(362-3.region) WISE Amsterdam -
(December 6, 1991) In the fall of 1991 there were two producing uranium mines in Australia: Ranger and Roxby Downs. The Mary Kathleen mine closed in 1982 and Nabarlek was mined out in 1981, but continued to deliver until about 1988. There is an active debate about opening new mines.
On 27 June 1991 the governing Labour Party rejected proposals to open new uranium mines and begin uranium enrichment, but only by default. The issue was not given a full debate. Existing policy means that two mines can operate, and there is the posibility of another opening.
Promises, Promises, Promises
The environmental impact statement for the Roxby Downs uranium-gold-copper mine in South Australia predicted in 1982 that once the mine reached full production there would be 10,000 jobs, A$18-20 million (US$13.5-15 million) in royalties paid to the state, and a boost in state exports by 32 to 43%. In 1989 the mine reached its full production capacity.
Exports increased 4%, A$3 mil-lion (US$2.15 million) were paid to the state, and 800 jobs created. The A$3 million falls well short of the interest the government has to pay on the A$50 million (US$37.5 million) it borrowed to build schools, roads and other community facilities for the mining town of Olympic Dam.
In spring of 1991, a letter was circulated among German anti-uranium groups requesting support in a campaign to stop a new uranium mining and milling project in Brazil. The project's sponsors propose to exploit a uranium deposit located near Caetite in the Brazilian state of Bahia. The project is to be directed by the state government of Bahia. Funding is to come from West Germany's government and private banks. The uranium deposit contains approxi-mately 85,000 tonnes of uranium and hopeful investors expect to realize a total of US$800 million through processing it into some 900 tonnes of yellowcake annually.
The authors of the letter are lay and religious volunteers who form the Bishop's Health Commission for the two-state North East Region of Bahia and Sergipe. Besides being concerned about health hazards to the regional population, they are also concerned about the posibility of the uranium ending up in nuclear weapons. They were informed that Brazil expects to keep 25% of the yellowcake produced and export the other 75%.
After learning of the project, commis-sion members met with an agricultural technician who works with the people in the rural area where the uranium was found. The technician, Paulo Cesar of the Center for Studies and Social Action (CEA), spent several hours clarifying the situation. He also played them a video tape showing the consequences such a project would have for the region, presenting a very different picture than that shown by the production firm Uranio do Brasil when it presented the project to the Caetite city council. The company's presentation concentrated on "develop-ment and employment" opportunities. A company employee held up a bottle of yellowcake and gave the impression that it was completely harmless. The video, however, points out that many people will become ill. It also included an interview with nuclear physicist Richard Tadeu Lopes who reported the fact that 3.8 hours of exposure registers the maximum limits on the meter that the mine technicians wear. The technicians leave the areas periodically; the other workers don't have that possibility.
The commission members want to create pressure to see that the uranium is neither mined nor milled. Other groups are already working on this as well, but commission members say they have extremely limited finan-cial and technical resources available to either examine the situation or inform the region's inhabitants. They do have a bit of time to gather the resources and information they need, however, as ideological differences existing at this moment between the federal and military governing levels has meant that the project has been put temporarily on hold.
At this point, the commissioners say in their letter, little information is available. They note that already a simple Geiger counter registers maximum radiation on some of the surface rocks in the populated area -- even before mining has begun. How-ever, there is no access to more sophisticated monitoring equipment to measure the present levels of radia-tion. Even "...specific information of health hazards in short, medium and long range in this stage are not yet available to us. To make adequate provisions for the people who live and may work in the area it is essential to have more accurate information that can be documented...Apparently... there are many studies made of the effects of uranium from the yellowcake stage on. But we do not have information of studies and effects on vegetable and human life previous to this stage." Then, too, they say, hazards created during transportation of the rocks from the mines to the mill must be evaluated.
There are several ways that support can be given to the local people in their struggle for information and quality of life, say commissioners. "The general population is unfamiliar with even basic information that you'd take for granted about uranium and radiation. To provide information, we need to be informed." Suggestions they give for helping include:
- Sending technical information of studies and effects of uranium in its natural state and up until the yellowcake stage.
- Providing technical self-financed support for investigating locally the potential hazards and necessary precautions.
- Providing more sophisticted monitoring devices.
- Providing financial support for printing material to inform the population.
- Informing other groups that may be able to help.
- Working on an international level to limit the trade in uranium.
- Insisting on adequate safety measures in all phases of the project, as well as adequate monitoring during all phases, if the project is approved.
Commission members also request that letters of protest be sent to:
- Senador Nelson Carneiro, Presidente do Congresso Nacional, Brasilia, DF, Brasil.
- Presidente: Exmo. Fernando Collor de Mello, Palacio da Alvorada, Brasilia, Brasil.
- Presidente Conselho Estadual Meio Ambiente, Secretaria de Planejamento, Av. Luis Viana Filho 27N CAB, Slavador, Bahia, Brasil.
Information, questions or donations can be sent through: Dona Christina, Comissao de Saude NE 111 (health commission), Conferencia dos Bispos do Brasil (CNBB), Rua Augusto Franca, 35 2 dejulho, 40000 Slavador, Bahia, Brasil. Sr. Paulo Cesar, Center for Studies and Social Action, Rua Aristides Novis, 101, Federaçao, 40210 Salvador, Bahia, Brasil.
Detailed investigations have been carried out on the effects of uranium mining in Bulgaria. For example, Todor Dimtchev, physics Professor at the Geology and Mining University in Sofia has written, in French, a 21 page detailed report with monitoring data and maps.
Deposits originally discovered by German geologists started to be mined by a Russia/Bulgarian company in the fall of 1944. The grade of the ore ranges from an average of 0.01% to 0.1%. The highest grade ore was sent to the U.S.S.R.
Wastes have been dumped in old river beds and, during rainy periods, are carried downstream to villages. In villages near a uranium mining area near Sofia, dose rates have been measured of up to 1,000 micro-roentgens per hour, about 100 times the background level. Radium-226 levels in soil have been found up to 10,700 Bq/kg, more than 350 times normal. Such levels have been found in sludge from the uranium mill near Boukhovo, which received ore transported from several areas. The most contaminated land has been expropriated and access restricted.
Source: "Proceedings -- Meeting of Anti-uranium Citizens Committees in Europe, at Zwickau/Saxony 1-3 August 1991," six page English summary, pp.3-4.
The uranium mining boom in northern Saskatchewan is continuing, despite the general decline of the industry worldwide. The three uranium mills in northern Saskatchewan (Key Lake, Cluff Lake, and Rabbit Lake) together produce more uranium than anywhere else in the world, and the licensing procedure for eight new mines and four new mills is underway. The World Nuclear Industry Handbook 1991 lists total 1989 uranium produc-tion at the three mills as 7,745 tonnes and total capacity as 10,700 tonnes per year. The 1989 production for each mill is given as 875 tonnes at Cluff Lake (capacity 1,500 tonnes/year), 5,100 tonnes at Key Lake (capacity 4,600 tonnes/year), and 1,770 at Rabbit Lake (capacity 4,600 tonnes/year).
