Archive for the ‘uranium’ Category

Small nuclear reactors, uranium mining, nuclear fuel chain, reprocessing, dismantling reactors – extract from Expert Response to pro nuclear JRC Report

September 14, 2021


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………… If SMRs are used, this not least raises questions about proliferation, i.e. the possible spread of nuclear weapons as well as the necessary nuclear technologies or fissionable materials for their production.    ………..

By way of summary, it is important to state that many questions are still unresolved with regard to any widespread use of SMRs – and this would be necessary to make a significant contribution to climate protection – and they are not addressed in the JRC Report. These issues are not just technical matters that have not yet been clarified, but primarily questions of safety, proliferation and liability, which require international coordination and regulations. 

  • neither coal mining nor uranium mining can be viewed as sustainable …….. Uranium mining principally creates radioactive waste and requires significantly more expensive waste management than coal mining.
  • The volume of waste arising from decommissioning a power plant would therefore be significantly higher than specified in the JRC Report in Part B 2.1, depending on the time required to dismantle it

    Measures to reduce the environmental impact The JRC Report is contradictory when it comes to the environmental impact of uranium mining: it certainly mentions the environmental risks of uranium mining (particularly in JRC Report, Part A 3.3.1.2, p. 67ff), but finally states that they can be contained by suitable measures (particularly JRC Report, Part A 3.3.1.5, p. 77ff). However, suitable measures are not discussed in the depth required ……..

    Expert response to the report by the Joint Research Centre entitled “Technical assessment of nuclear energy with respect to the ‛Do No Significant Harm’ criteria in Regulation (EU) 2020/852, the ‛Taxonomy Regulation’”  2021

    ”…………………3.2 Analysing the contribution made by small modular reactors (SMRs) to climate change mitigation in the JRC Report   
      The statement about many countries’ growing interest in SMRs is mentioned in the JRC Report (Part A 3.2.1, p. 38) without any further classification. In particular, there is no information about the current state of development and the lack of marketability of SMRs.

    Reactors with an electric power output of up to 300 MWe are normally classified as SMRs. Most of the extremely varied SMR concepts found around the world have not yet got past the conceptual level. Many unresolved questions still need to be clarified before SMRs can be technically constructed in a country within the EU and put into operation. They range from issues about safety, transportation and dismantling to matters related to interim storage and final disposal and even new problems for the responsible licensing and supervisory authorities 


    The many theories frequently postulated for SMRs – their contribution to combating the risks of climate change and their lower costs and shorter construction periods must be attributed to particular economic interests, especially those of manufacturers, and therefore viewed in a very critical light

    Today`s new new nuclear power plants have electrical output in the range of 1000-1600 MWe. SMR concepts, in contrast, envisage planned electrical outputs of 1.5 – 300 MWe. In order to provide the same electrical power capacity, the number of units would need to be increased by a factor of 3-1000. Instead of having about 400 reactors with large capacity today, it would be necessary to construct many thousands or even tens of thousands of SMRs (BASE, 2021; BMK, 2020). A current production cost calculation, which consider scale, mass and learning effects from the nuclear industry, concludes that more than 1,000 SMRs would need to be produced before SMR production was cost-effective. It cannot therefore be expected that the structural cost disadvantages of reactors with low capacity can be compensated for by learning or mass effects in the foreseeable future (BASE, 2021). 


    There is no classification in the JRC Report (Part A 3.2.1, p. 38) regarding the frequently asserted statement that SMRs are safer than traditional nuclear power plants with a large capacity, as they have a lower radioactive inventory and make greater use of passive safety systems. In the light of this, various SMR concepts suggest the need for reduced safety requirements, e.g. regarding the degree of redundancy or diversity. Some SMR concepts even consider refraining from normal provisions for accident management both internal and external – for example, smaller planning zones for emergency protection and even the complete disappearance of any off-site emergency zones. 

     The theory that an SMR automatically has an increased safety level is not proven. The safety of a specific reactor unit depends on the safety related properties of the individual reactor and its functional effectiveness and must be carefully analysed – taking into account the possible range of events or incidents. This kind of analysis will raise additional questions, particularly about the external events if SMRs are located in remote regions if SMRs are used to supply industrial plants or if they are sea-based SMRs (BASE, 2021). 

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    Future generations, participative decision-making, proliferation, uranium mining – extract from Expert response to pro nuclear JRC Report

    September 14, 2021

    Consideration of participative decision-making in societies in the JRC Report The involvement of stakeholders is greatly oversimplified in the JRC Report and is described in very optimistic terms. For example, NGOs are not considered in the description of interest groups and their role in developing a programme for deep geological repository sites

    The effects on indigenous peoples, on whose land most of the uranium mines are located, is not mentioned in the report,

    Expert response to the report by the Joint Research Centre entitled “Technical assessment of nuclear energy with respect to the ‛Do No Significant Harm’ criteria in Regulation (EU) 2020/852, the ‛Taxonomy Regulation’”  2021

    ………………………………...6.  Future and further criteria in the Taxonomy Regulation – other sustainability goals and minimum standards  The JRC Report deals with other aspects that are important for sustainable development in conjunction with disposing of high-level radioactive waste, in addition to the ecological criteria. The JRC Report particularly highlights consideration for future generations (JRC Report, Part B 5.2.3.3, p. 258) and the importance of participative decision-making (JRC Report, Part B 5.2.3.1, p. 254) when searching for a repository site. The JRC Report formulates both aspects as important requirements when searching for a repository site. The two requirements of “considering future generations” and “participative decision-making“, however, are not considered in any further depth – e.g. mentioning the challenges associated with these requirements when searching for a repository site for radioactive waste. The report emphasises that there is still no repository for high-level radioactive waste in operation anywhere in the world (JRC Report, Part A 1.1.1, p. 17), but leaves open the question of whether there is any connection here with the challenges of “considering future generations” and “participative decision-making”.   ..

    Regardless of disposal, the problem of proliferation (cf. section 6.3), which is only mentioned in a very rudimentary manner in relation to reprocessing in the JRC Report, and uranium mining (cf. section 6.4) mean that it is necessary to treat the topics of intergenerational justice and participation separately in terms of the sustainability of using nuclear energy. Even in the case of severe nuclear power plant accidents, where large amounts of radioactive substances are discharged into the environment, generational justice is an important aspect of sustainability. The example of Chernobyl shows that coping with the consequences of an accident will also plague future generations – ranging from restrictions or non-usage possibilities in the affected areas and even the planned dismantling of the damaged reactor block and disposing of the retrieved nuclear fuel.


    6.1 “Considering future generations” and “participative decision-making” in conjunction with disposal ……..

