that are not covered by Wismut's current reclamation mission. The agreement covers the sites that were no longer owned by Wismut post 1962, mainly located in the Ore Mountains near the Czech border. The total amount of Euro 78 million (US$ 84 million) is made available for the legacy sites until 2012 - however, that is only 17% of the sum required, according to earlier estimates.

Kyrgyzstan still seeks foreign support for the urgent stabilization of the abandoned uranium mill tailings deposits located in the south of the country. Offers of assistance have already come from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, the U.S., and France. The reclamation will start in 2004, financed with US$ 5 million supplied by the World Bank. An EU-sponsored study found that the main problem was the mechanical stability of the tailings dumps threatened by landslides and seismic activity; there is no widespread radiation hazard in the region at present.

Shutdown and decommissioning of uranium mines
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) approved Cameco's proposal to flood the mined-out Rabbit Lake open-pit mine in northern Saskatchewan by opening the dam separating it from Wollaston Lake. The approval came in spite of Inter Church Uranium Committee's (ICUC) fears that radioactive particles will move into the lake in the long term.

In the U.S., decisions were made on the groundwater remediation strategy at three uranium mill tailings sites, Naturita, Slick Rock, and New Rifle (all Colorado), covered by the Department of Energy's (DOE) UMTRA program. In all three cases, the strategy involves no further groundwater treatment, but complete reliance on natural flushing and/or relaxed contaminant concentration standards. The same is envisaged for a portion of the Monticello tailings site in Utah.

For the reclamation of the former Atlas Moab tailings site (Utah), now under jurisdiction of DOE, the search for alternative disposal sites continued. The option to relocate the tailings to the White Mesa mill found opposition from the Ute tribes. No decision on relocation options or on-site disposal has been made yet.

For the U.S. sites whose decommissioning falls under the responsibility of their previous operators, the following actions were requested and/or approved: demolition of Rio Algom's Ambrosia Lake mill, 9-year extension of reclamation milestones for Homestake's Grants tailings site (New Mexico), reclamation of Plateau Resources' Shootaring Canyon mill site (Utah), relaxed requirements and 2-year delay for Pathfinder's Shirley Basin and LuckyMc mill sites, and termination of the Green Mountain Ion-Exchange Site license (Wyoming).

On several occasions, measures meant to protect the integrity of the tailings for 1000 years failed after a short time. During two separate site visits, United Nuclear's inspector had to chase cattle from the Church Rock (New Mexico) tailings because of damaged fence lines. At the Bear Creek tailings (Wyoming), the state-imposed, so-called institutional controls failed miserably even before they needed to be relied upon. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) "staff was particularly surprised to learn several months ago that the mineral estate at Bear Creek has already been leased. This discovery does not give the staff confidence that institutional controls such as, for example, restrictive covenants, will be sufficient to provide long-term protection of the disposal site, especially as memories fade in the future."

Western Nuclear continued its efforts to convince NRC that prohibition of the use of contaminated groundwater in the surroundings of its Split Rock tailings site (Wyoming) is a viable long-term management option, rather than tedious and expensive groundwater cleanup to prevent contaminant plume dispersion. The company filed new groundwater modeling results showing a reduced area of impact compared to earlier modeling.

At Dawn Mining's Midnite mine site (Oregon), cleanup of spilled roadside ore is planned for spring 2004, but the company maintains it has no funds for cleanup of the Midnite mine site itself.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality issued an Agreed Order imposing a US$ 41,500 penalty on various violations to Everest Exploration's Hobson ISL site (Texas), currently undergoing decommissioning.

The Czech government announced the final shut down of the Rozná uranium mine by 2005. The closure of the country's last uranium mine has already been deferred several times. So far, the cleanup of the Czech uranium mines has cost the government CZK 21 billion (US$ 778 million) since 1989, and a total cost of CZK 80 billion (US$ 3 billion) is expected by 2040. The specific cleanup cost would therefore reach US$ 10.8 per lb. U3O8 produced, comparable to the uranium spot market price at the beginning of the year. This specific cost figure does not differ much from those incurred for the cleanup of the U.S. UMTRA Title I uranium mill tailings sites (US$ 14.70 per lb. U3O8) and the German Wismut sites (US$ 13.91 per lb. U3O8).

In Spain, former uranium mill workers of the now dismantled Andújar uranium mill filed a complaint for compensation for health damages. The workers are now demanding indemnification under civil law, following earlier unsuccessful attempts to initiate prosecution under criminal law.

In Portugal, environmentalists called for the overdue start of cleanup at the Urgeiriça uranium mine site, which may be postponed due to for lack of funds. An epidemiological study among residents of the site was initiated.

Stabilization of the Dniprodzerzhynsk uranium mill tailings in Ukraine was struck by insufficient allocation of funds, although a revised reclamation plan has been elaborated cutting costs to a small fraction of the sum foreseen initially.

In Kazakhstan, where some 100 million tonnes of tailings have been dumped since 1965, the dusting problem at the Aktau uranium mill tailings remained serious. The fine dust from the bare spots of the tailings continues to be blown towards the town of Aktau. With the mining company proving incapable of managing this problem (although it can easily be resolved in the short term), serious concerns arise regarding the necessary long-term stabilization of the tailings.

Regulatory and policy issues
In the U.S., the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a draft policy statement on Environmental Justice, weakening the constraints on siting of hazardous industries.

A U.S. Appeals Court upheld the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) rule setting limits on the permissible level of radionuclides in drinking water despite claims from the nuclear industry that they could impose unwarranted restrictions on nuclear facilities.

The state of Wyoming relaxed the groundwater standards for uranium in-situ leach (ISL) mines: the requirement to restore groundwater to pre-mining conditions after uranium ISL mining was dropped, easing the burden of costly groundwater restoration.

The Australian Senate conducted an inquiry highlighting serious flaws in uranium industry regulations. South Australia began a review of the environmental impacts of the acid ISL mining process, as being used in the Beverley mine and Honeymoon trial operation.

The World Health Organization (WHO) revised its provisional guideline value for uranium in drinking water from 2 µg/l to 9 µg/l. The change is not based on new toxicity data, but on a revision of the allocation of the tolerable daily intake to drinking water from 10% to 50%.

Source and contact: WISE Uranium at

Uranium mining victory against Cogema

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(October 4, 2002) A Canadian church group has won a court case against a uranium tailings dump, forcing work to stop at all uranium mines in northern Saskatchewan connected to the dump. This is anther victory against the French nuclear multinational Cogema, which is the subject of criticism of a new report by the Safe Energy Communication Council.

(574.5445) WISE Amsterdam - The Inter-Church Uranium Committee Educational Cooperative won its court case against the Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB - now called the Nuclear Safety Commission) and Cogema Resources.

Federal court Judge Campbell ruled that a Judicial Review was necessary for the AECB decision to grant an operating license for the JEB Uranium Tailings Facility without a full environmental assessment.

The decision means that as of 24 September 2002, the operating license for the JEB nuclear waste facility has been quashed. In effect, all uranium mine operations in northern Saskatchewan connected to the JEB pit will have to cease, as there is nowhere to put their waste. This includes the McClean Lake and Cigar Lake mines.

Cogema Resources - part of the French nuclear multinational Cogema - is taking immediate steps to request the Federal Court of Appeal to have the decision to quash the license stayed while an appeal is heard.

Cogema under fire
Cogema's environmental and safety record is the subject of The COGEMA File, a new report from the Safe Energy Communication Council.

The COGEMA File is a compilation of known environmental, health and safety violations by Cogema from 16 different instances, including three that were described in an earlier joint report, COGEMA: Above the Law? and released by SECC and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in May 2002.

COGEMA Inc. is set to process surplus weapons plutonium into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina (see "U.S. utility gets green light for weapons work" in this WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor). Yet the NRC has publicly stated that Cogema's record "good, bad or indifferent" will not affect the agency's decision-making in regard to COGEMA Inc.'s work in the U.S.

"The incidents we researched consistently demonstrated Cogema's cover-ups, corporate secrecy, disregard for international law, illegal importing and dumping, contamination, leaks, toxic discharges, and cavalier approach to issues of human health," said Linda Gunter, SECC's communications director who researched and authored the new items in the report.

The report covers incidents at Cogema's reprocessing plant at La Hague, France, which is notorious for releasing a cocktail of toxic and radiological chemicals into the surrounding air and water. It also includes details of leaks, spills and fines at Cogema's North American uranium mining operations.

Scott Denman, SECC's Executive Director, commented: "This is not the kind of company the American public want to invite into their back yard, particularly to handle something as lethal and toxic as weapons plutonium."

The report can be accessed on SECC's web site at Hard copies can be ordered directly from SECC.


  • WISE Uranium
  • SECC press release, 1 October 2002

Contact: Safe Energy Communication Council, 1717 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Suite 106 Washington, DC 20036, US
Tel: +1 202 483 8491 Fax 202-234-9194
Email: Web:

Uranium mining in 2001

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(December 21, 2001) News about uranium mining in 2001 includes the successful campaign against Jabiluka (see WISE News Communique 547.5266, "Rio Tinto places 10-year moratorium on Jabiluka uranium mine project") and the closure of France's last uranium mine.

(560.5355) WISE Uranium - During the course of the year 2001, the uranium spot price slowly recovered from a US$ 7.10 record low to $9.50 per lb U3O8 (Ux, Dec. 17), but this increase was not sufficient for the uranium mining industry to become hopeful.

Companies - in trouble, still
In March, Rio Tinto, new majority owner of Energy Resources of Australia Ltd, stalled, for poor uranium outlook, the efforts to sell its majority stake in ERA. ERA is operating the Ranger mine and developing the Jabiluka mine in the Northern Territory. Soon after, it became known that Cameco's stake in Energy Resources of Australia Ltd is for sale.