The reasons for the continuing boom in Saskatchewan are clear. It is due to the combination of high grade ore, often near the surface; low population density of predominantly Indigenous people in the area of the deposits; and the pro-mining policies of the provincial and federal governments. This last factor could change. A new provincial government was elected at the end of October 1991, putting the New Democratic Party (NDP) in power. There is currently vigorous debate on their uranium mining policy, which is a stop on opening new mines and a phase-out of existing ones when new jobs are created for the mine workers. Needless to say, the uranium industry is applying all the pressure it can to reverse the policy. The industry has already gotten assurance that the eight new mines and four new mills currently going through the licensing procedure are not "new" according to the policy definition. The NDP leadership favors a more pro-mining policy, but the grassroots has affirmed the phase-out. It will be a hot topic at next year,s NDP convention.
The grade of the ore in northern Saskatchewan is commonly between one and four percent, with pockets measured in tens of percent, but in the rest of the world ore grade is normally measured in tenths or hundredths of a percent. The vast majority of the local Indigenous people, numbering about 25,000, are against mining, but have no decision-making power over the land their ancestors have used since time immemorial. However, increasing sympathy for Indian rights, and growing opposition to the whole nuclear fuel chain in the south, is a factor politicians have to face. It is clear that Indian led protests are a main reason why two government inquiries into uranium mining in Saskatchewan were just established.
The provincial and federal govern-ments have divided the eight new mine and four new mill proposals into two groups, and for each implemented a formal examination procedure called an "Environmental Assessment Review Process" (EARP), determined primarily by the Federal Environmental Assessment Review Office (FEARO). For each review panel the governments have selected a handpicked committee (called a panel), given them a terms of reference, a general time frame, and a budget. Both panels have been given a mandate to "review the environ-mental, health, safety, and socio-economic impacts." A summary of key information on each panel is included below. Division of responsibilities between the two levels of government, coupled with the two having different policies, often makes it difficult to understand why and how decisions get made. One thing is certain though, there would be no review at all if it wasn't for pressure from public opposition groups.
An example of this is the situation with the Cigar Lake project. Its over 100 million kg of uranium at an average grade of 15%, pockets as high as 60%, and an estimated further 50 million kg at an average grade of 4.7%, make it the most significant deposit ever discovered anywhere. The mine has already reached the initial stage of mining (called "test" mining) without any public review at all. It is owned partly by the federal and Saskatchewan governments, who now, after a huge investment, have established an inquiry to determine if the mine should be allowed to proceed or not! Such action can only be due to political pressure.
A further indication of the political power struggles going on is the lack of provincial participation in the Rabbit Lake panel, and division of all the proposed projects into two groups. The Rabbit Lake panel is federally run, but the other is managed cooperatively between the federal and Saskatchewan governments. The Saskatchewan government already at the end of 1987 approved construction of the three new mines planned under and on the edge of Wollaston Lake, near the Rabbit Lake mill. Even before this approval, much work beyond the exploration stage had been carried out on the three mines. Further, approval was given despite the fact that the Rabbit Lake mill, ever since it began operating, has consistently exceeded the dumping limits for heavy metals and radionuclides specified in its licence.
Of greater political sensitivity is the fact that Indian people of the Wollaston Lake region have spoken against uranium mining since it started in the late 1970's. In 1985, local Indian people, together with a small group of Southern supporters, blocked the road into the Rabbit Lake mill for four days. One of the Indian peoples' requests at that time was an inquiry examining effects of all the mines together. At least three of the five mines under examination by the federal/provincial panel are within the Wollaston Lake drainage basin. To determine the effects of mining on Wollaston Lake, the cumulative effect of all the proposed mines within its drainage basin must be examined together, not separately. The reluc-tance of some government bureaucrats to invite Wollaston residents to another public hearing on uranium mining is a sign of the government trying to back away from a fight. Agreement by the Saskatchewan government to participate in the federal/provincial panel can be seen as a compromise between an examination of all the mines together and no examination at all.
Cameco corporation, formed in 1988, is the world's single greatest uranium producer. The company is owned 61.5% by the federal government of Canada and 38.5% by the province of Saskatchewan. It should be no surprise then that the public review process is set up in a way that allows only token public participation. Some obvious examples are:
- there was no public participation in making the terms of reference or choice of the panel members;
- only people who have not been "politically active" were eligible to be panel members (clearly a bias towards acceptance of the status quo -- mining);
- there is no moratorium on mine development during the review process; no limits are put on the mining companys' ground disturbing activity;
- the time frame for submitting participant funding applications and for critical examination of the EIS's is short, even for the highly educated; and
- important documents are not translated into Cree and Chipeweyan, the Native languages of the region.
Even with these inadequacies, the government reviews are better than nothing. The small amount of money available for participant funding, and all the media attention, provide much greater opportunities to spread critical information than without the review panels, even when the mining advocates have vastly greater resources (much of it public money) to mobilize. Further, it is important to recognize that not all government bureaucrats agree with the official pro-mining, anti-public participation policy.
The decisions of the panels are not binding. However, both have been asked to determine whether or not mining should be allowed to proceed. A couple million dollars does not need to be spent to reach a conclusion.
The impacts of mining are not always black and white, but there are three main aspects that are:
- Uranium mining in Saskatchewan is a colonial activity. It has been forced upon the people of the North. The Indian people whose ancestors have always lived in the mining areas do not have decision-making authority over industrial activity in their ancestral home. If they could decide, those Indians that would choose mining are without a doubt an extremely small minority. Further, many Natives feel that mining is a contravention of the Treaties signed in good faith by their ancestors. It was understood that their lifestyle would not be threatened.
- Uranium cannot be mined without producing huge quantities of liquid and solid waste at the mining and milling sites. These wastes contaminate a certain amount of land with heavy metals, radionuclides, and process chemicals. There is no debate over whether or not such contami-nation exists, but rather, how big an area it covers.
- Most of the raw material, yellowcake, ultimately becomes spent nuclear reactor fuel, one of the most dangerous materials on Earth, and may be used to make nuclear weapons.
Out of respect to fellow human beings, the panel members have to be given the opportunity to make their own conclusions. They should be given the benefit of the doubt. After all, the details are complex. It should be assumed that they really haven't made up their minds whether uranium mining is good or bad. Among the members of each of the panels is a mining engineer and a northern Native person. But, having mining engineering as an occupation doesn't necessarily mean one is pro-uranium mining, nor does being a Native person mean that one is automatically against uranium mining. However, once the hearings are held and the investigations carried out, no panel member will be able to dispute that a decision on uranium mining in Saskatchewan is also a decision on colonialism and the production of *nuclear waste (be it mine tailings or spent fuel).
The past three government reviews of proposed uranium mines in Saskatchewan (Cluff Lake, Key Lake, and Collin's Bay "B" Zone) have all endorsed mining, and contributed much free engineering help to the companies. Other reviews, outside of Saskatchewan have, however, con-cluded that the projects in question should not go ahead. Separate federal environmental assessment panels have rejected construction of uranium refineries near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1978 (at Warman), and in 1980 at Port Granby, Ontario. Also, in May 1990, the review panel examining the Kiggavik uranium mine proposal near Baker Lake in the Northwest Territories, concluded that the environmental impact statement (EIS) was inadequate and that the company must provide more information. The German owned company, Urangesellschaft Canada Ltd., has not yet resubmitted it's EIS.