    Considering future generations and participative decision-making in any society represent individual sustainability goals in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (UN, 2015) ……..  These two sustainability goals are not adequately considered in the JRC Report with a view to nuclear disposal, but are important for assessing the fundamental issue of sustainability, which is also part of the Taxonomy Regulation 


    Consideration of sustainability aspects and future generations in the JRC Report Developing and introducing a geological disposal programme/disposal system takes decades and is associated with costs that are hard to calculate. Monitoring after the closure of the repository will also continue for at least another 100 years. For example, France expects the operational time for a repository alone to exceed 100 years. During this long period, following generations will have to deal with problems that have been caused by previous generations 


    The risk of long-term financial burdens that are hard to calculate (as the example of the Asse II mine illustrates) and the risks caused by geological disposal for several generations are not adequately treated in the JRC Report. ………  The report fails to provide any in-depth analysis of this aspect and provides a distorted picture, particularly with a view to the aspect of sustainability and intergenerational justice, by ignoring the negative consequences of using nuclear energy. 

    Consideration of participative decision-making in societies in the JRC Report The involvement of stakeholders is greatly oversimplified in the JRC Report and is described in very optimistic terms. For example, NGOs are not considered in the description of interest groups and their role in developing a programme for deep geological repository sites (JRC Report, Part B 5.2.3.1, p. 253-254). Part B 5.2.3.1, p. 254 of the JRC Report ignores the fact that it may not be possible to reach consensus among the stakeholders. This also oversimplifies the problem of searching for a site and presents it in a one-sided way 

    There is no discussion either that – where no social consensus on using nuclear energy exists – its use itself can represent a blockage factor for solving the repository issue – at least experience in Germany illustrates this. Abandoning nuclear power and therefore resolving a social field of conflict, which had continued for decades, was a central factor in ensuring that discussions were relaunched about a site election procedure and led to a broad consensus. …….

    Conclusion 

    Overall, it is necessary to state that the consideration of sustainability in the JRC Report is incomplete and needs to be complemented in terms of the minimum objectives and other sustainability goals. The broad sustainability approach adopted by the United Nations is not picked up. EU taxonomy is based on this broad approach. It therefore makes sense to already analyse the use of nuclear energy and the disposal of radioactive waste specifically now – and in the context of other sustainability goals like considering future generations and participative involvement in societies. 

    6.2 Preservation of records, .Preservation of records, knowledge and memory (RK&M) regarding radioactive waste repositories is only mentioned once as a quotation from Article 17 of the Joint Convention (JRC Report, Part B 1.2, p. 206) and once rudimentarily in Part B 5.2.3.3, p. 259f. This does not do justice to its importance for future generations (cf. sections 2.1 and 6.1 of this expert response). ………….  . Requirements like these are not taken into account in the JRC Report. 

    6.3 Proliferation The JRC Report only mentions the risk of proliferation – i.e. the spread or transfer of fissionable material, mass weapons of destruction, their design plans or launching systems – very briefly in conjunction with the civil use of nuclear power. This analysis is inadequate to do justice to proliferation in the light of the DNSH criteria related to the environmental objectives, as it represents a considerable risk for almost all sustainability goals. 

    The military and civil use of nuclear energy have been closely connected to each other historically. The technologies for their use are often dual-use items, i.e. they can in principle be used for both civil and military purposes. It is therefore necessary to create an extensive network of international controls as part of using nuclear energy and the supply and disposal of fuels associated with it in order to minimise the risk of military misuse by state or non-state players. This particularly applies to fissionable material like uranium-235 and plutonium-239, which are used when generating nuclear energy or produced in power reactors. In addition to this, significant risks are also created by other radioactive substances if they are stolen and used in an improper manner (“dirty bombs”). 


    Processes that are particularly important for proliferation are created when manufacturing nuclear fuel (uranium enrichment) and reprocessing spent nuclear fuel materials: the technologies for uranium enrichment can be used with modifications to produce highly enriched uranium to build a nuclear weapon. During reprocessing, plutonium is separated and it can be used for nuclear weapons. Even if the plutonium vector, which is produced in power reactors, does not have the ideal properties for military use from a physics point of view, it is still basically suitable for making weapons (Mark, 1993; US DoE, 1994). 

    Using nuclear energy to generate electricity is therefore associated with specific risks of proliferation. As nuclear weapons have unique destructive potential in many respects (Eisenbart, 2012), the issue of sustainability for this type of energy generation should not ignore this aspect. ……


    6.4 Uranium mining – specific requirements for sustainable mining ………………..  There is no real discussion of the term “sustainable mining” in the JRC Report (cf. particularly JRC Report Part A 3.3.1.4, p. 76 at the bottom). The report does not examine the discussion about sustainable mining has any repercussions for investigating the environmental effects of uranium mining. However, it is important in terms of other sustainability goals or the minimum safeguards laid down in Article 18 of the Taxonomy Regulation (cf. BMK, 2020, p. 22 too) 

    All those involved in mining and processing uranium ore should be mentioned in conjunction with sustainability. The effects on indigenous peoples, on whose land most of the uranium mines are located, is not mentioned in the report, for example. The rights of these people for a just share in all the resources (ranging from clean water to reasonable healthcare and even the ownership of the raw material, uranium) are not considered, but should be to an extensive degree from sustainability points of view as regards taxonomy …………….. https://www.base.bund.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/BASE/EN/reports/2021-06-30_base-expert-response-jrc-report.pdf.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=6

    Higher cancer and stillbirth rates in Aboriginal people living near Australia’s Ranger uranium mine

    September 14, 2021

    Aboriginal people near the Ranger uranium mine suffered more stillbirths and cancer. We don’t know why,  The Conversation, Rosalie Schultz, Adjunct Senior Lecturer, College of Medicine and Public Health Centre for Remote Health, Flinders University, August 2, 2021 This article mentions stillbirth deaths in Aboriginal communities.

    The Ranger uranium mine, surrounded by Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory, operated for 40 years until it closed in 2021During this time, Aboriginal people in the region experienced stillbirth rates double those of Aboriginal people elsewhere in the Top End, and cancer rates almost 50% higher.

    But a NT government investigation couldn’t explain why. And as I write today in the Medical Journal of Australia, we’re still no wiser.

    We owe it to Aboriginal people living near mines to understand and overcome what’s making them sick. We need to do this in partnership with Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations. This may require research that goes beyond a biomedical focus to consider the web of socio-cultural and political factors contributing to Aboriginal well-being and sickness.

    Investigating the health impacts

    Uranium was mined at Ranger from 1981 until 2012. Processing of stockpiled ore continued until 2021. This is despite community opposition when the mine was proposed and during its operation.

    Over the life of the mine, there have been more than 200 documented incidents. Diesel and acid spills have contaminated creeks and drinking water.

    The Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation represents the Mirarr people of the region. For decades it has expressed grave concerns about continuing incidents and the lack of an effective government response.

    When Ranger’s operators proposed expanding the mine in 2014, opponents pointed to suggestions of higher rates of stillbirth and cancer among Aboriginal people living nearby.

