Plenty of bad news for uranium mining companies in the past month. Here we summarise some of this news, drawing on the remarkable WISE-Uranium resources (www.wise-uranium.org/new.html).
Energy Fuels has put operations at its Canyon mine in Arizona on hold, citing current market conditions as well as ongoing litigation over the project. Legal proceedings were initiated by environmental groups and a local indigenous tribe. A US district court judge has approved an agreement to put the mine on standby and to stay proceedings in the case. Energy Fuels had been aiming for production in 2015.[1,2]
Energy Fuels plans to cease production at the White Mesa Mill in Utah in August 2014, and to fulfil delivery contracts with stockpiled uranium and uranium purchased on the spot market. The current spot price is lower than the company's production cost.
Subject to the results of additional underground drilling, mining at the Denison Mines' Arizona 1 mine is expected to cease in early fiscal year 2014 due to the depletion of its known resources. Earlier this year, a federal appeals court ruled against conservationists and indigenous tribes in their challenge against the mine, located north of Grand Canyon National Park.
Mining at the Pinenut uranium mine, Mohave County, Arizona, is expected to continue until July 2014, at which point the mine is expected to be placed on care and maintenance. Re-starting mining activities at Pinenut would be evaluated in the context of market conditions.[5,6]
The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce is no longer neutral in Virginia's uranium mining debate. By a 37-11 vote, chamber officials favoured maintaining the 31-year moratorium following presentations from proponents and opponents.
Strateco Resources is considering its options after Quebec's environment minister refused to authorise underground exploration at the Matoush uranium project. The project has been stymied by a moratorium on uranium exploration and mining permits imposed by the provincial government in April 2013. Quebec's environmental assessment agency is undertaking an assessment of the potential impacts of uranium mining in the province, and will present its recommendations next year. But in June, the provincial government announced that it plans to "refuse to issue the permit for the Matoush underground exploration project" due to "a lack of sufficient social acceptability" − presumably that decision will stand regardless of the environmental assessment agency's review. Cree traditional owners are opposed to the project and have called for a moratorium against all uranium development in Cree territory.[8−12]
Australian-based Paladin − which operates the Langer Heinrich mine in Namibia and the Kayelekera uranium mine in Malawi − made a $US40 million loss in the three months to September, after recording a US$173 million loss in the previous quarter. Paladin has major debts and limited capacity to meet them, and is continuing to try to sell its minority interest in Langer Heinrich.[13,14]
UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, has rubbished the Kayerekera uranium mine deal between Malawi and Paladin, saying Malawi has had a raw deal that is robbing the poor. He said the deal was one of the investments in Malawi through which the country is losing resources that could otherwise make a difference in food security and other poverty alleviation initiatives. He said in the life span of the mine Malawi is expected to lose almost US$281 million. "Mining companies are exempt from customs duty, excise duty, value added taxes on mining machinery, plant and equipment. They can also sign special deals on the rate of royalty owed to the government," he said.
Last year, Areva won the 'Dirty Hands, Pockets Full' category of the Pinocchio Awards for refusing "to recognize its responsibility for the deterioration of the living conditions of people living near its uranium mines in Africa." Little has changed. On November 22, Oxfam France, the Nigerian Association ROTAB (Network of Organisations for Transparency and Budgetary Analysis) and the coalition 'Publish What You Pay' released a report, 'Areva in Niger: Who benefits from the uranium?' The organisations denounce the tax breaks Areva enjoys, such as exemptions from customs duties, VAT exemptions and exemptions on taxes on fuel, and a loophole which allows Areva to minimise corporate taxes.
Uranium mines operated by companies including Rio Tinto and Paladin Energy in Namibia face a water shortage as drought curbs supply to the mines and three coastal towns. Volumes from the Omaruru Delta aquifer have declined to four million cubic metres this year from nine million a year earlier. Water from a desalination plant owned by Areva isn't enough to meet the needs of Paladin's Langer Heinrich uranium mine, China Guangdong Nuclear Power Co.'s Husab uranium project and Rio's Rossing complex. Nehemia Abraham, under-secretary for water and forestry in the Ministry of Agriculture, told Bloomberg: "The water-supply situation at the coastal area has become too critical. Mining companies in the area will have to operate with less water. We are reviewing the situation now and from end of November we might be unable to get enough water from the aquifer to supply to mines." The government is planning a second desalination plant.
The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace has asked the government of Malawi to institute an assessment of the impacts of Paladin's uranium mining activities at Kayelekera on the quality of water in the district. Diocesan Justice and Peace Desk Officer for Karonga, Mwawi Shaba, said "that lack of knowledge on the current state of water since the uranium mining activities started in the district in 2006 has raised health fears among people of Karonga. Some months ago fish started dying mysteriously in Lake Malawi here in Karonga and people started connecting this to uranium mining. People are blank on whether uranium mining activities have affected quality of water and that has raised feelings of health insecurity."