WMC, operator of the Olympic Dam copper/uranium mine in South Australia, reportedly is a takeover candidate for its aluminium business. Any possible buyer probably would try to sell off the copper/uranium business.

Pioneer Metals Corp. and Cameco announced they would form a public uranium exploration company to assess the Riou Lake and other properties in Saskatchewan, Canada.

New discoveries
A new assessment of the McArthur River high-grade uranium deposit in Saskatchewan, Canada, increased its reserves by more than 50% to 151,883 tonnes U at a grade of 17.96% U.

In South Australia, a possible new Olympic Dam-style copper/gold/uranium deposit was discovered. The size of the deposit is not known yet, however.

New uranium mining projects: low-cost only
Given the poor market conditions for uranium, the development of new mine projects continued nearly exclusively for low-cost operations, either employing the in-situ leach technology, or targeting high-grade deposits.

In February, Cameco even announced a delay until 2005 of the Cigar Lake high-grade uranium mine project in Saskatchewan, Canada (commercial production of its other high-grade mine McArthur River had only begun in November 2000). In July, the project obtained a Site Preparation License. In December, Cameco became the new operator of the project, so far operated (and still owned) by a joint venture.

In December, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission announced it is planning to issue an operating license for the Midwest uranium mine project in Saskatchewan, owned by COGEMA and others.

In Argentina, the government's search for a developer of the Cerro Solo uranium mining project failed.

Russia announced plans to develop the Khiagdinskoe uranium in-situ leach project located in the permafrost region in Buryatia, Russia.

Cameco announced to double its investment in the Inkay uranium in-situ leach project in Kazakhstan. Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan agreed on a joint venture to develop the Zarechnoye uranium deposit in Kazakhstan. And, Kazakhstan started to develop the Aktal, Moinkum, and Karamurun uranium in-situ leach projects.

The Beverley in-situ leach uranium mine in South Australia officially opened.

Rio Tinto, the new majority owner of ERA, placed a 10-year moratorium on the controversial Jabiluka uranium mine project located inside the Kakadu National Park in Australia's Northern Territory. The decision was based on the Traditional Owner's opposition to the project and the poor market conditions for uranium.

In November, the Honeymoon uranium in-situ leach project in South Australia received all necessary government approvals for commercial operation. Only one week later, an acid excursion was disclosed that had occurred during leach trials in 1999.

In December, Rio Tinto's subsidiary Kennecott was fined for illegally mining uranium in the Loxicha region in southern Mexico's Oaxaca state. Its license was canceled. Under Mexican law, uranium extraction and processing is the sole prerogative of the state.

Issues at operating uranium mines
In November, the Lagoa Real / Caetité uranium mine in Brazil received authorization to resume operation after a one-year outage due to an estimated 5000 cubic meter acid leakage at the heap leaching facility.

On 21 October, a large kerosene fire broke out at the solvent extraction plant of the Olympic Dam copper/uranium mill in South Australia - in the same area where a similar fire had occurred two years earlier. The new fire caused damages above A$20 million (US$10.1 million). During the rebuilding period, the mine's annual uranium output would fall by about 1500 tonnes from its previous level of 4500 tonnes.

Aborigine activist Kevin Buzzacott received the 2001 Nuclear-Free Future Resistance Award for his struggle against WMC's Olympic Dam uranium mine.

Focus on abandoned uranium mine and mill sites
It is remarkable that in 2001, in a variety of countries, the situation at old and abandoned uranium mine and mill sites found much more attention than in previous years.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is assessing the situation at 11 old uranium tailings sites in Ontario, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories. The commission plans to issue temporary licensing exemptions for currently unlicensed sites, until arrangements for their clean-up will be made with previous owners.

A five-year aerial survey of abandoned uranium mines areas in the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona, U.S., was completed and identified 39 square kilometers of excess radiation areas. The U.S. State of Utah plans to close 140 abandoned uranium mines in the San Rafael Swell area, north of Hanksville.

Argentina plans to reclaim the former uranium mining sites in the country with the help of a World Bank loan - maybe an interesting alternative also for other countries with low budgets.

France started the decommissioning of the Le Bouchet uranium mill and uranium processing facility near Paris. The mill had processed high grade uranium ores between 1946 and 1958, before uranium mills were in operation near the country's uranium mines. An environmental watchdog group published a survey of residual radiation at several abandoned uranium test mines in the Puy-de-Dôme department in central France, and called for the clean-up of the sites.

In Germany, the official assessment of abandoned uranium mining sites (no longer owned by previous operator Wismut) was completed. The survey showed that radiation hazards exist at 20% of the 8000 sites identified. However, clean-up of these sites (other than for those still owned by Wismut) is not assured yet.

In Kazakhstan, attempts to find a contractor for the radiation monitoring at the major uranium mill tailings dump near Aktau were unsuccessful.

Russia is assisting Kyrgyzstan in the reclamation of uranium mill tailings located in the south of the country. The uranium waste is located over an area of 20 square kilometers in an area prone to floods and landslides on the bank of the Maylisu river, near houses and production facilities.

The South African Chamber of Mines identified no need for reclamation of the country's gold/uranium mill tailings, based on a radiation survey of these sites. There were apparently almost no environmental hazards connected to these waste dumps (!?).

Shutdown and decommissioning of uranium mines
Many issues at current decommissioning projects reflect the uranium industry's effort to cut costs - well known from previous years.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued another aquifer exemption for the disposal wells of COGEMA's closed Christensen Ranch in-situ leach uranium mine Wyoming.

Umetco applied for relaxed groundwater standards at its former Gas Hills uranium mill site in Wyoming. The same was requested by Quivira Mining for its Ambrosia Lake mill site in New Mexico. In addition, a 2-year extension of the reclamation deadline was requested for the latter.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved another 5-year postponement of initiation of decommissioning of Kennecott's Sweetwater uranium mill in Wyoming - in view of President Bush's Energy Plan (!). The mill was shut down and has been on stand-by since April 1983.

Pathfinder Mines requested, among others, approval of a reduced cover thickness for the tailings at its Shirley Basin site in Wyoming.

The Washington State Department of Health terminated the Sherwood uranium mill license.

In October, the U.S. Department of Energy, as ordered by Congress one year earlier, assumed ownership of the leaking Moab tailings site in Utah, a legacy of decades of uranium mining by now bankrupt Atlas Corporation. The department investigated the remediation options for the site and currently awaits a review of its proposals by the National Academy of Science. A decision between the alternatives of capping in place or the (more expensive) relocation to a safer disposal site has not yet been made.

For the groundwater remediation activities at the Shiprock, New Mexico, UMTRA site (Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action Project), the Draft Environmental Assessment was available for public review (UMTRA sites are reclaimed by the Department of Energy). The project includes the pumping and treatment of contaminated groundwater.

At present, the Draft Environmental Assessment of Ground Water Compliance at the New Rifle, Colorado, UMTRA site is available for public review. Here, on the contrary, the proposal is to rely on natural flushing rather than on active groundwater clean-up.

In May, the last uranium mine in France, le Bernardan at Jouac, was shut down. France used to be the largest uranium producer in Western Europe for decades. The decommissioning of the former Lodève uranium mine and mill site at Le Bosc in Southern France is affected by recent plans to build a motor racing circuit on the site.

In Germany, the scheduled flooding of the Königstein underground and in-situ leach uranium mine started, after preparatory measures for groundwater protection had been completed.

Alternate feed processing and waste disposal businesses
International Uranium Corp. (IUC) continued the processing of alternate feed material, such as radioactively contaminated soils, rather than uranium ores at its White Mesa Mill in Utah, U.S. This is the only way to keep the mill operating at current market conditions. After the extraction of residual uranium, the wastes are dumped in the mill's existing tailings impoundments - thus avoiding higher disposal costs at licensed radioactive waste disposal sites. In 2001, the company requested additional license amendments to process 16,000 tonnes of alternate feed material from the Molycorp Site in California and 750,000 tonnes (!) from the Maywood FUSRAP site (Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program) in New Jersey (see WISE News Communique 551.5295, "Alternate feed material: Putting radwaste through uranium mills).

Some uranium mill tailings sites even are licensed to accept offsite radioactive waste without prior processing. In June, for example, the license for storage of offsite radioactive waste at Umetco's closed Uravan uranium mill site in Colorado was renewed. But, only one month later, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency surprisingly canceled plans to ship 72,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste from the old Shattuck Chemical Co. site in Denver to the Uravan uranium mill tailings site. The material will, instead, be shipped to a licensed radioactive waste disposal site.

Uranium miners' and residents' health issues
In July, the U.S. President signed a bill to ensure compensation payments to uranium miners who had contracted certain diseases during work for the nation's early nuclear weapons program. The bill had become necessary after the compensation program had run out of money and several hundred aging radiation victims had received IOUs (letters confirming the compensation owed to them) rather than payments. In December, Congress enacted legislation that would ensure compensation payments under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act for the next 10 years. Previous legislation depended on the necessary appropriations being provided every year.

In June, a U.S. federal jury awarded US$16 million to 32 residents living near Cotter Corp's former Cañon City uranium mill in Colorado. In November, 16 others were awarded US$41 million. The plaintiffs contended that uranium from the Cotter mill contaminated their neighborhood and damaged their health. Both judgments were appealed by Cotter Corp. Back in 1998, 14 residents had been awarded US$2.9 million.

A new scientific study found chromosomal aberrations in white blood cells of former German uranium miners. An earlier study had found such aberrations in Namibian uranium miners, but its results could not be confirmed in a verification study.