    The NT health department then set up an investigation. Investigators began by identifying all Aboriginal people who had spent more than half their lives near the mine between 1991 and 2014. These people were compared with all other Aboriginal people in the Top End.

    The investigators considered the worst-case scenario would be if Aboriginal people were exposed to radiation from the mine contaminating bush food, water or air, and this exposure increased stillbirth and cancer rates.

    Investigators also looked at smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol and poor diet as possible contributing causes.

    Here’s what they found

    Investigators found the rate of stillbirth was 2.17 times higher among Aboriginal women near the mine. Radiation can lead to stillbirth by causing congenital malformations, and some other risk factors for stillbirth appeared more common amongst women near the mine. However the investigation found neither radiation nor other risk factors explained the higher rate of stillbirth.

    The rate of cancer overall was 1.48 times higher among Aboriginal people near the mine than elsewhere in the Top End. No rates of single cancers were significantly higher…………. https://theconversation.com/aboriginal-people-near-the-ranger-uranium-mine-suffered-more-stillbirths-and-cancer-we-dont-know-why-164862

    Nuclear trash – a tale of two Sydney suburbs

    June 26, 2021
    Hunters Hill

    Radioactive trash – a tale of two Sydney suburbs, https://johnmenadue.com/radioactive-trash-a-tale-of-two-sydney-suburbs/ By Noel Wauchope, May 26, 2021

    Australia is relatively clear of nuclear reprocessing waste problems. But the Sydney suburbs of Hunters Hill and Barden Ridge have radioactive wastes from uranium processing which have been sitting there for decades. A bill is now before the Senate addressing the issue.

    Australia does have radioactive waste problems in the lingering concerns over historic atomic bomb test sites in South Australia., and in both the functioning and the closed uranium mines. But there is only one uranium-processing facility producing radioactive wastes, the Opal nuclear research reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney.

    Now, Federal and State governments are making decisions on the disposal of these wastes. But there is still uncertainty and lack of public information on just how [or whether] these decisions will be carried out. For example, there’s no detail on transport routes, dates etc.

    There are significant differences between the situations of the two suburbs. Perhaps the most significant one is that at Barden Ridge, the nearby Opal nuclear research reactor will be continuing to produce nuclear wastes for the foreseeable future, whereas the Hunters Hill wastes are set for final and permanent removal. Hunters Hill residents have been worried about this for over a century. For Barden Ridge, it has been been recognised as a problem for a much shorter time.

    2021 looks like being a watershed year for both.

    Hunters Hill.

    n 1911, radium was a valuable commodity, and was processed was processed at Hunters Hill, Some 2,000 tonnes of uranium ore were transported from Radium Hill in South Australia, to extract the radium. Several tonnes of uranium oxide were left, and also thorium 230, which itself decays to form more radium and is therefore dangerous for thousands of years. The project closed in 1915. From then on, it was a saga of mistakes and failed attempts to clean up this remaining debris. There was a tin smelter there until 1964.

    Then the Australian Atomic Energy Commission (AAEC, now ANSTO) decided it was safe for housing. In the following years, residents and others became concerned about the uranium tailings spread over 6 housing blocks, in Nelson’s Parade, with the risk to health. They were met with cover-ups and obfuscation from the government. Health tests were kept secret, radiation hotspots were found, and cancers and deaths were claimed to be linked to this, and legal cases ensued.

    Government plans to solve the problem included dumping the wastes at sea. This was resisted by environmentalists. The next plan was to dump it in Western NSW. This was strongly opposed by Aborigines from the area’s Bakandii tribe. When several Nelson Parade residents fell ill in the 1970s, the NSW government purchased several houses and demolished them, but failed to remediate the site.

    in 1981 The then NSW Premier, Mr Wran asked South Australia to take 5,000 tonnes of contaminated soil. A NSW Upper House Inquiry in 2008 led to the government attempting to plan for the clean-up of 2,000 tonnes of radioactive waste. The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency said radioactive waste from Hunters Hill wasn’t permitted to be stored at ANSTO’s Lucas Heights interim waste storage facility.

    In 2012, most of the contaminated earth was reclassified as ”restricted solid waste”. Two Sydney suburbs were mooted as destinations for the wastes – Kemps Creek and Lidcombe. This was resisted by the local residents. Then in 2019, the New South Wales government proposed to store the  contaminated soil on site in an ”encapsulated” form. This was vigorously rejected by the Hunters Hill residents.

    Now, in 2021, beginning in July, New South Wales Property and Housing Minister Melinda Pavey announced that the radioactive material will beexcavated and  and be shipped to Idaho  ,USA. The contaminated soil is to be sealed in bags, loaded into shipping containers and taken to a secure facility in the Eastern Sydney suburb of Matraville before shipping them overseas in scheduled consignments. ANSTO would oversee the process with up to 1800 tonnes to be transported to Idaho in an18-month-long mission.

    Barden Ridge.

    The radioactive waste problem of formerly Lucas Heights has a more recent history, with the original HIFAR nuclear research reactor starting operations in 1958. Lucas Heights was then a remote bushland site well outside the suburban area of Sydney. Nuclear development was meshed in secrecy, and controlled by influential experts Philip Baxter, and Ernest Titterton., without much understanding by the parliament or the public. It was the time of British atomic weapons tests in Australia, and heightened fears about the cold war. Little attention was paid to the subject of radioactive wastes.

    In later years, as Sydney grew, Lucas Heights did become more of a suburb. And the Three Mile Island 1979 and Chernobyl 1986 nuclear accidents aroused a general awareness of nuclear risks. Radioactive wastes from Fisherman’s Bend in Victoria was brought to Lucas Heights in 1990. By now, public concern was raised. When Lucas Heights agreed to take the waste from St Mary’s Defence Base NSW (1991) the Sutherland Shire Council won a court case against ANSTO to stop Lucas Heights taking waste from other entities.

    In 1992, local residents voted to rename the suburb of Lucas Heights, and in 1996 it officially became Barden Ridge.  It is widely accepted that this was done to increase the real estate value of the area, as it would no longer be instantly associated with the HIFAR nuclear reactor.

    Barden Ridge has a conservative community, historically voting Liberal, that accepts the reality of ANSTO and the now Opal nuclear reactor, with the jobs that come with it. Still, the presence of nuclear wastes is an issue. The Sutherland Shire Council in 2013 said that they liked having the nuclear reactor, but not the radioactive wastes. Local people and Council were relieved to learn, in 1997, of the federal government’s plan to set up a waste facility in another State. Sutherland Shire Council rejoiced in 2014, when the federal government announced plans for a nuclear waste facility in the Northern Territory.