Further, some of the planned uranium mines may not be able to meet new radiation exposure guidelines proposed by Canada's nuclear regulatory agency, the Atomic Energy Control Board. Adequate radiological protection in high-grade, underground mines, like Cigar Lake and Eagle Point, may be too expensive. The technology required to mine these deposits safely has not been proven anywhere. The industry has admitted it is unclear whether the new operations can proceed under the proposed limits.
There is some hope. Perhaps the panel members won't let themselves be used as token expressions of public participation. Perhaps some panel members will show respect for Indian land rights and point out the illegality of the Treaties. Perhaps one or two will make dissenting reports and declare that mining should not proceed. Perhaps a single panel member will listen to the beat of the Earth, not the beat of the dollar.
- Shuttle, Paul. 1991. "Speaking Out About Uranium Mining: How to participate in the joint federal/provincial environmental assessment of the proposed uranium mine developments in northern Saskatchewan." 7 pp. Available from Inter-Church Uranium Committee Educational Co-operative (ICUC).
- Goldstick, Miles. 1987. "Voices From Wollaston Lake, Resistance Against Uranium Mining And Genocide In Northern Saskatchewan." 316 pp. European edition by Earth Embassy and WISE. ISBN: 90-70702-08-8. Canadian edition under the title "Wollaston, People Resisting Genocide," published by Black Rose Books, 3981 Boulevard St. Laurent 4th flr., Montreal, Quebec, Canada. H2W 1Y5; ISBN: 0-920057-94-2 (bound), ISBN: 0-920057-95-0 (pbk.).
- Saskatoon Star-Pheonix, 15 October 1991, page A-8; 16 October 1991, page D-1; and 18 November 1991, page A-3.
On the initiative of the Inter-Church Uranium Committee Educational Co-operative (ICUC), a coalition of anti-uranium mining groups through-out Saskatchewan was formed to make joint applications for intervener funding for the two panels.
For initial administration costs, ICUC received a CDN$500 grant from the Lutheran Peace Fellowship (LPF) in the United States. Technical support in writing the application was given by Radioactive Waste Management Associates in New York City. Research priority was put on the longterm environmental impacts of tailings from existing mines, and projections for new mines.
The coalition includes:
- The Inter-Church Uranium Committee Educational Co-operative,
- The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Keewatin-Le Pas, * The Northern Village of Green Lake, * The International Uranium Congress (Regina),
- Community Health Services (Saskatoon) Assoc.,
- Big River Citizen's for Energy Alternatives,
- Pokebusters Citizen's Coalition, and
- The Regina Environmental Group.
The addresses of these groups are included in the international contact list.
ICUC has made new contacts in Northern Canada. Encouraging news is that the five Northern Canadian Roman Catholic Diocese's have decided to cooperate on social justice issues. Those contacted by ICUC asked to be kept informed.
The premiere of a new National Film Board Of Canada (NFB) documentary film called "Uranium" was held in Edmonton, Alberta on 12 October 1990 (international day of solidarity with Indigenous people). It immediately caused an uproar in the uranium industry, some members of which had urged the NFB to stop production of the film and tried to have it banned. The NFB knew the film would be controversial. Lawyers and scientists carefully examined every detail, which accounted for a long production delay.
The focus of "Uranium" is the perspective of Indigenous people effected by mining. Several native people are interviewed from the uranium mining areas of Ontario, Saskatchewan and Northwest Territories (NWT). The film is narrated by the Saskatchewan born singer Buffy St. Marie.
Janet Feitz, an elderly Cree trapper from La Ronge, Saskatchewan says in the film, "I guess they don't see us as people. Maybe they see us as another stick of wood standing there, or something. They don't seem to care. What would they feel if some-one went over there to where they live and destroyed their livelihood..."
The 48 minute color production is available in 16 mm and video format. North American format VHS video copies cost about CDN$30. European format VHS video copies cost approximately CDN$300 (yes that's "$300" not "$30"), and can be ordered from Jane Taylor, NFB representative at the Canadian Embassy in London, England (tel. 44-71-629-9492; fax: 44-71-491-3968). A four page leaflet and collection of newspaper clippings are available from the Edmonton NFB address below. The leaflet includes five photos and a map of uranium mining areas in Canada. On the front page Dr. Helen Caldicott is quoted as saying, "'Uranium' is one of the most powerful recent films that I have seen. I'm appalled, in the light of the medical knowledge of both nuclear power and nuclear war, that Canadian uranium mining continues."
Source and contact: Muriel Stanley Venne, Marketing Officer, Community Program, NFB, 120-2 Canada Place, 9700 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. T5J 4C3. Tel. 1-403-495-3012. Fax: 1-403-495-6412.
Uranium Development Panel (five mines and four mills)
- Government involvement: federal and province of Saskatchewan.
Part of terms of reference showing narrowness:
"The Panel is not expected to interpret its mandate so as to duplicate the work of other public inquiries and policy processes or to focus on national or international issues which are not directly related to the impacts of the proposals. "However, concerns may be raised by the public which extend beyond the impacts of direct concern to the Panel, and in such cases the Panel will ensure that the public is provided a reasonable opportunity to express these concerns."
- Mines examined (EIS's already submitted for the first three): * Dominique-Janine Extension at Cluff Lake (Amok Ltd.) * McClean Lake Project (Minatco Ltd.), including a new mill, * Midwest Joint Venture at South McMahon Lake (Denison Mines Ltd.), including a new mill, * McArthur River Joint Venture (Cameco Corp.), including a new mill, and * Cigar Lake Project (Cigar Lake Mining Corp.), including a new mill.
- Budget: about CDN$1.5 million.
- Time frame: to be completed in two to four years, or 18 months after receipt of all the EIS's (two are not yet submitted); final reports for the first three proposals are expected by December 1992; public hearings are expected to begin in the summer of 1992; the deadline for participant funding applications was 17 October 1991.
- Participant funding: CDN$350,000, of which $200,000 is for reviewing the first three EIS's and public meetings for the other two projects. The remaining $150,000 is for review of the final two EIS's.
- Stages of review: Submission of EIS's by the companies for the first three projects (already completed); public review and written comment of the three EIS's (expected to begin in early December 1991); and public hearings (locations not yet announced) on the three proposals. In parallel with the above for the other two projects: public hearings (locations not yet announced); issuing guidelines for preparation of EIS's; submission of EIS's by the companies; public review and written comment of the EIS's.
- Panel members: * Chair: Dr. Donald Lee organic chemist and Chairman of the Chemistry Department, University of Regina, * John Dantouze, member of the Hatchet Lake Band, Wollaston Lake (in northern Saskatchewan), and Athabasca Bands Community Planning Advisor for the Prince Albert Tribal Council, * Dr. James Archibald, mining engineer and Associate Professor, Mining Engineering Department, Queen's University, * Dr. Annalee Yassi, epidemiologist and community medicine and occupational health specialist, University of Manitoba, and * Dr. B. Richard Neal, Professor of Biology specializing in population ecology, University of Saskatchewan.