Regulatory issues
Given the difficult situation of the domestic uranium recovery industry, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission discontinued its rulemaking efforts concerning the in-situ leaching of uranium and the processing of alternate feed material at uranium mills (10 CFR Part 41). Some of the points in question are now addressed in interim guidances.

Also given the presently difficult conditions for the uranium mining industry, the U.S. National Mining Association (NMA) filed a petition for rulemaking to waive the licensing fees for uranium mines: "The NMA believes that relieving the fee pressure on the licensees would be in the public interest and serve to maintain a viable domestic uranium recovery industry, including its substantial waste disposal capacity."(!) According to the petition, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would have to shift approximately $4 to 5 million in annual fees to other nuclear fuel cycle licensees.

In July, U.S. Congress planned to grant US$30 million in subsidies to the domestic uranium in-situ leach industry for the development of groundwater restoration technologies. After heavy protests from the Navajo affected by an in-situ leach mine project in Crownpoint, New Mexico, and from environmental organizations, including NIRS, the provision for these subsidies was removed from the U.S. Senate bill in November.

One month after the terrorist attacks of September 11, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission completely shut down its web site - thus also cutting WISE Uranium Project off from one of its major sources of information. In the meantime, the NRC relaunched its web site with a very small fraction only of the material that was available earlier.

The German parliament approved new radiation protection regulations implementing the European Union radiation protection directive of 1996. The German implementation allows the 400 mSv lifetime dose standard to be exceeded for uranium mine cleanup workers, many of whom have received high doses during their former work in the Wismut mines and would have to cease their clean-up work for exceeding the new lifetime dose standard.

The European Commission issued a proposal for a directive aimed at preventing industrial accidents involving dangerous substances. The new rule amends the so-called Seveso II directive of 1996 and includes measures aimed at improving safety measures for tailings ponds. Once finalized, the directive will have to be implemented into national law by all EU member countries. To our knowledge this is the first initiative on a higher than national level to establish binding rules addressing the often neglected serious hazards of tailings ponds.

Source and Contact: WISE Uranium (
for details, check WISE Uranium Project's web site at

USA: dark secrets of nuclear weapons work in 1940/50s

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(October 6, 2000) In a three-day exposé, the American newspaper USA Today published in the beginning of September a 10 month investigative report researched and written by journalist Peter Eisler, which laid out the dark secret of the U.S. government secretly contracting with private facilities across the nation to build America's early nuclear arsenal during the 1940's and 50's.

(535.5208) Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety - The exclusive report uncovers big-name chemical firms, private manufacturing facilities, and mom-and-pop machine shops that were hired by what is now called the Department of Energy (or DOE) to work on different aspects of nuclear weapons production. Some 300 companies undertook the dangerous business of handling tons of uranium, thorium, polonium, and other radioactive and toxic substances, including beryllium. Neither the companies nor the government ever told the thousands of workers that they were exposed to hazardous levels of radiation, frequently hundreds of times higher than the limits considered acceptable in those days. At least one-third of those companies did not protect workers with proper equipment or tell them of the hazards of the materials they were working with.

Not only were the workers exposed to health hazards, but many people in the communities surrounding these facilities were also exposed as the companies dumped toxic waste generated from the weapons work into the air, soil and water. Many of the contamination risks remain covered-up even today. Recently, many documents that were previously classified by the federal government, became declassified because of the passage of time, so were available to the investigative journalists. The investigation into nuclear workers lack of protection now became painfully evident.

"These places just fell off the map," says Dan Guttman, former director of the U.S. President's Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments, set up in 1994 to investigate revelations that government-funded scientists exposed unknowing subjects to dangerous isotopes in secret Cold War studies. "People were put at considerable risk. It appears (the government) knew full well that (safety) standards were being violated, but there's been no effort to maintain contact with these people (and) look at the effects."

The 'need' for private contractors
After World War II, the top-secret program to develop nuclear weapons, the Manhattan Project, continued. The Atomic Energy Commission, predecessor of the present DOE, which was set up in 1946, recognized that the government lacked enough manufacturing facilities and expertise. As a result, contracts were renewed with a small group of companies that had been hired for the Manhattan Project. But with the explosion of the first Soviet atomic bomb, the AEC moved to a far more aggressive weapons production schedule and the number of private companies hired multiplied. Health and safety concerns were less important than building a lot of nuclear weapons in a short time. The AEC began moving away from using private contractors in the early 1950s, building up a network of government-owned facilities. Some subcontractors were still used for certain work, but most work at private sites ended by 1960.
USA TODAY, 5 September 2000

"There's no legitimate reason for this neglect,'' says Guttman, a lawyer and weapons program watchdog who returned to private practice after the committee finished its work in 1995. The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA), a U.S. organization made up of local groups including CCNS that focus on DOE issues, released the following statement in response to the USA Today article: "Today's revelation that more than 100 'forgotten' nuclear weapons production facilities exposed workers and contaminated the environment demonstrates the nation's ongoing failure to develop a coherent plan to address the Cold War's radioactive legacy."

ANA urged the Clinton Administration and Congress to respond to the USA Today articles without delay. "The message for the U.S. government is really simple," explained ANA Director Susan Gordon. "Tell the truth; redress the harm." ANA called for adoption of "a systematic plan" based on four principles:

  • Full disclosure of all U.S. nuclear weapons production activities -- where they took place, when, who was exposed, and what contamination still exists;
  • Immediate containment of residual radioactive and toxic materials followed by cleanup to protect against further damage;
  • Release of all worker exposure records and government- funded health monitoring of former facility employees and neighbors; and
  • Development of a package including compensation and other remedies to assist those who are sick or whose loved ones have died.

ANA leaders met with DOE Assistant Secretary for Environment, Safety and Health, David Michaels to discuss health-related issues. Activists around the nation, including CCNS, are petitioning DOE for hearings to discuss responses to recent reports of widespread worker and community contamination from nuclear weapons production. ANA will also be working with members of Congress to develop legislation to address these problems.

Source and contact: Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), 107 Cienega, Santa Fe, NM 87501, US Tel: +1-505-986 1973; Fax: +1-505-986 0997


Protest camp against Beverley Uranium Mine in Australia; leak at Ranger mine

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(May 26, 2000) Hundreds of activists are protesting against the coming opening of the Beverley mine in Australia. At the Ranger mine, a leak occurred in a tailings dam. The authorities were not notified until 23 days later.

(530.5176) WISE Amsterdam - About 200 people from around the world have set up an action camp at the gates of the Beverley uranium mine to protest against the start of its commercial operation as is scheduled in July. Thirty-one activists were arrested on May 9 during protests. They were arrested when they entered the Heathgate Resources grounds and refused to leave. Nine people were arrested two days earlier in a roadblock action. The prisoners were said to have been used as hostages as the police told the demonstrators that they would be released only if the roadblock was removed. The blockade lasted for 24 hours.

Environmental groups dealing with the mine, such as the Flinders Ranges Environment Action, object to the environmental consequences of the in-situ leach mining practices. The Beverley aquifer lies only 50 to 100 meters above the country's most important underground water supply, the Great Artesian Basin. The area has experienced consistent seismic activity.

The Beverley mine is owned by Heathgate Resources, a subsidiary of the U.S. General Atomics. The Beverley deposit was purchased by General Atomics with the foundation of Heathgate in 1990. Protests at the site have been held since 1997.

At another mine, the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu National Park, a leakage took place on April 5 that went unreported for 23 days. The owner, Energy Resources of Australia (ERA), has to explain to the government why it took so long before authorities were notified about the tailings dam leak.

The Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation, representing the Mirrar population of Kakadu, condemned the failure of governmental supervision over ERA's operations. Because of the leak at the Ranger mine, a group of parliamentarians has called for the government to rescind approval for the ERA's Jabiluka mine, also in Kakadu National Park.


  • Environment News Service, 9 May 2000
  • Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), 5 May 2000

Contact: Flinders Ranges Environment Action, c/o Post Office Copley, South Australia 5732
Tel: +61-8-8675 2242 or +61-428 660636

BeverleyRanger Mine

Uranium mining in 1999: Hard times continuing

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(December 10, 1999) The spot market price for uranium remained at low levels in 1999. While it was slightly above US$10 during the first half of the year, it later declined to US$9.70 per lb U3O8 (as of Nov. 29, 1999). Of course this has consequences.

(522.5118) WISE Uranium - The continuing low uranium price in 1999 had implications on existing operations and planned projects:

Energy Resources of Australia announced a decrease to 4,000 tons U3O8 for the production at its Ranger mine in 1999; Rössing plans to shed 200 workers at its uranium mine in Namibia by end 2000; Denison Mines reduced the workforce at its McClean Lake project in Canada by 40%; Uranium Resources abandoned its Alta Mesa uranium in-situ leach project in Texas; International Uranium Corp. suspended the mining operations at its Sunday Mine in Colorado that it had started only in late 1997, and it withdrew the license application for its Reno Creek in-situ leach project in Wyoming.

In spite of the continuing depression of the uranium market, three conventional uranium mills in the US which had been on standby since the 1980s, requested and received licenses to restart their operations: the Shootaring Canyon mill in Utah, the Cañon City mill in Colorado, and the Sweetwater mill in Wyoming. Their owners obviously had anticipated a rise in the uranium price, which didn't materialize then.

The change of ownership in the Canadian mines, which had been initiated by Cameco's acquisition of all North American properties of Uranerz in 1998, found its continuation in 1999: Cogéma acquired parts of the Key Lake uranium mine and of the McArthur River and Midwest projects from Cameco; Cameco became majority owner of Cigar Lake; and Denison acquired a further interest in the Midwest project from Cogéma.

While exploration expenditures remained low in 1999, one major discovery was announced: Cameco located high-grade uranium at La Rocque Lake in Saskatchewan.