    Which brings us to the Australian Government’s Bill about radioactive waste, now before the Australian Senate, the National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020.  This Bill specifies Napandee, a farm near Kimba, South Australia, as the nation’s nuclear waste dump. Resources Minister Keith Pitt has recently announced more grants to the local community .Yet there is significant local opposition to the plan, from Aborigines and farmers.  If this Bill is passed, there can be no judicial review of the decision. So, Barden Ridge residents will get their solution. Or maybe not.

    The Hunters Hill solution is an unusual one, and quite a precedent. There could still be some opposition to the planned process. The Barden Ridge one is also fraught with problems, as nuclear waste will continue to be produced by the nearby nuclear reactor. The Senate might not pass this Bill, leaving the Resources Minister with the option of declaring the Napandee site, which would then open the matter up for court action.

    It’s again ‘wait and see’ time for two worried communities.

    Australia has another go at cleaning up decades old pollution from old uranium mine Rum Jungle.

    June 17, 2021

    This is why Rum Jungle is so important: it was one of the very few mines once thought to have been rehabilitated successfully.

    We got it wrong with Rum Jungle …….. Getting even a small part of modern mine rehabilitation wrong could, at worst, mean billions of tonnes of mine waste polluting for centuries.

    Let’s hope we get it right this time.

    The story of Rum Jungle: a Cold War-era uranium mine that’s spewed acid into the environment for decades  https://theconversation.com/the-story-of-rum-jungle-a-cold-war-era-uranium-mine-thats-spewed-acid-into-the-environment-for-decades-160871, Gavin Mudd Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering, RMIT University, May 18, 2021   

    Buried in last week’s budget was money for rehabilitating the Rum Jungle uranium mine near Darwin. The exact sum was not disclosed.

    Rum Jungle used to be a household name. It was Australia’s first large-scale uranium mine and supplied the US and British nuclear weapons programs during the Cold War.

    Today, the mine is better known for extensively polluting the Finniss River after it closed in 1971. Despite a major rehabilitation project by the Commonwealth in the 1980s, the damage to the local environment is ongoing.

     first visited Rum Jungle in 2004, and it was a colourful mess, to say the least. Over later years, I saw it worsen. Instead of a river bed, there were salt crusts containing heavy metals and radioactive material. Pools of water were rich reds and aqua greens — hallmarks of water pollution. Healthy aquatic species were nowhere to be found, like an ecological desert.

    The government’s second rehabilitation attempt is significant, as it recognises mine rehabilitation isn’t always successful, even if it appears so at first.

    Rum Jungle serves as a warning: rehabilitation shouldn’t be an afterthought, but carefully planned, invested in and monitored for many, many years. Otherwise, as we’ve seen, it’ll be left up to future taxpayers to fix.

    The quick and dirty history


    Rum Jungle produced uranium
     from 1954 to 1971, roughly one-third of which was exported for nuclear weapons. The rest was stockpiled, and then eventually sold in 1994 to the US.

    The mine was owned by the federal government, but was operated under contract by a former subsidiary of Rio Tinto. Back then, there were no meaningful environmental regulations in place for mining, especially for a military project.

    The waste rock and tailings (processed ore) at Rum Jungle contains significant amounts of iron sulfide, called “pyrite”. When mining exposes the pyrite to water and oxygen, a chemical reaction occurs generating so-called “acidic mine drainage”. This drainage is rich in acid, salts, heavy metals and radioactive material (radionuclides), such as copper, zinc and uranium.

    Acid drainage seeping from waste rock, plus acidic liquid waste from the process plant, caused fish and macroinvertebrates (bugs, worms, crustaceans) to die out, and riverbank vegetation to decline. By the time the mine closed in 1971, the region was a well-known ecological wasteland.

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    Australian uranium fuelled Fukushima 

    May 3, 2021

    Australian uranium fuelled Fukushima  https://theecologist.org/2021/mar/09/australian-uranium-fuelled-fukushima, Dr Jim Green, David Noonan 9th March 2021 The Fukushima disaster was fuelled by Australian uranium but lessons were not learned and the industry continues to fuel global nuclear insecurity with irresponsible uranium export policies.   Fukushima was an avoidable disaster, fuelled by Australian uranium and the hubris and profiteering of Japan’s nuclear industry in collusion with compromised regulators and captured bureaucracies.

      Fukushima was an avoidable disaster, fuelled by Australian uranium and the hubris and profiteering of Japan’s nuclear industry in collusion with compromised regulators and captured bureaucracies.

    The Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission ‒ established by the Japanese Parliament ‒ concluded in its 2012 report that the accident was “a profoundly man-made disaster that could and should have been foreseen and prevented” if not for “a multitude of errors and wilful negligence that left the Fukushima plant unprepared for the events of March 11”.

    The accident was the result of “collusion between the government, the regulators and TEPCO”, the commission found.

    Mining

    But overseas suppliers who turned a blind eye to unacceptable nuclear risks in Japan have largely escaped scrutiny or blame. Australia’s uranium industry is a case in point.

    Yuki Tanaka from the Hiroshima Peace Institute noted: “Japan is not the sole nation responsible for the current nuclear disaster. From the manufacture of the reactors by GE to provision of uranium by Canada, Australia and others, many nations are implicated.”

    There is no dispute that Australian uranium was used in the Fukushima reactors. The mining companies won’t acknowledge that fact — instead they hide behind claims of “commercial confidentiality” and “security”.

    But the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office acknowledged in October 2011 that: “We can confirm that Australian obligated nuclear material was at the Fukushima Daiichi site and in each of the reactors — maybe five out of six, or it could have been all of them”.

    BHP and Rio Tinto, two of the world’s largest mining companies, supplied Australian uranium to TEPCO and that uranium was used to fuel Fukushima.

    Tsunamis

    The mining companies have failed to take any responsibility for the catastrophic impacts on Japanese society that resulted from the use of their uranium in a poorly managed, poorly regulated industry.

    Moreover, the mining companies can’t claim ignorance. The warning signs were clear. Australia’s uranium industry did nothing as TEPCO and other Japanese nuclear companies lurched from scandal to scandal and accident to accident.

    The uranium industry did nothing in 2002 when it was revealed that TEPCO had systematically and routinely falsified safety data and breached safety regulations for 25 years or more.

    The uranium industry did nothing in 2007 when over 300 incidents of ‘malpractice’ at Japan’s nuclear plants were revealed – 104 of them at nuclear power plants.

    It did nothing even as the ability of Japan’s nuclear plants to withstand earthquakes and tsunamis came under growing criticism from industry insiders and independent experts.

    Vicious cycle

    And the uranium industry did nothing about the multiple conflicts of interest plaguing Japanese nuclear regulators.

    Mirarr senior Traditional Owner Yvonne Margarula ‒ on whose land in the Northern Territory Rio Tinto’s Ranger mine operated ‒ said she was “deeply saddened” that uranium from Ranger was exported to Japanese nuclear companies including TEPCO.