Contact addresses (collect calls accepted): Ghislaine Kerry, Participant Funding Program Coordinator, FEARO, 13th Floor, Fontaine Building, 200 Sacre-Coeur Blvd., Hull, Quebec K1A 0H3. Tel. 1-819-953-0179/997-1000. Fax: 1-819-994-1469.
Gail Anderson, Project Coordinator, Saskatchewan Environment and Public Safety, 3085 Albert St., Regina, Saskatchewan S4S 0B1. Tel. 1-306-787-0785. Fax: 1-306-787-0930.
Rabbit Lake Panel (three mines)
- Government involvement: federal.
Part of terms of reference showing narrowness:
"The mandate of the panel does not include a review of the relative merits of the various means of generating electricity or the policies of the governments of Canada or Saskatchewan concerning uranium mining, uranium exports and nuclear proliferation."
- Mines examined: * Eagle Point Mine, and * Collin's Bay "A" and "D" Zones.
- Budget: about CDN$0.5 million.
- Time frame: to be completed by summer 1992; deadline for participant funding applications is 3 January 1992.
- Participant funding: CDN$125,000.
- Stages of review: public review and written comment of the EIS's; possible request of additional information from the companies; and public hearing (locations not yet announced).
- Panel members: * Chair: Dr. Kenneth W. Hindmarsh, Assistant Dean of the College of Pharmacy, University of Saskatchewan, * Mr. Charles W. Pelley, Assistant Professor, Department of Mining Engineering, Queen's University; he has extensive experience in the mining industry and has held a number of senior positions with Canadian mining companies, * Dr. Dennis Lehmkuhl, Professor of Biology, Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan, and * Dr. Ronald Martin, member of the Fond-du-lac Band (in northern Saskatchewan), dentist, actively providing dental care to Native people.
- Contact address (collect calls accepted): Ghislaine Kerry, Participant Funding Program Coordinator, FEARO, 13th Floor, Fontaine Building, 200 Sacre-Coeur Blvd., Hull, Quebec K1A 0H3. Tel. 1-819-953-0179/997-1000. Fax: 1-819-994-1469.
ICUC urges groups outside of Canada to can get involved in the Saskatchewan environmental review process and participate in the hearings. To do this, contact the FEARO office at the address below. Groups should get on the FEARO mailing list as soon as possible to be made aware of dates and locations of the hearings. Critical scientists are especially requested to make their services available directly to the panels, who pay technical "experts" well. The terms of reference of both panels read:
"The Panel may secure the services of independent technical experts to assist and advise on complex technical and/or socioeconomic issues related to its mandate. Such experts will also be available to respond to inquiries from review participants."
ICUC requests that they be sent copies of correspondence with FEARO. The FEARO and ICUC addresses are:
- Inter-Church Uranium Committee Educational Co-operative, Phillip Penna, Coordinator, Box 7724, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada S7K 4R4. Tel. 1-306-934-3030. Fax: 1-306-652-8377.
- Saskatchewan Uranium Development Panel, Room 420, 1955 Smith St., Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada S4P 2N8. Tel. 1-306-780-8251. Fax: 1-306-780-8250.
- Rabbit Lake Panel, John McEwen, FEARO, 13th Floor, Fontaine Building, 200 Sacre-Coeur Boulevard, Hull, Quebec, Canada K1A 0H3. Tel. 819-953-8797. Fax: 819-994-1469.
As well, ICUC asks that groups write the Saskatchewan Government asking that the anti-uranium mining policy be strengthened. Please write to:
Roy Romanow, Premier of Saskatchewan, Premier's Office, Legislative Building, Regina, Saskatchewan S4S 0P3.
Czecho-Slovakia has been the second largest producer of uranium in Eastern Europe. A number of mines and at least three mills have produced about 2,200 tonnes per year. Produc-tion declined after the Soviet Union ceased to be the major customer. There are plans to continue operation of one uranium mill only (Straz pod Ralskem) for domestic nuclear power plant needs.
Following the revolution the MAPE uranium mill was the subject of intense press coverage after Austrian ecologists found elevated radiation levels in the area around the mill. The mill, located near Budweis, has an annual production of 500 tonnes. At this mill ore has been processed from the West German Großschloppen mine, and from the Menzenschwand mine after closure of the Ellweiler mill in May 1989. Several accidents and grossly negligent procedures during the early operation of the MAPE mill have been uncovered. A detailed investigation by the Ecology Institute in Vienna has confirmed suspicions that protective measures for retaining radioactive waste are insufficient. The mill tailings basins are not water-proof, and radioactive waste water is released into a creek that flows into a lake used for swimming. Radium concentrations of up to 800,000 Bq/kg have been found in areas with unrestricted access.
Source: "Proceedings -- Meeting of Anti-uranium Citizens Committees in Europe, at Zwickau/Saxony 1-3 August 1991," six page English summary, pp.2-3.
With an annual production of over 3000 tonnes of uranium, France is the largest producer in Europe. There are currently about 14 operating uranium mines, mainly in the Massif Central area. The "World Nuclear Industry Handbook 1991" lists nine uranium mills with "operable" status, one "planned", and four "shut down or on standby". Uranium from the now closed West German Menzenschwand mine was milled in France. The low world price for uranium has also effected the mines in France. Several mines have closed and further shutdowns have been announced.
France is one of the only countries in Europe where, for more than a decade, there has been a nationwide citizen's movement against uranium mining. More than 100 local committees have formed a national network. The network publishes its own newsletter, analyzes many newspapers and publications, manages a documentation center, offers a rental service for radiation monitoring equipment, and holds seminars on legal action against uranium mining.
The anti-uranium movement in France has focused on the struggle to stop new mines from opening. Little attention has been given to the hazards of operating mines and mills and abandoned mine and mill wastes. However, there was an immediate reaction against proposals to dump radioactive waste from nuclear power plants in former uranium mines.
Also, a new uranium tailings regulatory problem has recently been uncovered. At least six uranium mine tailings piles in France contain levels of radium above that legally allowed by their government authorization. This is documented in the November/December 1991 issue of "Info Uranium," published by a French environmental group with the same name. All tailings piles in France must be licensed. Piles with more than 37 trillion becquerals (TBq) (1,000 curies) are put in the category of "basic nuclear installations." Facilities in this category are required to make a safety report, investigate impacts, and have public participation during the licensing process. In the spring of 1991, the independent radiation mon-itoring group CRII-RAD found that the Lavaugrasse tailings pile contains 141 TBq, and the Brugeaud pile 125 TBq, though do not have "basic nuclear installation" licences. Both are located at the Bessines-sur-Gartempe uranium mill site near Limoges (Haute Vienne). The mill is operated by SIMO, a wholly owned subsidiary of Cogema and has an annual capacity of 1,500 tonnes (1989 production was 1,000 tonnes). The radium content of these piles and their licensing status was confirmed by a French govern-ment report published in July 1991. The report notes that four other tailings piles exceed the 37 TBq limit and are not properly licensed. CRII-RAD and other anti-nuclear organizations are now trying to get the proper licensing procedures implemented.