New projects
In Canada, operating licenses were issued for the McClean Lake and McArthur River projects in Saskatchewan. McArthur River now is the first licensed mine exploiting a large-scale high-grade deposit (160,000 tons of uranium at an extremely high average ore grade of 12.7% U). The licenses include the controversial tailings disposal in groundwater in former open pit mines at McClean Lake and at Key Lake (where part of the McArthur River ore is to be milled). The McArthur River license was issued, although "Lucy Lake water and/or sediment concentrations of As, Cd, Cu, Ni, U and ammonia above guidelines or benchmarks are predicted to occur" during operation of the mine. The McClean Lake license was issued, although construction deficiences had been identified in the filter drains of the tailings pit in late 1998; the license now is the target of legal action by Inter-Church Uranium Committee.

In Australia, construction of the decline for the controversial Jabiluka mine (surrounded by UN World Heritage Kakadu National Park) in the Northern Territory was completed in July, and no further construction work has taken place since. Through intense lobbying, the Australian government achieved the Kakadu National Park not being listed "In Danger" by the UN World Heritage Committee for the development of the Jabiluka mine; the Committee posed a number of conditions, however.

Since the Traditional Owners vetoed the milling of Jabiluka ore at the existing Ranger mill, Energy Resources of Australia now is considering building a new mill at Jabiluka at costs of A$ 150 million (US$ 96.5 million). It seems to be unclear, however, whether the mine then would be viable under the current market conditions.

Traditional Owner Yvonne Margarula and her speaker Jacqui Katona received the prestigious 1999 Goldman Environmental Prize, worth US$125,000, for their campaign against the Jabiluka uranium mine.

The Beverley in-situ leach uranium mine in south Australia received final approval in April, and construction has begun. In November, several protesters who had tried to stop construction work at the site were arrested.

The environmental impact statement for the Honeymoon in-situ leach mine in south Australia is expected to be released in December.

Issues at operating mines and mills
International Uranium Corp.'s (IUC) White Mesa uranium mill in Utah (US) continued the processing of so-called alternate feed rather than uranium ore. In 1999, IUC received approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for processing of further uranium-contaminated material from old nuclear weapons production sites at Tonawanda and St. Louis. The state of Utah, however, fears that the extraction of uranium from the material is not the main purpose of such processing, but the final disposal of the residual material in the mill's tailings pond. The state therefore made several attempts to limit such processing of alternate feed; the current approach is to extend its Agreement State status with the NRC to the regulation of uranium mills and tailings. This would allow the state to regulate the controversial alternate feed processing at the White Mesa mill by itself.

At the Olympic Dam copper/uranium mine in south Australia, aboriginal and anti-nuclear protesters blocked the mine entrance in September. They raised their concerns about the lasting effects of the tailings dam and about production of uranium at the site which ended up as nuclear waste.

In India, the environmental hazards from the Jaduguda uranium mine and mill are gaining growing attention. It is suspected that thousands of tribal residents are at risk of contamination. A video by Shriprakash on the case was awarded the third prize at the Film South Asia 1999 Festival in Kathmandu. The Indian Supreme Court issued a notice to the Union and State governments on the uranium mine pollution.

In South Africa, the Council for Nuclear Safety estimates that at least 10,000 mineworkers, or roughly one in 20 mineworkers, have been exposed to radiation levels that exceeded safety limits.

Decommissioning projects
The cleanup of the 9.5-million-ton Atlas Corp. uranium mill tailings site at Moab (Utah, US) has continued to be discussed controversially. The pile is located immediately on the bank of the Colorado River, a drinking water resource for millions of Americans. The NRC approved the in-place reclamation of the tailings pile in spite of concerns raised for the water quality of the Colorado River. However, the funds available from Atlas are not even sufficient for the in-place reclamation. In addition, bankrupt Atlas Corp. now is to be released from the liability for the tailings cleanup: the NRC has selected a trustee, to whom the license will be transfered.

The cleanup of Dawn Mining Co.'s uranium mill tailings pile at Ford (Washington State) used to be a matter of similar controversy. Dawn wanted to cover the tailings pile with low- level nuclear waste to get at the money needed for the reclamation. Tension increased in January when the Washington State Deptartment of Health approved the nuclear dump on Dawn's uranium mill tailings. However, a dramatic change occurred in September, when Dawn announced that it had changed its plans and now would cover the pile with clean fill. Dawn had not been able to contract for the radioactive waste they had had an eye upon. This preliminary happy ending also led to Owen Berio, founder of the environmental group Dawn Watch, being awarded the environmental hero award by the Washington Environmental Council.

Groundwater standards at US uranium mill tailings sites most often are met by approval of "alternate concentration limits" or "supplemental standards" rather than real groundwater cleanup. The only site for which active groundwater cleanup was proposed in 1999 so far was the Monument Valley, Arizona, uranium mill tailings site. Relaxed groundwater standards were approved for the following uranium mill tailings sites: Sohio's L-Bar site (New Mexico), Exxon's Highland site (Wyoming), the Grand Junction site (Colorado), and the Lakeview site (Oregon).

The proposal of Western Nuclear Inc. for its Split Rock uranium mill tailings site (Wyoming) even goes further: it comprises the prohibition of groundwater use rather than the prevention of contaminant plume dispersion.

In Canada, the environmental assessment process for the decommissioning of Cogéma's Cluff Lake uranium mine and mill has begun; the facility has to be closed prematurely for unexpected (!) lack of tailings dam capacity.

And the Canadian Federal government has signed a commitment to clean up the Port Radium uranium mill tailings site on the shore of Great Bear Lake (Sahtu) in the Northwest Territories. The site had been abandoned in 1960. A film on the case has been produced by Peter Blow.

In the Czech Republic, groundwater cleanup at the former Stráz pod Ralskem in-situ leach facility is continuing. Contaminated groundwater is pumped and treated in an evaporator, concentrating the contaminants. As a stopgap measure, the evaporator condensate is returned underground into the wellfield, rather than processed into sale products, for unavailability of the necessary processing plant. This practice is foreseen to continue until at least 2006.

In Japan, protestors have dumped a truckload of radioactively contaminated soil from the former Ningyo-toge uranium mine at the doorsteps of a nuclear facility in December, to call for the safe management of the material so far "temporarily" stored on their lands without their consent.

Compensation of former US Uranium Workers
In 1990, US Congress enacted the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to allow for financial compensation of health effects caused in early uranium miners and in residents living downwind of nuclear weapons tests. Although the drawbacks of the 1990 act have been widely discussed since, no amendment has been passed so far. At present, a study is being conducted among Colorado Plateau uranium mill workers, to find out whether it is justified to include the mill workers in addition to the mineworkers only covered so far. In November, an US Senate Committee approved a bill introduced by Orrin Hatch to amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. The fate of the bill in the full Senate is unclear, however.

During a ceremony held on September 26, 1999, at Los Alamos, New Mexico, Dorothy Purley of the Laguna Pueblo received the Nuclear Free Future Resistance Award. For decades, she has been fighting against the Jackpile mine in the Laguna Pueblo Reservation (New Mexico) and for the compensation of former uranium miners.

Source and contact: Peter Diehl at WISE Uranium Project
For details, check WISE Uranium Project's web site at


Repression against German anti-Castor activists

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(October 29, 1999) In Germany, the anti-nuclear resistance is gearing up now that reports about resumption of the Castor transports are increasing. This means that repression will gear up too. With this in mind solidarity is necessary now more than ever. Although the following events took place several months ago we publish this call for solidarity.

(520.5106) BBA Infoladen - On July 6 1999, the Federal Criminal Police office (Bundeskriminalamt, BKA) searched 10 flats in Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, in the county of Lüchow-Dannenberg (Wendland, the Gorleben region) and in the area of Lüneburg, an enterprise of taxi drivers in Berlin-Kreuzberg and an environmental institute in Bremen (all in northern Germany). The accusation is "suspicion of membership of a terrorist organisation" (§129a) or "dangerous intervention in the railway transport" (§315).

According to press publications of the Chief Federal Prosecutor nine attorneys, 100 BKA (something like the FBI) members and another 200 policemen and -women were involved. Those arrested were fingerprinted and photographed, samples of saliva and hair (from hairbrushes) were taken to make DNA analysis. In Berlin, policemen in disguise and with helmets and pistols stormed the flat of an accused person. Another person was taken from his work.

According to the Federal Attorney Office the searches and arrests were the result of "intensive investigations of the Working Group Energy of the BKA". These investigations showed that the acts could be traced back to a group of people from the militant resistance against the Castor-transports and to a group called the AOK (Anti-Olympic Committee), a group that resists the candidacy of Berlin for the Olympic Games. The accusation was justified with the "pinch hook actions" against the German Railway Company. (The "pinch hook" is an anchor which is thrown over the high tension wires of the railway line. If a train "catches" the hook the wires will be teared down. This results in damage and the impossibility of railway traffic for the next couple of hours).

According to the press release of the Chief Federal Prosecutor, these sabotage actions took place on October 7 1996, on 12 locations in the whole of Germany and on February 25 1997, on another eight locations in northern Germany. Another justification is a "communique of autonomous groups" concerning these acts and further declarations of the culprits. The broadly published communique stated: "Aim of the attacks was to put pressure on the German Railway Company to stop the Castor-transports by rail."

Because of the series of actions which took place at the same time and the joint declaration, the Chief Federal Prosecutor concluded that there is an organization of "autonomous groups", whose "cadre of leaders" are among the ones now accused. The state attorney insinuates that through the cutting of the overhead railway cable, the lives of train drivers and passengers were endangered. But the discussions within the anti-nuclear movement shows clearly that such acts were always planned and conducted in a way that no human being was endangered. In the abovementioned communique concerning this matter activists say: "With this act we stick to the consent of the resistance movement in the Wendland not to endanger the life of human beings."