Canada's Denison Mines has written down the value of its Mutanga uranium mine project in Zambia. The company said on November 7: "Since the Mutanga project's recoverable amount was determined to be lower than its carrying amount, the Company has recognized an impairment loss of $35,655,000 in the three months ended September 30, 2013." In June, Denison said it would only start developing the mine when prices rise to levels above US$65 / lb U3O8, and that it hoped the Zambian government would not revoke its mining licence following a three-year delay in developing the project.
Rössing announced on November 11 that it has halted preparation of a Social and Environmental Impact Assessment for the proposed Z20 uranium mine in Namibia. The explanation is a little cryptic: "Rössing Uranium decided not to proceed the assessment at this stage, given that work to detail the arrangements for possible mining of the Z20 ore body is continuing. Therefore the SEIA will not be completed at this stage and another round of public consultation will not be conducted as yet. Rössing Uranium will make a decision on continuing the SEIA process at the appropriate time, either to update the current SEIA process or engage in a separate process.[19,20]
Marathon Resources has turned its back on the uranium industry for good. The company says the "risks were more likely to exceed rewards" in a sector hit by low prices. The company was developing a uranium mine in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary in South Australia, but the project came to a halt after Marathon was caught illegally dumping radioactive waste, and the state government later enacted a ban on mining in the Wilderness Sanctuary.[21,22]
Junior explorer Thundelarra has sold its Hayes Creek uranium interests in the Northern Territory of Australia for a lousy A$1.5 million (US$1.37 million). CEO Tony Lofthouse said the sale forms part of a broader rationalisation strategy being employed by the company: "It has become clear that we have too many tenements for a small company in difficult market times."
Australia − Ranger uranium incidents
The Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC) is alarmed by revelations that a potentially contaminated vehicle was able to bypass security and make an unauthorised exit from the Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory of Australia on November 3. The vehicle had not been tested for contamination. GAC, which represents the Mirarr Traditional Owners, was only informed of the incident by Rio Tinto's Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) days after the incident.[25−27]
GAC CEO Justin O'Brien said: "Rio Tinto often asserts that Ranger is the most regulated mine in the world, but this is the fourth such contamination scare over the past seven years."
In 2005, ERA was found guilty and fined for a contamination incident in March 2004 when 150 people were exposed to drinking water containing uranium levels 400 times greater than the maximum Australian safety standard. Twenty-eight mine workers suffered adverse health effects including vomiting and skin irritation as a result of the exposure. In 2009, it was revealed that around 100,000 litres of contaminated water is leaking daily from the Ranger tailings dam.
On 19 November 2013, GAC expressed concern at yet another incident − four empty uranium barrels from Ranger uranium mine had recently been located at Noonamah, south of Darwin. Justin O'Brien said: "It is clear that the radiation control measures at the Ranger mine site have failed on multiple occasions. While we welcome the timely reporting of this issue by the company, ERA's management of radiation is plainly inadequate. The Commonwealth Government must step in and ensure that this matter is taken seriously. To date the response by the Office of the Supervising Scientist has been dismissive and woefully inadequate. Both the NT and Federal Governments must broaden their current investigations into the vehicle incident and examine the entire management of radiation at the Ranger mine. ... This revelation raises very serious concerns for the Mirarr Traditional Owners regarding the suggestion of further mining at Ranger."
Open pit mining has ceased at Ranger, stockpiled ore is being processed and ERA is consistently reporting financial losses. ERA is going through an approvals process regarding potential underground mining − the Ranger 3 Deeps project.
Areva has won the 'Greener than Green' category of this year's Pinocchio Awards for opening the Ureka museum (ureka.fr) glorifying former uranium mining in the Limousin area of France.[28,29] The awards are an initiative of Friends of the Earth France, ActionAid France and the Centre of Research and Information for Development. The 'Greener than Green' award goes to the company which has led the most abusive and misleading communication campaign in regard to its actual activities.
The NGO citation holds Areva to account for talking about the "adventure story" of uranium mining, "just like the irreversible contamination of 230 French mining sites ... and the devastation of many other areas by Areva worldwide." Just in the Limousin region of France, more than 60 abandoned mines are polluting springs, rivers and ground water. The museum celebrates mine workers, but does not mention that a study  found an excess of deaths due to lung and kidney cancer in a cohort of former miners. On a happier note, museum visitors can take advantage of the two-for-one offer on glow-in-the-dark sweets.