- "Proceedings -- Meeting of Anti-uranium Citizens Committees in Europe, at Zwickau/Saxony 1-3 August 1991," six page English summary, p.2.
- Info Uranium, No.53, Nov./Dec. 1991, pp.16-17.
- The government report noted (in French only): "Rapport de la Commission d'examen des dépóts de matières radioactives," juillet 1991; available free of charge from: Ministère de l'Industrie, 101, rue de Grenelle, F-75700 Paris Cedex, France.
The Wismut mining company has produced about 200 million tonnes of solid waste. There is serious groundwater contamination and the stability of tailings dams is questionable. In some cases, toxic industrial waste has been dumped on top of the tailings.
By Peter Diehl
The Thuringian uranium province in the Ronneburg area (near Gera) is located in the center of highest earthquake risk in the whole of Eastern Germany. Evidence of this was presented at a conference on earthquakes and civil engineering held in January 1991 at Potsdam. The last major reported earthquake in the area was on 6 March 1872, and had an intensity of 7.5 on the MSK-scale (Medvedev, Sponheuer, Karnik). At an intensity of seven, cracks in walls and chimneys are observed. At an intensity of eight, large cracks in masonry are observed and parts of gables and roof ledges collapse. The intensity of the maximum credible earthquake for this area is predicted at 8.5.
Earthquakes of these intensities do not present the risk of total damage to buildings, and the influence on tailings dams is uncertain but is a risk that needs to be considered. There are dams in the area holding back a liquid and solid sludge containing up to 86 million tonnes of solid waste. The dam embankments themselves are made from tailings material, which contain a high percentage of liquid, thus contributing to instability. In some situations, collapse of a dam would result in a large spill that would bury small villages where several hundred people live. Some villages are located immediatly at the foot of tailings embankments, only meters away. In these areas groundwater is contami-nated and fresh water is piped in.
An additional hazard is that tailings dams are located directly on geologic faults. This is because the uranium was found in geologic fault zones. The tailings have been placed in the mined out open pits and embankments added above ground. During an earthquake, differential movement along a fault can occur, which could cause cracks and even collapse of an embankment.
To determine the risk of dam failure, detailed field studies need to be carried out. Little data on these dams is presently available. To move the tailings to a safer area would require a huge effort and great expense. In the U.S., the largest tailings pile moved had a size of about a few million tonnes
Uranium mining in Hungary is concentrated in the area around the city of Pécs at the foot of the Mecsek mountains in the southern part of the country. Annual production is about 500 tonnes of uranium. The future of this mine is uncertain since the main customer, the U.S.S.R., stopped buying. An Irish company, Glencar Explorations, has for some time held an option to continue the operation at reduced employment, but no contract has been signed. The economics are not attractive due to the low grade of the ore. At the site there has been heap leaching of low grade ores, where a liquid (called a leaching agent) is allowed to seep through piles of ore, and the uranium rich liquid collected at the bottom. Contami-nation of groundwater by the leaching agent is one source of contamination. Another is radioactive dust blown over adjacent residential areas. The slurry from conventional ore proces-sing is dumped in large holding ponds with a total surface area of about two square km. Here also, radioactive dust is blown into the surrounding area and groundwater is contaminated. Elevated radon levels have been found in homes nearby and investi-gations are underway to determine if this is due to use of radioactive waste as construction material.
- "Proceedings -- Meeting of Anti-uranium Citizens Committees in Europe, at Zwickau/Saxony 1-3 Aug. 1991," six page English summary, p.2.
- See also: "Hungary: glasnost reaches uranium mines," - WISE News Communique 340.3404, 19 October 1990, p.7
The only exploitable uranium deposits in India are in and near Jaduguda in Singhbhum district. The deposits already exhausted there had an average grade of 0.06%, which makes it one of the worst grades mined in the world. Now, even lower grade ore is being mined, at only 0.02%.
The World Nuclear Industry Handbook 1991 lists four uranium mills in India. All have "operable" status and are operated by Uranium Corporation of India, Ltd. (UCIL). The 1989 production at Jaduguda is given as 115 tonnes uranium, and the 1989 production at the other three mills, Mosaboni, Rakha, and Surda, is given as 15 tonnes uranium each. These three mills produce copper as a by-product. According to Anumukti, a mill bigger than the one at Jaduguda is under construction nearby at Turamdih. The mines in the Jaduguda area are underground.
The following two articles and "New Deposit" notice are edited versions reprinted from Anumukti, A Journal Devoted To Non-Nuclear India, Vol.5, Number 1, August/September 1991. The mining areas described are operated by UCIL
By Ms. Manimala Dharmayug, 4 March 1990.
Go to the mines of Jaduguda
From where come the uranium loads
See how it is carried in open trucks, and falls in middle of roads.
Go the reactors of RAPP
How radiation has spread!
Look at the workers of Tarapur
How they have been mislead.
Very frightening, very frightening, very frightening indeed
Is the Maya of atomic energy.
There was a time when Jaduguda used to be a place of scenic beauty. There were dense green forests, low mountains, small villages surrounded by hills, hardworking people, playful and ever smiling children, open air, and flowing streams. It was once so beautiful there!
But they had one more thing -- uranium in the womb of mother Earth. Exploring man got to know of this, then atomic man had to grab it at all costs. The bowels of the Earth were torn open and digging and ever more digging was done to get the uranium out. The hunger of nuclear reactors for uranium was satisfied but the people of 1,200 neighboring vil-lages have become both hungry and naked. People whose sustenance was the forest, became dispossessed. Jun-gles were destroyed, hills became bar-ren, and the people became powerless.
Existence of the uranium deposits was discovered in the 1950's. In 1967, uranium mining and processing equip-ment was moved in. Along with the equipment came operating workers, mining scientists, and officials -- all from the outside. Buildings and houses were constructed. Those who came without houses, got new homes, and those that had lived there for generations became homeless. Some of the homeless went to distant hills, some to Naroana, some wandered around and are still wandering.
This green, self-contained Adivasi (aboriginal) village in the Singbhum district of Bihar became part of the mainstream of development. Cars and other vehicles started going back and forth from the Rakha mining station to Jaduguda. The air became filled with smoke and the clean Gura river became dirty. About 1,200 villages were consumed and Jaduguda became an industrial township. Today this place provides the uranium for all the Indian reactors with the exception of Tarapur.
Those villages and people who refused to be displaced in the beginning are now slowly being squeezed out. Radioactive pollution is increasing rapidly. However, as yet, even after 24 years, there are no local monitoring stations to measure the pollution.
The waste from the uranium mill is transported through a long pipe to the tailings pond. This pond covers an area of 3.6 square km. The pipe leaks from breaks in a number of places. Waste water has spread far and wide. A population of nearly 5,500 people are suffering from this water pollution. Chati Kocha, Rani Kocha, Dungardih, Lakhi, Talaitand and other villages are dependent on the waters of a lake which is posted with a sign in English reading, "Prohibited Area." The villagers do not understand English but they do understand and know that the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the food they eat are all contaminated.