Eleven people are accused and nine are affected ("Betroffene") by criminal charges after the house searches. The "affected" are those who are supposed to have contact to the "accused" or access to their rooms. The searches -- at least the ones of the "accused persons" -- took place in all rooms to which they -- according to the attorney -- had access to. So cellars, attics, sheds, barns, cars, gardens and agricultural areas were searched. All searches started simultaneously at about 8 o'clock in the morning and lasted for 13 hours. The "accused" was allowed one phone call to a lawyer (with one exception) and were not allowed to make any further telephone calls. In Bremen, a colleague from an office called MAUS (Messtelle fr Arbeits- und Umweltschutz: institute for the protection of work and environment), is one of the "accused persons". His work-place as well as all the rooms of the institute and the whole house in which it is located, were searched. Business and working documents were confiscated thus risking the continued existence of the project. In this case another charge was brought up: "initial suspicion of fraud because of inexpedient use of sponsorship money." Certainly this specific case did not happen by chance. Among other things the office had joined and supported scientifically and politically a campaign against nuclear transports through Bremen and Bremerhaven during 1997/8. Meanwhile, a funder of the institute stated that "one person" has to be fired or else continued funding is in danger.

During the search the following things were confiscated: computers and data carriers (floppy discs, CDs), video films, photos, diaries, addressbooks, notebooks, material people worked with (articles and further texts that had nothing to do with the accusation), medical documents and therapy papers about personal treatments, documents about patients, strategy discussions about uranium-, Castor-transports and anti-nuclear resistance. Documents such as bank accounts, receipts, contracts and tools and equipment like vices, pipe wrenches, pin cutters, spanners, rails, wireless scanners, signal vests, maps, typewriters, typebars, samples of handwritings and type writings, hairbrushes and hemp plants. On top of all that cigarette stubs were confiscated because according to the house search decision a stubbed-out cigarette (of the brand Juwel) was found on a concrete sleeper in the rail bed near Potsdam, 13.20m from a place where a pinch was said to be hung up. To date, it is still unknown when the court case against the 20 accused will start.

In our opinion that action of the BKA is obviously linked to the energy concensus-talks between the government and the nuclear industry. In the run up of the political and practical preparations for further nuclear transports the resistance is to be criminalized, intimidated, divided into "peaceful" and "violent" parts and weakened.

Concluding we want to point out that:

  • We are the ones who determine the form of resistance that we use against the inhumane nuclear plants. We don't allow the representatives of the nuclear industry and their governmental supporters to tell us what to do.
  • It doesn't matter which "colour-combination" in Berlin is in power: we will continue to fight against nuclear plants until all of them are closed!
  • We know: the repression is aimed at all of us -- but we won't let them intimidate nor divide us. Decisive for changes has always been the pressure we could produce from our side.

We want:

  • Immediate return of all confiscated materials!
  • Abandoning of all criminal cases against opponents of nuclear power!
  • Immediate closure of all nuclear plants!

You can sign this declaration of solidarity and send it to the address below. Read more about (the resistance against) Castor-transports in WISE News Communiques 432,452, 468, 486 and 489.

Source and contact: BBA-Infoladen,
St. Pauli Str. 10-12, 28203 Bremen Germany.
Tel/Fax: +49-421-700 144

Thousands exposed to PU at Paducah enrichment plant

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(August 13, 1999) US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson ordered an immediate investigation into reports that thousands of unsuspecting employees at a Kentucky uranium enrichment plant were exposed on the job to cancer-causing plutonium. The Washington Post revealed on August 9, that reprocessed uranium from military nuclear fuel was contaminated with plutonium.

(515.5056) WISE Amsterdam - Richardson will meet with workers at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and would request a National Academy of Sciences study to probe the links between worker illnesses and exposure to radioactive materials that occurred over decades at the federally owned plant. His remarks came after The Washington Post reported that workers at the Paducah plant had been unwittingly exposed to plutonium and other radioactive metals that entered the plant over decades in shipments of used uranium from military nuclear reactor fuel. The report was based in part on sealed court documents filed as part of a lawsuit by workers and the environmental group the Natural Resources Defense Council. The suit alleges that government contractors concealed evidence of the exposure for decades while allowing plutonium and other hazards to spread into the environment. According to Thomas Cochran, a nuclear expert with the NRDC who reviewed conditions at the plant, health and safety practices there were the worst "outside the former Soviet Union."

Paducah workers were exposed to plutonium through shipments of contaminated uranium that arrived at the plant from 1953 to 1976, a period when national security priorities often surmounted concerns over risks to workers and the environment. The plutonium shipments stopped, but contaminants remain spattered over hundreds of acres of buildings and grounds. Workers did not learn of the problems until at least 1990, and some contend they were never told. The US Enrichment Corp., a corporation that took over management of the plant this year after privatisation, contends that all significantly contaminated areas have been cleaned up or marked with warning signs.

Although no comprehensive study of worker medical histories has been conducted, current and former workers at the plant have linked past exposures to a string of cancers and other diseases. Besides the health study by the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, the Energy Department will institute a medical surveillance and screening program for employees. A screening of former Paducah workers is just beginning as part of the Former Worker Program, a congressionally ordered study of past exposures of employees in the US nuclear complex. The department's fiscal 2000 budget request will be reassessed and revised as necessary to include money to probe and rectify environmental and health concerns at the government's uranium enrichment plants.

The Post said the Paducah plants issue was an "unpublished chapter in the still unfolding story of radioactive contamination in the chain of factories in the country that produced America's Cold War nuclear arsenal."
Radioactive contaminants from the 300 hectare plant, built in 1952, spilled in ditches and eventually seeped into creeks. Workers claim that former plant managers allowed contaminated waste to be dumped into a state-owned wildlife area and a landfill not licensed for hazardous waste. They further contend that radioactively contaminated gold and other valuable metals may have been shipped out of the plant without being properly tested.


  • Washington Post, 9 August
  • Reuters, 10 August 1999

Contact: Thomas Cochran, NRDC, 1350 New York Avenue, NW, Suite 300. Washington DC 20005, USA Tel: +1-202-289-68869; Fax: +1-202-289-1060 E-mail:

Australia: Go-ahead for Beverley; protests at Jabiluka owner

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
(April 9, 1999) On March 18, the Australian government gave permission for the exploitation of the Beverley In-situ leaching uranium mine in northern South Australia. Large blockades in Melbourne at the office of Jabiluka owner North Limited resulted in clash with police.

(508.4998) WISE Amsterdam - Police and anti-uranium activists have clashed outside the Melbourne office of North Ltd. on the second day of protests against the Jabiluka mining project. A few days before the blockade North placed newspaper advertisements that described anti-uranium protesters as terrorists.
The protest sealed the head office of mining giant North Ltd, majority owner of the company that operates Jabiluka uranium mine in the Northern Territory. Demonstrators blocked three entrances to keep North staff out. But 60 were smuggled in by bus through a back alley under police guard.
On the second day of the blockade and in contrast to the day before, police cleared a path for motorists in the streets behind the company's offices. Police horses were being used to clear the road. North managing director Malcolm Broomhead accused the activists of intimidation and bullying.

The environmentalists were even more angry because permission was given for the Beverley ISL-uranium mine. In-situ leaching involves pumping sulphuric acid and oxygen underground to dissolve uranium into the groundwater, which is then pumped to the surface and the uranium removed. There are numerous ways in which ISL can lead to significant contamination of surrounding groundwater systems or the wider environment:

Escape of leaching solutions

-water moves from high pressure to low pressure, and thus any hole or opening away from the ore zone could act as a flow path for solutions. These may include features such as leaking boreholes, fault planes running across the aquifer system, old underground workings, or any other similar opportunity for water to flow freely.

Difficulties in geochemistry

-when the solutions are injected into an orebody aquifer to mobilize uranium, many other minerals are dissolved into solutions and many other radionuclides and heavy metals are mobilized also. These can include radium, arsenic, vanadium, molybdenum, cadmium, nickel, lead and others. The subsequent increase in concentrations can be up to a thousand times higher or more.

Precipitation of solids

-due to the nature of the groundwater and orebody chemistry, it is possible to form solid minerals that precipitate from solution and thereby act to reduce or at worst block the flow of solutions through the intended areas. These can include the formation of calcite (calcium cabornate), gypsum (calcium sulphate), jarosite (potassium iron sulphate) and other minerals.

Waste water disposal

-the inherent nature of ISL is that it produces extremely large quantities of waste water and solutions which need to be disposed of in an environmentally responsible manner. These are from the bleed water (excess pumping water) and waste solutions from the uranium extraction plant. Typically these solutions are mixed and re-injected into the same groundwater as that being mined, or injection into a deep aquifer remote from other groundwater users of the area or potential environmentally sensitive areas. Extremely high concentrations of radionuclides and heavy metals can be found in these waste waters, and the disposal area chosen also undergoes rehabilitation after the cessation of ISL mining.

High radon exposures

-due to the mobilization of uranium in the groundwater and circulating solutions, high concentrations of radium and radon are often found, leading to possibly high radiation exposures.

Environmentalists vowed to fight the Beverley project by any means possible, saying the in situ leaching process to be used retains waste products underground and threatens important water supply. Environment Minister Robert Hill said the government had been advised that the Beverley acquifer was unsuitable for drinking water or for stock and irrigation purposes and was isolated from other groundwater including the Great Artesian Basin.

Final export and development approvals are still required for Beverley, which has an estimated resource of 21,000 tons of uranium oxide (U3O8), but the government and its owners (US General Atomics) think commercial production would start in early 2000.