    No such humility from the uranium companies. They get tetchy at any suggestion of culpability, with the Australian Uranium Association describing it as “opportunism in the midst of human tragedy” and “utter nonsense”.

    Yet, Australia could have played a role in breaking the vicious cycle of mismanagement in Japan’s nuclear industry by making uranium exports conditional on improved management of nuclear plants and tighter regulation.

    Even a strong public statement of concern would have been heard by the Japanese utilities – unless it was understood to be rhetoric for public consumption – and it would have registered in the Japanese media.

    Safety

    But the uranium industry denied culpability and instead stuck its head in the sand. Since the industry is in denial about its role in fuelling the Fukushima disaster, there is no reason to believe that it will behave more responsibly in future.

    Successive Australian governments did nothing about the unacceptable standards in Japan’s nuclear industry. Julia Gillard ‒ Australia’s Prime Minister at the time of the Fukushima disaster ‒ said the disaster “doesn’t have any impact on my thinking about uranium exports”.

    Signification elements of Japan’s corrupt ‘nuclear village’ ‒ comprising industry, regulators, politicians and government agencies ‒ were back in control just a few years after the Fukushima disaster. Regulation remains problematic.

    Add to that ageing reactors, and companies facing serious economic stress and intense competition, and there’s every reason for ongoing concern about nuclear safety in Japan.

    Professor Yoshioka Hitoshi is a Kyushu University academic who served on the government’s 2011-12 Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations.

    Regulation

    They said in October 2015: “Unfortunately, the new regulatory regime is … inadequate to ensure the safety of Japan’s nuclear power facilities. The first problem is that the new safety standards on which the screening and inspection of facilities are to be based are simply too lax.

    “While it is true that the new rules are based on international standards, the international standards themselves are predicated on the status quo.

    “They have been set so as to be attainable by most of the reactors already in operation. In essence, the NRA made sure that all Japan’s existing reactors would be able to meet the new standards with the help of affordable piecemeal modifications ‒ back-fitting, in other words.”

    In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon called for an independent cost-benefit inquiry into uranium trade. The Australian government failed to act.

    Inadequate regulation was a root cause of the Fukushima disaster yet Australia has uranium supply agreements with numerous countries with demonstrably inadequate nuclear regulation, including ChinaIndiaRussia, the United StatesJapanSouth Korea, and Ukraine.

    Overthrow

    Likewise, Australian uranium companies and the government turn a blind eye to nuclear corruption scandals in countries with uranium supply agreements: South Korea, India, Russia and Ukraine among others.

    Indeed, Australia has signed up to expand its uranium trade to sell into insecure regions.

    In 2011 ‒ the same year as the Fukushima disaster ‒ the Australian government agreed to allow uranium exports to India.

    This despite inadequate nuclear regulation in India, and despite India’s ongoing expansion of its nuclear weaponry and delivery capabilities.

    A uranium supply agreement with the United Arab Emirates was concluded in 2013 despite the obvious risks of selling uranium into a politically and militarily volatile region where nuclear facilities have repeatedly been targeted by adversaries intent on stopping covert nuclear weapons programs. Australia was planning uranium sales to the Shah of Iran months before his overthrow in 1979.

    Forced labour

    A uranium supply agreement with Ukraine was concluded in 2016 despite a host of safety and security concerns, and the inability of the International Atomic Energy Agency to carry out safeguards inspections in regions annexed by Russia.

    In 2014, Australia banned uranium sales to Russia, with then prime minister Tony Abbott stating: “Australia has no intention of selling uranium to a country which is so obviously in breach of international law as Russia currently is.”

    Australia’s uranium supply agreement with China, concluded in 2006, has not been reviewed despite abundant evidence of inadequate nuclear safety standards, inadequate regulation, lack of transparency, repression of whistleblowers, world’s worst insurance and liability arrangements, security risks, and widespread corruption.

    Civil society and NGO’s are campaigning to wind back Australia’s atomic exposures in the uranium trade with emphasis on uranium sales to China.

    China’s human rights abuses and a range of strategic insecurity issues warrant a cessation of uranium sales. China’s ongoing human rights abuses in Tibet and mass detention and forced labour against Uyghurs in Xinjiang are severe breaches of international humanitarian law and UN Treaties.

    Weapons

    China proliferated nuclear weapons know-how to Pakistan, targets Australia in cyber-attacks, and is causing regional insecurity on the India border, in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and in the Pacific.

    BHP’s Olympic Dam is the only company still selling Australian uranium into China. There is a case for the ‘Big Australian’ to forego uranium sales overall and an onus to end sales to China.

    A federal Parliamentary Inquiry in Australia is investigating forced labour in China and the options for Australia to respond. A case is before this inquiry to disqualify China from supply of Australian uranium sales  – see submission 02 on human rights abuses and submission 02.1 on security risks.

    Australia supplies uranium with scant regard for nuclear safety risks. Likewise, proliferation risks are given short shrift.

    Australia has uranium export agreements with all of the ‘declared’ nuclear weapons states – the US, UK, China, France, Russia – although not one of them takes seriously its obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to pursue disarmament in good faith.

    Carte blanche

    Australia claims to be working to discourage countries from producing fissile – explosive – material for nuclear bombs, but nonetheless exports uranium to countries blocking progress on the proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.

    And Australia gives Japan open-ended permission to separate and stockpile plutonium although that stockpiling fans regional proliferation risks and tensions in North-East Asia.

    Despite liberal export policies, Australian uranium sales are in long-term decline and now represent only 8.9 percent of world uranium usage.

    With the Ranger mine shut down and no longer processing ore for uranium exports, there are only two operating uranium mines in Australia: BHP’s Olympic Dam copper-uranium mine and the smaller General Atomics’ Beverley Four Mile operation ‒ both in South Australia.

    Uranium accounts for less than 0.3 percent of Australia’s export revenue and less than 0.1 percent of all jobs in Australia.

    One wonders why an industry that delivers so little is given carte blanche by the government to do as it pleases.

    These Authors

    Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia. David Noonan is an independent environment campaigner. For further information on BHP’s Olympic Dam mine click her

    Australian uranium fuelled Fukushima

    April 5, 2021

    Australian uranium fuelled Fukushima  https://theecologist.org/2021/mar/09/australian-uranium-fuelled-fukushima, Dr Jim Green, David Noonan 9th March 2021The Fukushima disaster was fuelled by Australian uranium but lessons were not learned and the industry continues to fuel global nuclear insecurity with irresponsible uranium export policies.Fukushima was an avoidable disaster, fuelled by Australian uranium and the hubris and profiteering of Japan’s nuclear industry in collusion with compromised regulators and captured bureaucracies.