An Epidemic Of Deformities
The village in the immediate vicinity of the tailings pond is Chati Kocha. A little farther is Rani Kocha. The total population of these two villages combined is about 500, of which about 100 are children. A survey of the children found that two are completely blind, six can only see dimly, four are hearing impaired, and eight are mentally retarded. Half the women complained of white discharge and 47% complained of early and frequent menses. In the last five years, eight women gave birth to deformed children that died within a week of birth. In these five years there were more than 30 spontaneous abortions. All the women complain of fatigue, weakness and depression. Half the men too complain of tiredness and depression. The amount of lympho-cytes in the blood of 54% of the people are quite high, indicating a disposition towards cancer.
The conditions of the children and plant workers are terrible. Seven year old Manoj has both his legs turned outwards below the knees. He cannot walk properly. Eight year old Mani's left arm is only of elbow length. Eight year old Shiv and nine year old Tulsi are thalesimia patients and require frequent blood transfusions. Munna, who is twelve, suffers from mega-colon. He can neither speak nor walk, nor do anything with his hands.
Elders of the area say that earlier it wasn't like this. Those families which have had deformed babies had not seen a case of deformity for at least five generations. Thus, the general public opinion in the area is that all these illnesses and deformities are due to uranium mining and processing.
UCIL says that radioactivity is spreading slowly and is well within internationally accepted "safe limits." According to officials, the amount of uranium found in the ore is only 0.04- 0.06%. The administration officials claim that once uranium is extracted from the uranite, the remaining por-tion of the ores are not radioactive. The wastes contain only 0.005 milli-grams per liter of uranium. Water after use is thrown into the Gura river which flows into the Subarnarekha. The pollution from Jaduguda thus spreads all over Singbhum.
Before the mines were built, UCIL planners gave a clear warning that the wastes should not be exposed un-tended and neither should they be released to the rivers. Till now the UCIL administration has been lying that the radioactivity posed no risk at all but now plans are afoot to set up an effluent treatment plant at the cost of 10 million rupees (approximately US$2.58 million). This is being done after an investigation by central authorities and the International Committee for Radiological Protection. It is due to this pressure that attempts are now being made to stop the waste water from reaching the Subarnarekha.
While the UCIL management doesn't accept the fact that radioactivity has in any way been harmful to either people, animals, trees or plants, the high officials have made arrangements for their own food to come from a government farm about 44 km away.
A Dump For Outside Waste
Radioactive waste from the Nuclear Fuel complex at Hyderabad and the Variable Energy Cyclotron Center at Calcutta is also dumped here in the pond. Earlier this waste was kept in Hyderabad, but in 1982 four workers died while working in the midst of this waste. At that time there was strong protest from neighboring residents against waste storage in the vicinity. It was after this that the waste began to be sent to Jaduguda.
By Suren Raut, Sampoorna Kranti Vidyalaya-Vedchhi, India.
It was hot, humid, typical monsoon weather, but there had been no showers. After the long walk I felt very thirsty. In the distance was a farmer taking out young rice saplings for later transplantation. "Could I have a drink of water?" I asked. "You will have to go to my home," he answered.
We walked along the side of a large pond, almost a lake, with lovely lush green scenery. There were cattle grazing in the grass on the banks at one end of the pond. The farmer told me, "You can't drink the water from this pond. It is poisonous, gives you TB. It is lucky that you came here after the rains. During the summer the water dries up and the dust blows in the hot winds. It is terrible. One is thirsty all the time."
By the side of the pond is a small village named Dungardih. There are about 25 houses there. I saw a well and walked towards it. The farmer exclaimed, "No! No! Don't drink water from there. It is also poisonous. The only water you can drink here is tap water supplied by the company."
"What about your animals? What do they drink?" I enquired. "What can the poor creatures do? They drink the poisonous water from the pond," was the answer.
Most of the men have gone to work, which means employment with the company in the mines or mill. Farming is not considered "work". Only the "unfit" and unemployed do it.
I saw some children playing in a field and joined them. They looked very weak, with thin, emaciated arms and legs. Sanatan Mardi, better known by his nickname Daman, studies in the second standard. He was born with no fingers or toes. His mother called me over to her hut and told me, "I have lost five children. They were very weak and all died within a few days of birth. My only hope and support is Daman."
A 25 year old young man, named Mohan, from a neighboring hut told me, "I am 'unfit'. I worked for just three months. My younger brother still works in the mill. It is the air. That is what makes us unfit. My father died three years ago after being declared unfit."
"How do you know that your younger brother won't get unfit?" I asked. "Our health is bound to become bad, but what are we to do? One has to eat. We know that it is more dangerous to work in uranium mines than in other mines. Look at Ghasia Majhi. He has a tumor in his neck. And there is my neighbor Hoding Majhi. He has been sitting for the last five years at home after being declared unfit. His toes have had to be amputated. But why look at this village alone? Go to any village where there is a uranium mine -- Bhatin, Surdha, Narua, Rakha, Bhusabani -- you find the same thing everywhere. There are skin diseases, pain in the stomach, TB, cancer, pain in the joints. Terrible weakness and pain, that is our lot."
"What about a hospital? Where do you go for treatment?" "There is a hospital run by the company just near the mill (at Jaduguda). But there is no govern-ment hospital. This one is only meant for company employees. Some local people also go there, but it is very expensive. Most of us go to the government hospital at Tatanagar (40 km away)."
In the morning I got a ride in a truck to the Bhatin mines. True to the description in Narayanbhai's song, there are open trucks that drive underneath a loading shed. Loading is done by automatic loaders. A button is pressed and a huge load of broken rock descends from the roof into the truck. It does this three times before a truck is full. Sometimes small lumps of ore fall by the side. The driver or his "cleaner" just pick them up and toss them over into the truck. Nobody wears any gloves or protective clothing. I asked a worker about this and was told, "The company does give uniforms but we can't wash them everyday. Some leave them in the changing rooms while others take them home. Masks are available but not for everybody."
A major deposit of uranium has been found at Domiasiat, 140 km south-west of Shillong in north-east India. It is claimed that the deposit is "the largest, richest, near-surface and low-cost sandstone type uranium deposit discovered in India so far." The ore is spread over a 10 square km area at depths varying from eight to 47 meters from the surface. Six layers of varying dimensions with grades up to 0.41% uranium oxide have been delineated by drilling.
Next to the Bhatin mines is a tailings pond. Waste water from the mines and the mill after uranium extraction are poured there. There is no "security," not even a barbed wire fence. The tailings have become hard like stone. I met a youth walking nearby. He showed me around and said, "Many people come here. We talk to them. We tell them our sorrows. They take photographs. They go away. But there is no change in our conditions. Is anyone working to help us? Can you do anything to change our miserable lot?"
On my way back to Tatanagar I kept thinking of his words. They reminded me of one of Narayanbhai's songs:
"There is a struggle going on today between the forces of death and the powers of life."