On September 11, during the repackaging of a drum containing potassium diuranate, 30 kgs of uranium were spilled in a room in Areva's SOCATRI facilities in France. The event was rated level 1 on the INES scale. Located at the Tricastin nuclear site, SOCATRI handles maintenance and disassembly of nuclear materials, as well as treatment of nuclear and industrial effluents from AREVA Tricastin companies.
In Libya, the 10th Brigade, which guards the Sebha uranium storage facility, staged a protest on November 11 demanding overdue salary payments dating back to 2011. Up to 40 members of the Brigade shut the town's petrol storage tanks and blocked a key road. The Sebha storage facility holds at least 2.26 tonnes of uranium ore concentrate. Although Qaddafi renounced his chemical and nuclear weapons programme in 2003, ten years later the stockpiles remain. A report in The Times said that Bharuddin Midhoun Arifi, the commander of the group in charge of guarding the stockpiles, said that his men were frightened of the uranium: "My men don't like guarding the site as they believe it will make their skin fall off, so we guard it from a nearby checkpoint." He added: "Maybe someone could steal one or two drums if they wanted, but not more."
Kazakhstan, the world's biggest producer of uranium, has called off all projects to increase output due to the protracted price slump. "We've put the brakes on implementing uranium output expansions," Vladimir Shkolnik, CEO of state-owned producer Kazatomprom, said in an interview. "The same goes for other elements of the nuclear-fuel cycle."[33,34]
As reported in the last Nuclear Monitor (#773), Rosatom is freezing uranium expansion projects in Russia and elsewhere due to low prices. The first casualty is the Honeymoon ISL mine in South Australia, which is to be put under care and maintenance.
 WNN, 12 Nov 2013, 'Canyon on hold', www.world-nuclear-news.org/ENF-Fuel-cycle-roundup-16-1211137.html
 7 Nov 2013, 'Grand Canyon Uranium Mine on Hold', www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/nov/07/grand-canyon-uranium-mine-on...
 Virginia Pilot, 16 Nov 2013. See also http://keeptheban.org/
 Energy Fuels, 14 Nov 2013.
 Strateco Resources: www.stratecoinc.com/home.php
 WNN, 12 Nov 2013, 'Quebec minister says no', www.world-nuclear-news.org/ENF-Fuel-cycle-roundup-16-1211137.html
 WNN, 23 April 2013, 'Uranium company fights Quebec moratorium', www.world-nuclear-news.org/ENF-Uranium_company_fights_Quebec_ban-2304137...
 Strateco Resources, 25 June 2013, 'The Minister Will No Longer Wait for the Conclusions of the BAPE Report on the Uranium Industry', www.marketwired.com/press-release/strateco-resources-inc-the-minister-wi...
 Mining Awareness, 4 Aug 2013, 'The Still Unanswered Question & Just What's So Important About The Strateco Resources Case?', http://miningawareness.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/the-still-unanswered-que...
 AAP, 15 Nov 2013, 'Uranium miner Paladin slumps to $40m loss for quarter', www.theaustralian.com.au/business/mining-energy/uranium-miner-paladin-sl...
 Melanie Timbrell, 15 Nov 2013, 'Uranium price weighs on Paladin result', https://www.mywealth.commbank.com.au/companies/uranium-price-weighs-on-p...
 'End of mission statement by the Special Rapporteur on the right to food', 22 July 2013, www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13567&LangID=E
 Felix Njini, 19 Nov 2013, 'Rio Tinto, Paladin Namibia Uranium Mines Face Water Shortage', www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-11-18/rio-tinto-paladin-uranium-mines-in-nam...
 WISE-Uranium www.wise-uranium.org/umopafr.html#MW, www.wise-uranium.org/upmw.html#KAYELEKERA
 AAP, 21 Nov 2013, 'Explorer says uranium project unviable', www.heraldsun.com.au/business/breaking-news/explorer-says-uranium-projec...
 Carmen Brown, 21 Nov 2013, 'Top End uranium project sells for $1.5 million', www.abc.net.au/news/2013-11-21/thundelarra-sells-hayes-creek-uranium-pro...
 Reuters, 13 Nov 2013, 'Russia's Rosatom to mothball uranium mine expansion projects', http://money.msn.com/business-news/article.aspx?feed=OBR&date=20131113&i...
 ASN, 15 Nov 2013.
 Libya Herald, 13 November 2013.
 Oxfam France, 22 Nov 2013, 'Areva au Niger : à qui profite l'uranium?', www.oxfamfrance.org/Areva-au-Niger-a-qui-profite-l,1824
English translation: http://tinyurl.com/oxfam-areva