    The Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission ‒ established by the Japanese Parliament ‒ concluded in its 2012 report that the accident was “a profoundly man-made disaster that could and should have been foreseen and prevented” if not for “a multitude of errors and wilful negligence that left the Fukushima plant unprepared for the events of March 11”.

    The accident was the result of “collusion between the government, the regulators and TEPCO”, the commission found.

    Mining

    But overseas suppliers who turned a blind eye to unacceptable nuclear risks in Japan have largely escaped scrutiny or blame. Australia’s uranium industry is a case in point.

    Yuki Tanaka from the Hiroshima Peace Institute noted: “Japan is not the sole nation responsible for the current nuclear disaster. From the manufacture of the reactors by GE to provision of uranium by Canada, Australia and others, many nations are implicated.”

    There is no dispute that Australian uranium was used in the Fukushima reactors. The mining companies won’t acknowledge that fact — instead they hide behind claims of “commercial confidentiality” and “security”.

    But the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office acknowledged in October 2011 that: “We can confirm that Australian obligated nuclear material was at the Fukushima Daiichi site and in each of the reactors — maybe five out of six, or it could have been all of them”.

    BHP and Rio Tinto, two of the world’s largest mining companies, supplied Australian uranium to TEPCO and that uranium was used to fuel Fukushima.

    Tsunamis


    The mining companies have failed to take any responsibility for the catastrophic impacts on Japanese society that resulted from the use of their uranium in a poorly managed, poorly regulated industry.

    Moreover, the mining companies can’t claim ignorance. The warning signs were clear. Australia’s uranium industry did nothing as TEPCO and other Japanese nuclear companies lurched from scandal to scandal and accident to accident.

    The uranium industry did nothing in 2002 when it was revealed that TEPCO had systematically and routinely falsified safety data and breached safety regulations for 25 years or more.

    The uranium industry did nothing in 2007 when over 300 incidents of ‘malpractice’ at Japan’s nuclear plants were revealed – 104 of them at nuclear power plants.

    It did nothing even as the ability of Japan’s nuclear plants to withstand earthquakes and tsunamis came under growing criticism from industry insiders and independent experts.

    Vicious cycle

    And the uranium industry did nothing about the multiple conflicts of interest plaguing Japanese nuclear regulators.

    Mirarr senior Traditional Owner Yvonne Margarula ‒ on whose land in the Northern Territory Rio Tinto’s Ranger mine operated ‒ said she was “deeply saddened” that uranium from Ranger was exported to Japanese nuclear companies including TEPCO.

    No such humility from the uranium companies. They get tetchy at any suggestion of culpability, with the Australian Uranium Association describing it as “opportunism in the midst of human tragedy” and “utter nonsense”.

    Yet, Australia could have played a role in breaking the vicious cycle of mismanagement in Japan’s nuclear industry by making uranium exports conditional on improved management of nuclear plants and tighter regulation.

    Even a strong public statement of concern would have been heard by the Japanese utilities – unless it was understood to be rhetoric for public consumption – and it would have registered in the Japanese media.

    Safety

    But the uranium industry denied culpability and instead stuck its head in the sand. Since the industry is in denial about its role in fuelling the Fukushima disaster, there is no reason to believe that it will behave more responsibly in future.

    Successive Australian governments did nothing about the unacceptable standards in Japan’s nuclear industry. Julia Gillard ‒ Australia’s Prime Minister at the time of the Fukushima disaster ‒ said the disaster “doesn’t have any impact on my thinking about uranium exports”.

    Signification elements of Japan’s corrupt ‘nuclear village’ ‒ comprising industry, regulators, politicians and government agencies ‒ were back in control just a few years after the Fukushima disaster. Regulation remains problematic.

    Add to that ageing reactors, and companies facing serious economic stress and intense competition, and there’s every reason for ongoing concern about nuclear safety in Japan.

    Professor Yoshioka Hitoshi is a Kyushu University academic who served on the government’s 2011-12 Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations.

    Regulation

    They said in October 2015: “Unfortunately, the new regulatory regime is … inadequate to ensure the safety of Japan’s nuclear power facilities. The first problem is that the new safety standards on which the screening and inspection of facilities are to be based are simply too lax.

    “While it is true that the new rules are based on international standards, the international standards themselves are predicated on the status quo.

    “They have been set so as to be attainable by most of the reactors already in operation. In essence, the NRA made sure that all Japan’s existing reactors would be able to meet the new standards with the help of affordable piecemeal modifications ‒ back-fitting, in other words.”

    In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon called for an independent cost-benefit inquiry into uranium trade. The Australian government failed to act.

    Inadequate regulation was a root cause of the Fukushima disaster yet Australia has uranium supply agreements with numerous countries with demonstrably inadequate nuclear regulation, including ChinaIndiaRussia, the United StatesJapanSouth Korea, and Ukraine.

    Overthrow

    Likewise, Australian uranium companies and the government turn a blind eye to nuclear corruption scandals in countries with uranium supply agreements: South Korea, India, Russia and Ukraine among others.

    Indeed, Australia has signed up to expand its uranium trade to sell into insecure regions.

    In 2011 ‒ the same year as the Fukushima disaster ‒ the Australian government agreed to allow uranium exports to India.

    This despite inadequate nuclear regulation in India, and despite India’s ongoing expansion of its nuclear weaponry and delivery capabilities.

    A uranium supply agreement with the United Arab Emirates was concluded in 2013 despite the obvious risks of selling uranium into a politically and militarily volatile region where nuclear facilities have repeatedly been targeted by adversaries intent on stopping covert nuclear weapons programs. Australia was planning uranium sales to the Shah of Iran months before his overthrow in 1979.

    Forced labour

    A uranium supply agreement with Ukraine was concluded in 2016 despite a host of safety and security concerns, and the inability of the International Atomic Energy Agency to carry out safeguards inspections in regions annexed by Russia.

    In 2014, Australia banned uranium sales to Russia, with then prime minister Tony Abbott stating: “Australia has no intention of selling uranium to a country which is so obviously in breach of international law as Russia currently is.”

    Australia’s uranium supply agreement with China, concluded in 2006, has not been reviewed despite abundant evidence of inadequate nuclear safety standards, inadequate regulation, lack of transparency, repression of whistleblowers, world’s worst insurance and liability arrangements, security risks, and widespread corruption.

    Civil society and NGO’s are campaigning to wind back Australia’s atomic exposures in the uranium trade with emphasis on uranium sales to China.

    China’s human rights abuses and a range of strategic insecurity issues warrant a cessation of uranium sales. China’s ongoing human rights abuses in Tibet and mass detention and forced labour against Uyghurs in Xinjiang are severe breaches of international humanitarian law and UN Treaties.

    Weapons


    China proliferated nuclear weapons know-how to Pakistan, targets Australia in cyber-attacks, and is causing regional insecurity on the India border, in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and in the Pacific.