The terrible situation faced by the poor Adivasis of Jaduguda -- a situation not of their making -- is a problem of survival for them. But is this a problem that they have to face and solve alone? Is it not a problem of the entire human race?
"When will justice come to Athens?"
They asked Thucydides.
And he answered,
"Justice will not come to Athens
until those who are not injured
are as indignant as those who are."
The World Nuclear Industry Handbook 1991 lists two uranium mills in Japan, both with "shut down or on stand-by" status. One is at Ningyo-Toge and has a capacity of 50 tonnes per year production with ore as feed. There is about 200,000 cubic meters of uranium tailings at the three mines in the Ningyo-Toge vicinity. It would take about one million 200-liter drums to hold this volume. The second mill is at the Nio Institute for Uranium Recovery from Seawater (NIURES). This mill was decommis-sioned in March 1990, and had a capacity of 10 kg uranium per year using seawater as feed.
High incidence of deaths from lung cancer have been observed among miners and local residents living near former uranium mines in Tottori Prefecture. The mines were operated by the Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation (DONEN) in the late 1950's and early 1960's. During 1957-61, about 150 miners worked in the mine. Kyodo News Service sources say that more than ten miners and residents in the vicinity have died of cancer. Of these, seven had lung cancer.
DONEN claimed that there was no relationship between the uranium mines and lung cancer. Many residents, however, spoke not only about the high rate of cancer in the area, but charged that the corporation did not warn about the dangers of radiation before the miners began working. Nor did the corporation require the miners to wear protective masks. DONEN countered that it did provide the masks, but a promotional pamphlet issued by the company contains photographs of T-shirt clad miners working in the mine without wearing masks.
- Anumukti, Vol. 5, N.1, August/September 1991, p. 7.
- Nuke Info Tokyo, March/April 1989, No.10
Uranium deposits in Poland are located only in the west in the Sudetic mountains. There, polymetal ore deposits formed in large complexes of metamorphous rocks. It is known that these deposits were exploited already in the 13th century, mainly for copper and iron, but also for gold and silver. Before World War II, when Germany governed the northern, Silesian part of the Sudetes, uranium mining was started on a small scale at Grzemiaca, 20 km from Walbryzch. In 1945, the Soviets expanded this uranium mine and opened others at two locations: Kowary (known since the middle-ages for mining) and Klento, near Stronie Slaskie at the foot of the Schneeberg mountain. Ore was exported irregu-larly to the Soviet Union between 1946 and 1950, then regularly until 1954. The deposits were mined out by the end of the 1970's.
Everything concerning uranium was "top secret". Soviet, and a few Polish, "experts" and secret police were the only ones with access to information. Diseases were kept secret by false registration and diagnosis, although the relation between health problems and work in the mines was known. In the Kowary area, tailings piles are in and around villages. Krzysztof R. Mazurski writes about Kowary that, "The following effects can be clearly seen: a high disease and mortality rate from cancers of various organs and leukemia, the short lifetime of miners -- the majority of whom are already dead, various hereditary diseases, and increased mortality of small children."
Two official inquiries looking at the Grzemiaca uranium mine are under-way. Both are being carried out by the Polish Agency for Atomic Affairs. One is investigating the levels of radiation and the extent of radiation related illness in the area. The other is examining allegations that the hazards have been covered up for 40 years. The results of a government health study known to have been carried out are still not public. About 26,000 Polish people are estimated to have worked in the mines. The workers were mostly young men and military conscripts who got a little more pay than doing military service. Rock samples were hand carried to radia-tion monitors to determine where to mine. There are stories of monitoring personnel running out of the room when workers came in with high grade samples.
- Jersy Jaskowski, M.D., Adres prywatny, Gdansk Wrzeszcz, ul. Suwalska 6, Poland. Home tel. and fax: 47 94 90. Work tel. 32 33 22.
- Mazurski, Krzysztof R. 25 September 1991. "The Problem of Uranium Mining in Poland." 1 p.
- Rich, Vera. 1991. "Poland Searches for Uranium Casualties." One-third page. In: New Scientist, 27 July 1991, p.14.
- Both (2) and (3) are reprinted in: "Proceedings -- Meeting of Anti-uranium Citizens Committees in Europe, at Zwickau/Saxony 1-3 August 1991."
Little information is available on uranium mining in Rumania. The ecological movement MER has made a video of the Crucia uranium mine, located in the north of the country in the Bukovina area. Inadequate protec-tion measures are seen for workers employed with transport and loading and unloading of ore. The dumping of waste into surface water is also documented.
Source: "Proceedings -- Meeting of Anti-uranium Citizens Committees in Europe, at Zwickau/Saxony 1-3 August 1991," six page English summary, p.3.
According to a May 1991 statement by officials of Spain's Empresa Nacional del Uranio SA (ENUSA), a uranium mill it is constructing will be completed in 1992. The plant will produce 950 tonnes U3O8 per year. It is located at Saelices el Chico in the province of Salamanca near the Portuguese border. The site is close to uranium mines operated by ENUSA. The project is funded by the European Community, to a sum of US$38 million.
Source: Nuclear Fuel, 27 May 1991; reprinted in: "Proceedings -- Meeting of Anti-uranium Citizens Committees in Europe, at Zwickau/Saxony 1-3 August 1991."
Reclamation of uranium mill wastes in the U.S. may be the "best of the worst" tailings management in the world. However, reclamation proce-dures used in the U.S. are not neces-sarily applicable to other parts of the world. Further, the aspects of reclama-tion dealt with here are only part of the clean-up problem. Not discussed are ways of getting vegetation to grow on covered tailings piles without long-term, regular addition of fertilizers; diversion of fish and other wildlife from contaminated zones: and meth-ods of downstream water purification.
In 1978, the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act (UMTRCA) was passed by Congress in the U.S. to manage reclamation of uranium mill tailings. In the health and environ-mental standards for inactive sites it is stated, "Control shall be designed to be effective for up to one thousand years, to the extent reasonably achievable, and, in any case, for at least 200 years."
The standards give detailed radiation limits from radon and radium. Requirements for the site include: - suitable, safe isolation of the wastes during the long periods of time required; - slopes must not be steeper than 5:1 to 10:1 (H:V); and - the deposit must be isolated by several specific layers of different materials below and above the pile for ground-water and environmental protection. Protective layers against erosion must be included. If the material at its present location is not isolated from groundwater, then it must be exca-vated and deposited at an intermediate disposal site to enable the installation of the protective layers, before it can be moved back to its original location.
Following is a condensed and edited version of an interview made on 2 November 1989 by Peter Diehl of Paul Robinson, Southwest Research and Information Center, Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S.A., on reclamation in the U.S. (Note: the "tonne" used is the metric unit equal to 1,000 kg or 2,200 pounds.)
What is meant by "reclamation" and what techniques are used?