  • Reuters, 19 March
  • The Australian, 30 March
  • Out of sight, out of mind, the hidden problems of ISL on:

Contact: Friends of the Earth
PO Box A474
Sydney South
NSW 2000
Tel: +61-2-9283 2004
Fax: +61-2-9283 2005



Uranium Mining in 1998: Hard times

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(December 18, 1998) At the end of 1998, the uranium spot price is rapidly falling towards its all-time low: Uranium Exchange Co. reported US$8.75 per lb U3O8 on December 7, 1998. This figure is not very meaningful, however, since only low volumes are traded on the spot market now.

(504.4963) Peter Diehl - The uranium production from mines at present supplies only about 60% of consumption. Other sources of uranium entering the market stem from various stockpiles:

  • In consequence of the privatization of U.S. Enrichment Corp., the new USEC Inc. has announced it plans to sell its uranium inventory of 29,000 tons U over the next few years to pay down its indebtedness. [Reuters July 31, 1998]
  • Downblended Highly Enriched Uranium from decommissioning of nuclear weapons is entering the market.
  • Only small amounts of uranium from reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel are being used at present.
  • Tails upgrading in Russia: uranium enricher Urenco is sending its enrichment tails (uranium depleted to 0.30% U-235) to Russia for re-enrichment to natural isotope composition (0.71% U-235). It is likely that Russia has contracted to strip these tails from 0.30 to 0.25% U-235, but Russia is believed to further strip to 0.12% tails assay. If the whole Russian excess enrichment capacity of nine million SWU per year were used for stripping Urenco's tails from 0.30 to 0.12%, 7,290 tons of uranium of natural isotope composition would be recovered, 4,680 tons of which would be on Russia's own account. [NuclearFuel October 19, 1998, p.3]

An improvement of the uranium market in the near future is not very likely. While International Nuclear Inc. sees prices beginning to rise after 2003, Ron Shani of IAEA says: "Even the gloomiest of industry projections indicate at least a small uranium market through 2050." [NF October 19, 1998, p.16/12]

One of the consequences of the weak uranium market is a beginning concentration process in the uranium industry:

  • Uranerz (Germany) sold its US and Canadian properties to Cameco. The principal assets acquired are 33.33% interests in the operating Key Lake and Rabbit Lake uranium mines and a 27.92% interest in the McArthur River uranium project (all Saskatchewan). The transaction also includes a 57.69% interest in the Crow Butte uranium mine in Nebraska (USA) plus uranium and gold exploration properties in northern Saskatchewan, the United States and Kazakhstan.
  • Uranium Resources Inc. (URI) is looking for an asset buyer after writedown of its South Texas uranium properties. [URI November 16, 1998]
  • North Ltd., the majority shareholder of Jabiluka owner Energy Resources of Australia (ERA), is believed to be a candidate for takeover, due to problems with environmental protests and a negative report from the UN's World Heritage Bureau on the planned Jabiluka mine. [Reuters, December 10, 1998]

Another impact of the weak uranium market are shutdowns and capacity reductions of existing uranium mines and suspensions of uranium mining projects:

  • The Green Mountain Mining Joint Venture announced the suspension of the Jackpot (Wyoming, US) mine development.
  • Cogema announced that it plans to close its Cluff Lake mine (Saskatchewan, Canada) in December 2000, after it had turned out that the mill's tailings storage capacity was insufficient, and authorities had demanded the construction of an additional tailings pond.
  • World Wide Minerals puts its Dornod Uran mine in Mongolia on standby.
  • The Rössing mine in Namibia announced the lay-off of 200 workers during 1999.
  • Anaconda Uranium Corp. is terminating the Ben Lomond and Maureen projects in Queensland, Australia.
  • Rio Tinto announced that the Kintyre project in western Australia is being placed under care and maintenance.
  • Cameco announced the slowdown of production at Rabbit Lake (Saskatchewan), cutting 140 employee jobs plus 130 contractor jobs, and the temporary layoff of about 200 out of 300 employees at Key Lake (Saskatchewan).
  • The Kingsville Dome and Rosita in-situ leach mines in Texas (US) are to be placed on standby within the next months (though the expansion of Rosita had just been licensed).
  • The byproduct uranium production from phosphate in Louisiana (US) is to cease in December.
  • On December 14, Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) announced a cutback of its annual production at its Ranger mine, due to the low uranium price, from 5,500 to 4,000 tons U per year, effective March 31, 1999.

International Uranium Corp. (IUC) is pursuing another way to survive under the current conditions: The processing of alternate feed at its White Mesa mill in Utah. In 1998, the processing of uranium-contaminated material from the Blind River refinery and the Port Hope conversion plant in Ontario, and from the Tonawanda nuclear weapons production site in New York were licensed. After recovery of the uranium, the processing wastes are being dumped on the mill's tailings pile, a matter of concern for Utah residents.

New projects
Most new uranium mining projects being developed at present are low-cost mines, either for their extraordinary high ore grades (as in Saskatchewan, Canada), or for their amenability to the in-situ leaching technique (as in US and Australia).
The largescale high-grade deposits being developed are McArthur River with reserves of 160,000 tons of uranium, at an ore grade of 12.7% U, Cigar Lake with 150,000 tons at 7.8% U, Midwest with 13,200 tons at 3.8%, all located in Saskatchewan. The latter two were licensed in 1998, McArthur River already in 1997.
Construction of the controversial Jabiluka mine in the Northern Territory of Australia was licensed in June 1998 and started the same month. The deposit contains 76,660 tons uranium at 0.39% U and it is located on a lease surrounded by the Kakadu National Park, a UN World Heritage. After intervention by the Traditional Owners of the site, the mining company Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) changed its plans to process the ore on site instead at the existing Ranger mill. The plans for mill tailings management at Jabiluka are rather vague still and are subject to further licensing. In January, the European Parliament passed a resolution in favor of indigenous peoples concerned from uranium mining projects, and against the development of the Jabiluka project in particular. In December, the Australian government suffered a further setback, when the United Nations' World Heritage Committee (WHC) called for a preliminary halt to the project, until the committee would make its decision in April 1999, whether Kakadu National Park were to be listed as a World Heritage "in danger". From March to October, Jabiluka was the target of the longest-ever blockade against a uranium mine, organized by Jabiluka Traditional Owners and environmental activists from all over Australia. Hundreds of activists were arrested during the blockade.
At the Beverley and Honeymoon ore deposits in south Australia, field leach trials for in-situ leaching have begun in 1998.
The expansion (more than doubling) of the production capability of the Olympic Dam copper/uranium mine in south Australia is going on and is expected to come into effect late in 1998.
In the United States, the following in-situ leach projects were licensed in 1998: Crownpoint (New Mexico), Rosita extension (Texas), and Alta Mesa (Texas).
Canadian uranium miner Anaconda Uranium Corp. announced the development of the Nisa mine in Portugal.

Decommissioning projects
Regarding the present situation of the uranium industry, it is no surprise that the decommissioning standards are getting weaker.
The largest decommissioning project approved in 1998 was the 70-million-ton Denison Stanrock uranium mill tailings pile in Elliot Lake, Ontario. This is the first license for a permanent disposal of largescale uranium tailings with a soft non-durable water cover worldwide.
The US Department of Energy's cleanup program for the uranium mill tailings sites left over from the Cold War era was nearly completed in 1998, at least regarding the surface aspect. For the groundwater aspect, as well as for the tailings from commercial uranium production, work is only beginning, and often consists of granting relaxed groundwater standards.
Relaxed groundwater standards were proposed or approved for the mill tailings sites at Riverton (Wyoming), Shirley Basin (Wyoming), Falls City (Texas), and for the groundwater restoration at the following in-situ leach sites: Burns/Moser, Holiday, Clay West, O'Hern, Boots/Brown (all in Texas). Active groundwater cleanup was proposed for the Tuba City (Arizona) mill site.
For the Belfield and Bowman mill tailings sites in North Dakota, the decision was made, at the request of the State of North Dakota, that no cleanup would be performed at all.
A matter of high discussion was the cleanup of the 9.5-million-ton Atlas Corp. uranium mill tailings site at Moab (Utah). The pile is located immediately on the bank of the Colorado River, a drinking water resource for millions of Americans. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), as well as Moab residents and environmental groups, had requested that the tailings be relocated to a safer place, while Atlas Corp. and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) thought a rock cover would be sufficient. Meanwhile, the FWS changed its mind and adhered to the rock cover policy, causing residents and environmentalists to file a lawsuit, while Atlas Corp. declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy...

Impacts on Uranium Workers
Science News: Archer et al found that not only lung cancer but also pulmonary fibrosis occurring in uranium miners can be caused from excessive exposure to radon progeny.

Impacts on Residents
On July 15, 1998, a federal jury awarded US$2.9 million to 14 residents of Lincoln Park who were contaminated by Cotter Corp.'s Cañon City (Colorado) uranium mill during the 1970s and 1980s. The mill was in operation from 1958 to 1987. Liquid wastes containing radionuclides and heavy metals were discharged from 1958 to 1978 into 11 unlined tailings ponds. The ponds were replaced in 1982 with the construction of two lined impoundments. Prior to 1982, a number of Lincoln Park wells showed elevated levels of contamination.

Science News: Zamora et al, for the first time, studied the effects of chronic ingestion of uranium with drinking water on humans. They found that kidney function is affected by uranium uptakes considered safe in the publications based on animal studies.