    BHP’s Olympic Dam is the only company still selling Australian uranium into China. There is a case for the ‘Big Australian’ to forego uranium sales overall and an onus to end sales to China.

    A federal Parliamentary Inquiry in Australia is investigating forced labour in China and the options for Australia to respond. A case is before this inquiry to disqualify China from supply of Australian uranium sales  – see submission 02 on human rights abuses and submission 02.1 on security risks.

    Australia supplies uranium with scant regard for nuclear safety risks. Likewise, proliferation risks are given short shrift.

    Australia has uranium export agreements with all of the ‘declared’ nuclear weapons states – the US, UK, China, France, Russia – although not one of them takes seriously its obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to pursue disarmament in good faith.

    Carte blanche


    Australia claims to be working to discourage countries from producing fissile – explosive – material for nuclear bombs, but nonetheless exports uranium to countries blocking progress on the proposed Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.

    And Australia gives Japan open-ended permission to separate and stockpile plutonium although that stockpiling fans regional proliferation risks and tensions in North-East Asia.

    Despite liberal export policies, Australian uranium sales are in long-term decline and now represent only 8.9 percent of world uranium usage.

    With the Ranger mine shut down and no longer processing ore for uranium exports, there are only two operating uranium mines in Australia: BHP’s Olympic Dam copper-uranium mine and the smaller General Atomics’ Beverley Four Mile operation ‒ both in South Australia.

    Uranium accounts for less than 0.3 percent of Australia’s export revenue and less than 0.1 percent of all jobs in Australia.

    One wonders why an industry that delivers so little is given carte blanche by the government to do as it pleases.

    These Authors Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia. David Noonan is an independent environment campaigner. For further information on BHP’s Olympic Dam mine click here.

    Why we must fight miners’ push to fast-track uranium mines

    June 21, 2020

    Expensive, dirty and dangerous: why we must fight miners’ push to fast-track uranium mines  https://theconversation.com/expensive-dirty-and-dangerous-why-we-must-fight-miners-push-to-fast-track-uranium-mines-139966?fbclid=IwAR173tiUPtRX3YkqQh5VlmoWHWWCUHxSFtCFxFIxKtuvI3IaghgbGhAEBAM, Gavin Mudd, Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering, RMIT University, June 18, 2020    Of all the elements on Earth, none is more strictly controlled under law than uranium. A plethora of international agreements govern its sale and use in energy, research and nuclear weapons.

    Australian environmental law considers nuclear actions, such as uranium mining, as a “matter of national environmental significance” under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. This means uranium involves matters of national and international concern for which the Australian government is solely responsible.

    The states, which own minerals, cannot exercise such oversight on uranium exports and use. So any new uranium mine needs both state and federal environmental approvals.

    The Minerals Council of Australia wants to change this. In a submission to a ten-year review of the EPBC Act, the council argues that uranium’s special treatment is redundant, as environmental risks are already addressed in state approval processes.

    On Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that BHP’s proposed expansion of the Olympic Dam copper-uranium-gold-silver mine in South Australia was one of 15 major projects set to be fast-tracked for environmental approval. This would include a single, joint state and federal assessment.

    But responsibility and past performance make a compelling case to maintain our federal environmental laws more than ever. Here’s why uranium mining must remain a federal issue.

    Our international obligations

    Australia is a signatory to several international treaties, conventions and agreements concerning nuclear activities and uranium mining and export.

    These include safeguards to ensure Australian uranium is used only for peaceful nuclear power or research, and not military uses.

    As of the end of 2018, the nuclear material safeguarded under international agreements derived from our uranium exports totalled 212,052 tonnes – including 201.6 tonnes of separated plutonium.

    Making sure our uranium trading partners don’t redirect that material for the wrong purpose has been the raison d’être of our nuclear foreign policy since 1977. It’s clearly a national legal and moral obligation, and something the states simply cannot do.

    In response, a spokesperson for the Minerals Council of Australia said a national mechanism to manage safeguards already exists through the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, adding:

    Uranium is further regulated through the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) […] under the provisions of the ARPANS Regulations 1999. The object of the ARPANS Act is “to protect the health and safety of people, and to protect the environment, from the harmful effects of radiation”.

    But ARPANSA regulates radiation safety and not uranium exports. If uranium mining was removed as a nuclear action, then there would be no public process involving our uranium exports – creating more secrecy and reducing scrutiny.

    Successful rehabilitation has yet to be seen

    Uranium mines are difficult to rehabilitate at the end of their lives. In my 24 years of research, including visiting most sites, I’ve yet to see a successful case study of Australia’s 11 major uranium mines or numerous small sites.

    For example, the Rum Jungle mine near Darwin, which operated from 1954 to 1971, left a toxic legacy of acidic and radioactive drainage and a biologically dead Finniss River.

    As a military project for the Cold War, it was Australian government-owned, but operated under contract by a company owned by Rio Tinto. The site was rehabilitated with taxpayer money from 1983-86, but by the mid-1990s the works were failing, and pollution levels were again rising.
    The Northern Territory government is proposing a new round of rehabilitation. After accounting for inflation to 2019 dollars, Rum Jungle has cost taxpayers A$875 million for a return of A$139 million. The next round of rehabilitation is expected to cost many millions more.

    The former Mary Kathleen mine, also part of Rio Tinto’s corporate history, operated from 1958-63 and 1976-82.

    Rehabilitation works were completed by 1986 and won national engineering awards for excellence. But by the late 1990s, acid seepage problems emerged from the tailings dam (where mining by-products are stored) and overlying grasses were absorbing toxic heavy metals, creating a risk for grazing cattle.

    Rare earth metals are also present in these tailings, leading to the possibility the tailings will be reprocessed to fund the next round of rehabilitation. The site remains in limbo, despite its Instagram fame.

    Both Rum Jungle and Mary Kathleen were rehabilitated to the standards of their day, but they have not withstood the test of time.

    Australia’s biggest uranium mine, Ranger, is fast approaching the end of its operating life.

    Rio Tinto is also the majority owner of Ranger. Despite Ranger’s recent losses, Rio has retained control and given Ranger hundreds of millions of dollars towards ensuring site operations and rehabilitation.

    In recent years the cost of rehabilitation has soared from A$565 million in 2011 to A$897 million in 2019, over which time A$603 million has been spent on rehabilitation works.

    Site rehabilitation is required to be complete by January 2026, with Rio Tinto and Ranger assuming 25 years of monitoring – although plans and funding for this are still being finalised.

    The legal requirement is that no contaminants should cause environmental impacts for 10,000 years, and no other mine has ever faced such a hurdle.

    Recently, it emerged that Ranger had not agreed to continue its share of funding the scientific research required for the rehabilitation – an issue still unresolved. So despite promises of world’s best ever rehabilitation, concerns remain.