Reclamation in the law is defined as stabilization in order to prevent exposure of people to radiation and other hazardous materials in the tailings, and to prevent damage to the environment such as groundwater or soil contamination during the active life of the hazard. For radioactive materials, this time period is thou-sands of years. The non-radioactive materials in the tailings are a perpetual hazard. The cleanup that has been done under the Mill Tailings Act has been primarily of abandoned mills where, prior to 1970, uranium was milled for weapons production. The cost of reclamation of these govern-ment purchased, abandoned tailings was fully paid for by the federal US government at a total cost in the 2-3 billion dollar range. The techniques used to cleanup these particular tail-ings included covering the tailings with thick covers on the order of two to three meters and cleanup of ground-water contamination at various sites around these tailings. In some cases the tailings were spread out in piles and have been consolidated in one, smaller area. In three of the locations - Grand Junction and Durango, Colorado; and Salt Lake City, Utah - the tailings piles were in such a high population area or in such a vulner-able location from a flood risk stand-point, that the tailings were actually moved from 20 to 80 km to new sites which eliminated the groundwater and surface water risks. About a million tonnes were moved in each of the three cases.
Usually a tailings cover involves a fine particle layer or clay layer on the surface to prevent movement of radioactive materials vertically upward through the cover by capillary motion. Clay liners might prevent that kind of motion, but will not reduce radon levels. The clay layer is for chemical control and the thickness is for radon reduction. A thicker cover also pre-sents a barrier to erosion and in many cases the cover is further covered with a rock material which might be 10 to 20 cm thick. Such rock armor prevents longterm wind erosion. That makes three layers: clay about one meter thick, two meters of soil from the location, and then 20 cm of rock.
The techniques used then have been covering the tailings and movement to a safer place. Are there other tech-niques being used or that you ask for?
We at Southwest Research have sought to have all the tailings moved to a location which was lined or sealed to prevent seepage. Movement was only done in the most severe cases. Of the abandoned tailings piles, about 20 were reclaimed in place and only three were moved. In our view, the tailings not moved represent a longterm risk to groundwater, and a health risk for those using the groundwater for drinking.
What about the cost? Who is paying for all this reclamation?
The costs of reclamation were divided in the Mill Tailings Act by different formula for the abandoned and active tailings. The active tailings are tailings piles that were added to after 1970. Prior to 1970, the great bulk of uranium mill tailings were generated for government use, which is for bomb manufacture. Since the late 1960's the US government has had adequate stockpiles for bomb uses, and the uranium mining industry has been continued solely for nuclear power purposes. Since the pre-1970 tailings were purchased by the government, the government has paid 100% of the cost of reclamation of the abandoned tailings, which is the smaller volume -- 24 million tonnes. The total costs of those reclamation projects were in the US$2 billion range, and costs ranged from US$18 per tonne to US$34 per tonne.
What portion of the commercial tailings have been reclaimed?
Very few commercial tailings sites have been reclaimed. Those that have are the very smallest. About 10% of the 155 million tonnes have been reclaimed, including sites in Gas Hills, Wyoming operated by Union Carbide Corp. and sites in New Mexico operated by BP, which had its mineral division acquired by Rio Tinto Zinc.
The Sohio tailings at the L-bar mill, one of the Rio Tinto piles, contains about a million tonnes of tailings and cost about US$15 million to reclaim - a cost of about US$15 per tonne. The site was reclaimed in place and not moved, even though there was groundwater contamination about half a km off company property. The clean-up of this groundwater contamination is continuing through pumping contaminated water out of the ground and placing it in a lined evaporation pond for evaporation into the air. The sludge left from the evaporation is to eventually be placed in the tailings pile. The pump-back system will need to continue for a very long time before the groundwater is fully cleaned. This concept of active pumping is called "active mainten-ance". There are legal requirements preventing, to the extent practical, active maintenance to avoid continued cost generation into the future. Nevertheless, the active pump-back reclamation system was approved at this site.
Sources and contacts: Peter Diehl and Paul Robinson. See international contact list for addresses.
U.S. Department of Energy, Albuquerque Operations Office, Box 5400,
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87115.
Press Release For Immediate Release 11 March 1991
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today began hauling uranium mill tailings from Grand Junction as part of the Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) Project.
With agreement of the State of Colorado, the tailings are being hauled by a combination of trains and trucks to the Cheney disposal site located about 29 km southwest of Grand Junction.
The decision to relocate the tailings to the Cheney disposal site was the result of frequent consultations between DOE and all levels of Colorado state and local government. The selection of trains to remove the tailings from within the city limits was made in response to community concerns about transportation safety.
Under the rail/truck system, up to eight loaded trains per day will travel from the UMTRA project site, located in an industrial section south of downtown Grand Junction, to a transfer site where the tailings will be loaded onto trucks to complete the journey to the Cheney disposal site for permanent stabilization.
Each train will have 19 cars. Removal of the more than 5.2 million cubic yards (3.95 million cubic meters) is scheduled to be completed in 29 months.
For further information contact: Dave Jackson 505-845-5699 or Jack Hoopes 505-845-4015. UNTRA Project Office toll free in the U.S.: 1-800-523-6495.
Information on uranium mining in the Soviet Union has been a closely guarded secret. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), however, has long been aware of many details. "The U.S.S.R. Energy Atlas," pub-lished by the CIA in 1985, lists the names and one line descriptions of 30 uranium mining and processing sites. Six sites are listed in the European U.S.S.R.; two in the Urals; 18 in Kazakhstan and Central Asia; and four in Siberia. The document states, "... according to Soviet geologic literature, almost every type of uranium deposit found elsewhere in the world has been found and exploi-ted in the U.S.S.R. In addition, some of the uranium deposits described seem to have no western counter-parts... Uranium exploration and mining methods in the Soviet Union are generally the same as those applied in the West."
According to the Natural Resource Defence Council in Washington, D.C., the Soviet Main Administration for Nuclear Weapons (MAPI), "supervises the entire chain of production of nuclear weapons, from the mining of uranium ore through the fabrication of warheads, and is responsible for the production of all nuclear materials, uranium enrichment, production reactors, nuclear waste management, and warhead research, development, testing and production. Analogous to the U.S. Department of Energy, MAPI is also responsible for research and production of civilian nuclear power technology and utilities, high-energy physics, lasers, and other civilian programs including the production of dairy equipment." ("Soviet Nuclear Warhead Production," pp. 5-6).
- CIA. 1985 "The U.S.S.R. Energy Atlas" (GPO stock number 041-015-00157-4). See pp. 42-43. Available from the U.S. National Technical Information Service (NTIS), Springfield, Virginia. U.S.A. 22161, tel. 703-487-4650, fax: 703-321-8547; or U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), Box 37082, Washington, D.C., U.S.A. 20013-7082, tel. 202-275-2060/ 275-2171.
- Natural Resources Defence Council. 1989. "Nuclear Weapons Data Book Vol IV." See pp. 92-92. Price: US$40 plus postage.
- Levine, Richard M. 1991. "Soviet Union -- Uranium." In: "Mining Annual Review -- 1991," pp. 140-152. Re-printed in: "Proceedings -- Meeting of Anti-uranium Citizens Committees in Europe, at Zwickau/Saxony 1-3 August 1991."