Archer, Victor E. et al: Chronic Diffuse Interstitial Fibrosis of the Lung in Uranium Miners, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine Vol. 40, No. 5, May 1998, p. 460-474.
Zamora, M.L. et al: Chronic Ingestion of Uranium in Drinking Water: A Study of Kidney Bioeffects in Humans, Toxicological Sciences Vol. 43, No. 1, May 1998, p. 68-77.

Source and Contact: Peter Diehl at WISE Uranium.
For details, check WISE Uranium Project's web site at

In brief

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

OECD: no growth in nuclear capacity forseseen.

(September 11, 1998) Even the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says in its annual 1997 report a global building boom of nuclear power stations is unlikely in the next 10 years. The OECD, which has its own Nuclear Energy Agency, is part of the international nuclear lobby.
Highlighting a cautionary point the OECD said that nuclear safety and regulation was coming under increased pressure as competition in many electricity markets hots up.
But, according to the OECD, increasing public concern about protecting the atmosphere from growing C02 emissiosn may boost nuclear energy's appeal in the long term. Reuters, 5 September 1998

EdF: import to maintain export of electricity. The forced shut-down of five nuclear reactors (Chooz B1 & B2, Civaux 1, Belleville 1 & 2) until year-end will cost the French utility Electricité de France (EdF). Due to these not foreseen closures 6,000 MW is off-line. EdF says it is forced to import electricity to assure continued supply of electricity to their customers in winter time: some 3,500 MW from the UK, Germany and Switzerland. EdF also claims that old coal-fired plants too have to be started up to make up for the loss of power. According to the utility the extra costs of closure, import and restarted old plants, amounts to FF1.5 billion (US$260 million), but that its customers will not have to pay the bill.
At the same time, however, in 1997, EdF exported more than 10,000 MW (the capacity of about 11 reactors of the 900 MW series) to partly the same countries: the UK, Switzerland, Italy and Spain. And the amount of electricity exported this year will not be very different. According to Power in Europe, EDF looses annually more than US$985 million (FF5 billion) on its electricty export. And its customers definitely pay for that!
Apparently, EdF is willing to pay dearly to maintain the image of electricity shortage and the necessity of the new reactors. Power in Europe, 31 May 1996 and AP, 13 August 1998

Cogema closes Cluff Lake U-mine. French owned Cogema Resources Inc. announced on August 20, that it is shutting down its Cluff Lake uranium mine (Saskatchewan, Canada) in December 2000. The Cluff Lake mine opened in 1980 as an open pit mine and has operated many years beyond its original life as an underground facility, corporate vice-president Tim Gitzel said. He said the mine can't support the investment needed to create a new waste tailings facility in the industry's current economic conditions. The new facility would have been required after 2000.

Gitzel also said the closure was due to economics and is not directly related to recent conflicts Cogema has had with the Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB). Cogema was chastised by the AECB for its management at Cluff Lake and its attitude in responding to regulators' requests. The AECB expressed concern about radiation programs and the storage of tailings.
Gitzel says Cogema would continue to explore for uranium in the Cluff Lake area after mine operations are suspended. He says Cogema Resources remains a major player in Saskatchewan uranium industry despite the closure. "We've prepared for this eventuality by investing approximately C$400 million (US$ 262 million) in the McClean Lake project and are partners in Cigar Lake, MacArthur River and Midwest projects," he said. Cogema will operate the mine at McClean Lake, which comes on stream later this year. Saskatoon StarPhoenix (Can.), 21 August 1998

South Africa's HTR plans. South African utility Eskom says its plan to develop a line of small, inherently safe reactors is making progress.
Eskom has formally called for tenders to perform an environmental assessment of its pebble bed modular reactor (better known as the High Temperature Reactor). According to press reports, the company hopes to begin construction of a 100-MWe pilot plant in the second half of 1999, with a possible startup date of 2003. We'll see! (For more information on the HTR, see WISE NC 481.4774; New Generations: The High Temperature Reactor). Currently, Eskom has two 965-MW PWRs in operation at Koeberg: these are the country's only reactors. UI News Briefings, 12-18 August 1998

NIRS to hold second round of grants to Eastern Grassroots groups.
The US Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) is beginning the second round of its project to assist grassroots anti-nuclear groups in Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States. One part of this project is a direct grant program to grassroots groups based in those countries.

Grants will be in the US$500-US$2,000 range, and the grants will be made this November.

To apply for a grant, please send a one- or two-page proposal including:

  1. Name of organization and contact information.
  2. Brief description of your organization.
  3. Description of the project you wish funded.
  4. Statement describing the importance of this project.

Only anti-nuclear activities will be funded. Preference will be given to action-oriented and organizing projects. We also have some interest in funding activities that address radioactive waste issues. Only Eastern-based groups will be funded; Western groups working in the East are not eligible. Applications must be in English.
The application deadline date is September 30, 1998.
Send your application by e-mail (preferred) to or by fax: +1-202-462-2183 or by regular mail to Michael Mariotte, NIRS, 1424 16th Street NW, #404, Washington DC 20036 USA.

US: Iodine pills against nuclear meltdown
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in the US has recommended the distribution of iodine pills to try to protect people from radiation damage in case of a nuclear accident.
When radioactive iodine from nuclear reactors escape into the atmosphere, it is absorbed by the thyroid glands and can cause thyroid cancer. Stable iodine pills can saturate the thyroid and prevent it from absorbing the radioactive iodine isotope. The Commission has gone against the advice of its own scientists. Peter Crane, a senior lawyer, told a conference at the university of Cambridge that NRC's scientists were too susceptible to pressure from the American nuclear industry. The nuclear industry opposes the use of iodine pills because it fears it creates public concern. Several European countries have already arranged idine pills distribution. New Scientist, 8 August 1998

Ankara: protest against Turkish nuclear plans. On August 28, 11 anti-nuclear activists made a mock announcement in front of the Turkish Ministry of Energy in Ankara and said in a satirical statement that Turkey officially decided to scrap its nuclear power dreams and invest in solar power. They hung a large banner on the top of the ministry's building reading "No Nukes". Other activists chained themselves at the gate of the building and their banner read "Turkey goes solar".
Turkish police detained all the activists. The four Turkish activists were released after seven hours and the seven international Greenpeace crewmembers after more than 14 hours at midnight. Turkish authorities expelled the seven members of the Greenpeace ship 'Sirius'. They were ordered to stay on board the 'Sirius' in Istanbul. Police kept the passports and said they would get them back when the ship left Istanbul.

The Turkish government is due to announce by the end of this year which consortium has won the tender to build the nuclear power plant at Akkuyu Bay. Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) and Siemens of Germany are two leading companies involved in consortia bidding for the project. Press release, Greenpeace, 29 August 1998

U.S.: first MOX test fuel to Canada? MOX fuel containing 150 grams of plutonium will be transported from Los Alamos to Chalk River in Canada, perhaps this autumn. It is the first plutonium from a dismantled US warhead, brought to Canada to be used as MOX fuel. The test at Chalk River starts as soon as there is an export license for the US, which is not yet the case. It could well be that the test would be delayed until early 1999. The reactor at Chalk River is the only Canadian site of 18 sites where MOX is to be tested. The other 17 sites are at different nuclear power plants in the US where private utilities are also bidding for subsidised fuel.

The US has a two-way approach for their plutonium resulting from the dismantling of nuclear weapons:

  • immobilizing Pu in glass or ceramic forms, and
  • using it as fuel in commercial light water reactors.

There is to be tests in Canada if it is possible to use the MOX fuel in CANDUs (heavy water reactors).
Ontario Hydro is hoping for the right to use large amounts of MOX with plutonium from old US nuclear missiles over the next 20 years, subsidized by the US government. If it wins a contract, based on results from the test "burn" at Chalk River, Ontario Hydro would modify a Bruce A reactor on Lake Huron to use 2,000 tons of MOX fuel. Ottawa Citizen (Can.), 30 August 1998


Protest campaign: Stop U-mining in N-Saskatchewan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(January 23, 1998) Send notes of protest to the Government of Saskatchewan, Canada, in regard to the approval of new uranium mines in Northern Saskatchewan before February 5, 1998 urging for a halt to any new uranium mining activities, and especially for a halt to the last two projects under review, Cigar Lake uranium project and Midwest Joint Venture.

(485.4810) WISE Uranium - Canada is the largest uranium producing and exporting country; uranium is mined in the Athabasca Basin in the northern part of the province of Saskatchewan. Since 1993, six uranium- mining projects including twelve underground and open-pit mines, mills and tailings disposal facilities have been reviewed by the Uranium Mine Development and Review Panel, a federal-provincial environmental assessment panel.

Government ignores recommendations
Although the Panel repeatedly recommended serious conditions and, in one case, a postponement of the uranium mining projects, the government of Saskatchewan approved the projects, widely ignoring or watering down the Panel's recommendations. The "green light" was given to the mining companies, among them CAMECO, the world's largest uranium mining company, French state-owned COGEMA which is providing uranium for the French nuclear weapons program, German-based URANERZ as well as US, British, and Japanese involvement.

Uranium mining in Northern Saskatchewan takes place in an area traditionally owned and used by First Nations peoples, mainly Dene and Cree people. Since the start of uranium mining in the 1950s, First Nations people have repeatedly voiced their concerns about and opposition to the mining activities. For more than 40 years, First Nations people experienced the dismissal of their concerns by the governments of Saskatchewan and Canada. They were left with a horrifying experience of powerlessness towards governments and a uranium industry that obviously could not be stopped. Uranium mining split communities, and subtle repression followed resistance and a roadblock of a uranium mine road at Wollaston Lake in 1985.