    The Conversation contacted Rio Tinto to respond, and it referred us to Energy Resources Australia (ERA), which operates Ranger. An ERA spokesperson stated:

    Since 1994, ERA has made an annual contribution to research into the environmental effects of uranium mining in the Alligator Rivers Region under an agreement with the Commonwealth. The agreement provides for a review of funding contributions at fixed periods or at either party’s request to acknowledge changes in Ranger operations.

    ERA is required to cease processing in January 2021 in accordance with the expiration of its Authority to Operate under the Commonwealth Atomic Energy Act. Given the impending cessation in processing, ERA believes it is appropriate and reasonable to review the current research funding arrangements.

    ERA has followed due process in this matter and welcomes the Commonwealth’s decision to support a process of mediation to resolve the issue.

    No other former uranium mine in Australia can claim long-term rehabilitation success. Nabarlek, Radium Hill-Port Pirie, South Alligator Valley and other small mines all have issues such as erosion, weeds, remaining infrastructure, radiation hot-spots and/or water contamination. They all require ongoing surveillance.

    Uranium mining is set to be outcompeted

    Australia’s uranium export revenue from 1977 to December A$2019 was A$29.4 billion. Lithium has now overtaken uranium in export revenue – from 2017 to 2019, lithium earned Australia two to three times our uranium exports.

    Even if Olympic Dam expands (and especially if it stops extracting uranium in favour of tellurium, cobalt and rare earths also present), this trend is expected to increase in the coming years as Ranger closes and the world transitions to renewable energy and electric vehicles to help address climate change.

    In response, the Minerals Council of Australia stated that lithium’s contribution to large-scale electricity storage is just beginning, arguing:

    With the development of new nuclear technologies such as small modular and micro reactors, the prospects for the future of both uranium and lithium are positive and no one should be picking winners apart from the market.
    Ultimately, uranium remains an element with immense potential for misuse – as seen with North Korea and other rogue nuclear states. Federal oversight of uranium mining must remain. After all, the price of peace is eternal vigilance.

    World’s first public database of mine tailings dams aims to prevent deadly disasters

    February 13, 2020

    World’s first public database of mine tailings dams aims to prevent deadly disasters https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-01/g-wfp012320.php

    Previously unreleased data offer unprecedented view into mining industry’s waste storage practices

    GRID-ARENDAL 24 JAN 2020 ENVIRONMENTAL ORGANIZATION GRID-ARENDAL HAS LAUNCHED THE WORLD’S FIRST PUBLICLY ACCESSIBLE GLOBAL DATABASE OF MINE TAILINGS STORAGE FACILITIES. THE DATABASE, THE GLOBAL TAILINGS PORTAL, WAS BUILT BY NORWAY-BASED GRID-ARENDAL AS PART OF THE INVESTOR MINING AND TAILINGS SAFETY INITIATIVE, WHICH IS LED BY THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND PENSIONS BOARD AND THE SWEDISH NATIONAL PENSION FUNDS’ COUNCIL ON ETHICS, WITH SUPPORT FROM THE UN ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMME. THE INITIATIVE IS BACKED BY FUNDS WITH MORE THAN US$13 TRILLION UNDER MANAGEMENT.

    Until now, there has been no central database detailing the location and quantity of the mining industry’s liquid and solid waste, known as tailings. The waste is typically stored in embankments called tailings dams, which have periodically failed with devastating consequences for communities, wildlife and ecosystems.

    “This portal could save lives”, says Elaine Baker, senior expert at GRID-Arendal and a geosciences professor with the University of Sydney in Australia. “Dams are getting bigger and bigger. Mining companies have found most of the highest-grade ores and are now mining lower-grade ones, which create more waste. With this information, the entire industry can work towards reducing dam failures in the future.”

    The database allows users to view detailed information on more than 1,700 tailings dams around the world, categorized by location, company, dam type, height, volume, and risk, among other factors.

    “Most of this information has never before been publicly available”, says Kristina Thygesen, GRID-Arendal’s programme leader for geological resources and a member of the team that worked on the portal. When GRID-Arendal began in-depth research on mine tailings dams in 2016, very little data was accessible. In a 2017 report on tailings dams, co-published by GRID and the UN Environment Programme, one of the key recommendations was to establish an accessible public-interest database of tailings storage facilities.

    “This database brings a new level of transparency to the mining industry, which will benefit regulators, institutional investors, scientific researchers, local communities, the media, and the industry itself”, says Thygesen.

    The release of the Global Tailings Portal coincides with the one-year anniversary of the tailings dam collapse in Brumadinho, Brazil, that killed 270 people. After that disaster, a group of institutional investors led by the Church of England Pensions Board asked 726 of the world’s largest mining companies to disclose details about their tailings dams. Many of the companies complied, and the information they released has been incorporated into the database.

    For more information on tailings dams, see the 2017 report “Mine Tailings Storage: Safety Is No Accident” and the related collection of graphics, which are available for media use.

    About GRID-Arendal

    GRID-Arendal supports environmentally sustainable development by working with the UN Environment Programme and other partners. We communicate environmental knowledge that motivates decision-makers and strengthens management capacity. We transform environmental data into credible, science-based information products, delivered through innovative communication tools and capacity-building services.

    The global uranium industry is really on the skids

    February 13, 2020

    Uranium bulls ‘as rare as white unicorns’ Jim Green, Online Opinion, 26 November 2019, https://onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=20623&page=0

    Uranium bulls are “as rare as white unicorns” according to a commentary in FNArena in September 2019, and the market is “sick and dying” with uranium “quickly becoming a dinosaur of a commodity”.

    Canadian company Cameco recently said it cannot see any case for construction of new uranium mines for some years to come. Chief financial officer Grant Isaac said that new mines will not win financial backing without a far stronger recovery in demand for uranium than is currently on the horizon.

    “It’s pretty hard to say you’re going to take the risk on an asset … that isn’t licensed, isn’t permitted, probably doesn’t have a proven mining method, when you have idle tier one capacity that’s licensed, permitted, sitting there,” Isaac said.

    Moreover, Cameco has no plans to restart mines put into care-and-maintenance in 2016 and 2017: McArthur River (and the Key Lake mill) and Rabbit Lake in Canada, and the Crow Butte and Smith Ranch-Highland in-situ leach mines in the US. Plans to expand Crow Butte were abandoned in March 2019.

    Instead, Cameco will continue to meet its contracts by purchasing uranium on the spot market. Delivering the company’s third-quarter results (a small loss), chief exec­utive Tim Gitzel said that only 9 million pounds of uranium oxide will be produced from its mines next year, with the remainder of its requirement of 30‒32 million pounds supplied from spot market purchases.

    Cameco’s workforce in Canada has halved. Before the Fukushima disaster, the company employed more than 2,100 people in Saskatchewan. Since then, 810 mine and mill workers have been sacked, along with 219 head office employees in Saskatoon. (more…)