Two panel members resign
Two of the members of the Panel, Prof. Annalee Yassi, an epidemiologist from the University of Manitoba, Faculty of Medicine, Community Health Sciences, and John Dantouze, Vice-Chief of the Prince Albert Grand Council, the only indigenous person on the Panel, had resigned last year.
Vice-Chief John Dantouze's concerns about the Hearings process were dismissed by the Panel Chairperson as a "conflict of interest". Vice-Chief John Dantouze responded: "... the fundamental problem ... is ... the pressure from Federal and Provincial governments and the mining industry to proceed prematurely with decisions in their favour."
Subsequently, in an unprecedented step, Native American people's reserves and communities of Northern Saskatchewan made their distrust and frustration with the Review Panel process known to the public and disinvited the Panel from their communities in fall 1996.
(For more details also see WISE News Communique 460.4567, Oct 18, 1996: 'Canada: Uranium mining review panel is in trouble')

Churches throughout Saskatchewan had consistently questioned uranium mining and voiced their concerns; among other things, they had founded the Inter Church Uranium Committee (ICUC) to monitor uranium mining and its effects.
"The Bishops of Saskatchewan would like to add our voices to the growing number of people who wish to see a review process which is thorough, representative and credible ..." (signed by nine bishops of the churches of Sasktachewan) (Letter of the Bishops to Premier Romanow, Nov. 7, 1996)
The Inter Church Uranium Committee had pulled out of the Review Panel Hearings earlier in 1996 stating basicly that ICUC felt the whole process was a farce. Nevertheless, the Review Panel went on reviewing the last two mining projects, Cigar Lake and Midwest Joint Venture.

"Ok" for mines is not ok
In November 1997, the Panel published the recommendations for the last two uranium mining projects under review, Cigar Lake and Midwest Joint Venture. The Panel voices a series of concerns and conditions.
In regard to Cigar Lake tailings management the Panel states: "However, there are critical site-specific technical and managerial concerns that must be resolved before the particular tailings management facility ("TMF") can be recommended. Chief among the technical concerns is the need for convincing evidence that operation of the TMF would not result in the contamination of Fox Lake in the long run.
This concern is exacerbated by a lack of confidence in the managerial and scientific competence of the operator, COGEMA.
In addition, the obvious dismissive attitude of this company for the regulators and their concerns suggests that it would not be appropriate for COGEMA, as currently managed, to be given responsibility for constructing and managing this very dangerous radioactive waste disposal facility." (Panel Report summary on Cigar Lake, Nov. 14, 1997)

Given these concerns, the Panel fails completely to show consistently how it arrives at a recommendation to approve Cigar Lake as well as Midwest uranium project in spite of these serious concerns. The recommendation of the Panel is highly inconsistent.

Unfortunately, the concerns of Prof. Annalee Yassi as well as Vice-Chief John Dantouze in regard to the Panel being pressured by the Governments and the uranium industry and having to follow a political and industrial agenda prove to be more than valid.
The Government of Saskatchewan will announce its decision on the mining projects after February 5, 1998 (according to Canadian law, the Panel recommendations are not binding).

  • Voice your concerns about uranium mining in general, about the governments' failure to implement the Panel's recommendations in the past, to address First Nations peoples' concerns.
  • Urge the Government of Saskatchewan to put a halt to any further uranium developments in Northern Saskatchewan !!
  • Voice your concerns about the credibilty of the Review Panel process in view of the resignment of two of the five members:
    • Prof. Yassi, the only health care professional on the Panel as well as the only woman on the Panel,
    • Vice-Chief John Dantouze, the only indigenous person on the Panel, although traditional indigenous areas are the primary impact areas of the uranium mining activities
  • Voice your concerns about COGEMA, as stated in the Panel report, and ask for a "NO" to Cigar Lake in the light of these serious concerns
  • Request a halt to any further uranium mining activities until all reservations and conditions recommended by the Panel are fulfilled.
  • Voice your support for First Nations' requests and concerns in regard to uranium mining and ask for a halt to hasty, remature decisions in favour of the uranium industry before outstanding issues between the Dene First Nations and the Governments of Saskatchewan and Canada are resolved.

Send your letters and faxes to:
Hon. Roy Romanow, Q.C., Room 226, Legislative Building, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada S4S 0B3. Tel: +1-306-787-0958; Fax: +1-306-787-0885

Please send copies of your protest letters, statements etc. to: Gunter Wippel or to Peter Diehl:

Source and Contact: Transnational Working Group on Uranium and Nuclear Waste. c/o Gunter Wippel, P.O. Box 5102, 79018 Freiburg, Germany. Tel: +49-761-4760515; Fax c/o: +49-761-475919 or, check the web site of WISE Uranium Project at

Uranium Mining in 1997

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(December 19, 1997) 1997 was a great year for the uranium mining industry: it brought the go-ahead for a number of important new uranium mining projects worldwide. Expectations for a further increase of the uranium price were disappointed, though. The uranium industry can, moreover, be glad about the low-cost decommissioning standards approved for a number of sites to be cleaned up.

(483/4.4803) WISE-Uranium -The end of the Cold War era had had significant implications on the uranium industry: there was no more need for uranium for nuclear weapons. Existing uranium production centers in the former Eastern Bloc suddenly were submitted to market economy conditions. Many mines and mills in Eastern Europe had to be shut down, since their production cost was too high (ten times the market price at East Germany's Wismut, for example).

During subsequent years, worldwide uranium production was considerably lower than consumption, since the large inventories accumulated during the Cold War era were drawn down. Moreover, new players entered the world uranium market, among them China and the successor states of the former USSR. And, the processing of high enriched nuclear weapons grade uranium into low enriched reactor grade uranium commenced. Consequently, the uranium spot market price declined and reached an all-time low of US$9 per lb U3O8 (restricted) in Summer 1994. It was, however, unclear, how long this period would last, since the size of the inventories was not well known.

During the subsequent two years, the uranium price recovered, and it reached US$16.50 in summer 1996. This lead to the announcement of a number of new uranium mining and in-situ leaching projects, including the restart of several uranium mills that had been on standby for more than a decade in the US. At the same time, two other developments took place: The development of the high grade uranium deposits discovered in Northern Saskatchewan (Canada) had proceeded so far, that their owners applied for operating licenses; and, in Spring 1996, the newly elected liberal (conservative) government of Australia lifted the former ban on further uranium mining projects, leading to the announcement of a number of projects. The subsequent period was a very busy time for anti-uranium activists, since submissions for the various public participation processes had to be prepared, and the resistance against the projects had to be organized. The movement against the Jabiluka project in the Kakadu National Park in Australia gained support from environmental organizations from all over the world.

In 1997, most of the proposed large scale projects received government approval, or such approval was recommended by review panels. In Canada, the McClean Lake and McArthur River projects were approved, while the approval of the Midwest and Cigar Lake projects was recommended by the Review Panel. In Australia, the Jabiluka project near Ranger in the Northern Territory was approved, but negotiations with the traditional owners are pending still.

The expansion of the Olympic Dam (Roxby Downs) copper/uranium mine received clearance from the Ministry of Environment, while the approval of the Ministry for Resources and Energy is pending. In 1997, in the US, the Vasquez (Texas) in-situ leach project received State approval, while NRC approval of the Crownpoint (New Mexico) in-situ leach project is expected for January 1998. The restart of the Shootaring Canyon and White Mesa uranium mills in Utah was approved. Production commenced at the Schwartzwalder mine and at the Sunday Mine Complex in Colorado, and at the Smith Ranch (Wyoming) in-situ leach project. In Russia, the first stage commissioning of the Dalmatovkoye in-situ leach project in Western Siberia is underway.

In spite of this rather complete march through with the licensing authorities, the uranium industry is not completely happy, since, after the Summer 1996 peak, the uranium price declined again, reaching US$10 in Summer 1997. Since then, there is a moderate increase up to US$12.75 (Nov. 21, 1997). For a number of other facilities, licenses were applied for and are pending still, for example: for the Honeymoon and Beverley in-situ leach projects in South Australia (field tests are scheduled for startup at Bevereley in December 1997), for the Reno Creek, Sweetwater and Gas Hills in-situ leach facilities in Wyoming (USA), among others.

Decommissioning projects
In the United States, surface decommissioning of the uranium mill tailings at the 24 designated UMTRA Title I sites is rather complete (sites which produced uranium for DOE's nuclear weapons program, and the reclamation of which is matter of the U.S. government). Groundwater restoration at these sites is only beginning; at Spook (Wyoming) the "no action" approach was selected, leaving 3.8 million cubic meters of contaminated groundwater uncleaned. The licenses of the following commercially operated uranium processing sites were terminated in 1997: Edgemont (South Dakota), Arco Bluewater (New Mexico), and Day Loma heap leach (Wyoming). The decommissioning of a number of other commercial sites is pending. At least at two sites, it turned out that the decommissioning bonds collected from the operators are not sufficient: at the Atlas Co., Moab (Utah), and at the Dawn Co., Ford (Washington) tailings sites. For these sites, the question is now, whether they will be decommissioned according to relaxed standards, or whether the government will have to pay for a thorough cleanup. For decommissioning of another commercial mill at Bear Creek (Wyoming) "alternate" (means: relaxed) groundwater standards were approved. Relaxed groundwater standards were also approved for the in-situ leaching sites to be decommissioned at West Cole and Zamzow (Texas). The government approval for the decommissioning of the large Elliot Lake uranium mill tailings in Ontario (Canada) is still pending, although a review panel recommended approval of the proposed low-cost non-durable water cover scheme in 1996 already. In the former Eastern Bloc, decommissioning of uranium mine and mill sites is proceeding in Eastern Germany (still without public participation), while decommissioning is only beginning at some sites in the Czech Republic. In the other countries concerned (Hungary, Bulgaria, Rumania, and others) no or very poor decommissioning efforts have been undertaken so far.

Source and Contact: WISE-Uranium