Archive for the ‘uranium’ Category

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.

(more…)

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…)

Iraqi children with congenital disabilities caused by depleted uranium

February 13, 2020

The danger, the unwisdom, of highly enriched uranium in space

February 13, 2020

Do we need highly enriched uranium in space (again)?  Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists By Christopher Fichtlscherer, September 12, 2019 “……. Weapon-grade fuel for the Mars mission. In this rush to realize the old dream of space colonization, a central question is how to provide a planetary base with electrical power. Currently it seems as though NASA is in favor of nuclear energy. Most recently, on August 20, 2019, President Trump issued a presidential memorandum authorizing the possible launch into space of nuclear reactors fueled by highly enriched uranium (HEU) for “orbital and planetary surface activities.” But sending HEU reactors into space is risky and unnecessary because there are viable options for using low-enriched uranium (LEU), or for avoiding nuclear power altogether by harnessing solar energy.

Since 2015, NASA has funded a group at Los Alamos National Laboratory to build what is called the Kilopower reactor, a nuclear fission reactor for space applications. The Kilopower reactor is a sodium-cooled fast-neutron reactor with a block core that produces electrical energy with Stirling engine heat converters. NASA plans to build four or five Kilopower reactors, each with a lifetime of 12 to 15 years and a continuous energy output of 10 kilowatts, which could meet the energy needs of a possible Mars base. This Kilopower fast reactor could be fueled with either LEU or HEU. While the LEU fuel for the Kilopower reactor would contain 19.75 percent uranium 235, the HEU fuel would contain 93 percent of this isotope, a degree of enrichment that is called “weapon-grade.” In the newest prototype, these two versions of the fast reactor have essentially the same design but differ by size and weight. Los Alamos published a white paper about the Kilopower reactor in August 2017 supporting the LEU designs, but half a year later the lab successfully tested the HEU design. In October 2018, Los Alamos published a second white paper that favored HEU on the grounds that it would have a lighter weight.

Indeed, the HEU version of the Kilopower reactor is lighter, but it comes with alarming risks: the block fuel element contains around 43 kilograms of HEU, enough material for a terrorist group to build a nuclear weapon. There is also a proliferation risk. Kilopower would establish a precedent that other states could use to justify their own production of weapon-grade uranium. That is why, over the last four decades, the United States has led an international effort to persuade research reactor operators to switch from using HEU to using LEU. Building an HEU-fueled space reactor would undermine those attempts and the nonproliferation policies that inform them.

There are other downsides beyond the security risks. For example, the use of HEU would exclude private industry from taking part in space-reactor research and development. Such a reactor would also be more expensive than the LEU version because of the high costs required to secure significant quantities of HEU during the development and the launch. Finally, an HEU reactor would be sure to stir controversy for the reasons mentioned above and would be subject to cancellation by Congress.

Beyond that, the main advantage of the HEU reactor may not actually be much of an advantage. In 2015 scientists from the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, and in 2018 scientists from the Colorado School of Mines, each published designs for different, lighter LEU reactor models with a similar power output to the Kilopower LEU version. Moreover, it seems realistic that we can expect further weight and launching cost reductions well before a Mars colonization mission could start.

Accident risks. Sending nuclear reactors into space is not a new idea. The Soviet Union launched over 30 into orbit during the Cold War to power radars that tracked the US Navy. The United States launched only one reactor, in 1965. Dubbed the SNAP-10A, it had to be shut down after only 43 days due to an electrical component failure.

Most of these reactors are still orbiting above us—but not all of them. For example, the Soviet Kosmos 954 reactor crashed to earth in 1978, spreading radioactive material over a large area of northern Canada. In total there is about one ton of nuclear material in orbit, and all of it is at risk of colliding with other space debris and coming back to earth.

Major accidents have occurred in over 20 percent of space reactor missions. That is probably one of the reasons why no country has launched a reactor into space since the Cold War. Given these issues, why not avoid radioactive material for space missions altogether? Perhaps solar energy should be the first choice for electrical energy in space. Most satellites launched into space get their energy from solar panels, as does the international space station, which has successfully operated for over 10 years with solar arrays that produce up to 120 kilowatts of electricity. The NASA Mars rover Opportunity ran for over 14 years powered by solar panels. In short, the difficulties of running a solar power system on Mars seem manageable.

If we really want to build a Mars base in the not-so-distant future, why should we go with weapon-grade uranium, with all its security and proliferation risks, when we have both the option of affordable alternative LEU designs and solar options that eliminate these risks?  https://thebulletin.org/2019/09/do-we-need-highly-enriched-uranium-in-space-again/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Newsletter09162019&utm_content=NuclearRisk_UraniumInSpace_09122019

How the Mirrar Aboriginal people, helped by environmentalists stopped uranium mining at Jabiluka

August 18, 2019

Leave it in the ground: stopping the Jabiluka mine, Red Flag Fleur Taylor, 15 July 2019  “…… The election of John Howard in March 1996 marked the end of 13 years of ALP government…..

Australia’s giant mining companies – major backers of the Coalition – got their wish list. Howard immediately abolished Labor’s three mines policy, and the business pages crowed that “25 new uranium mines” were likely and possible. And in October 1997, then environment minister Robert Hill blew the dust off an environmental impact statement from 1979 that said mining at Jabiluka was safe. Approval of the mine quickly followed.

The Jabiluka uranium deposit, just 20 kilometres from the Ranger uranium mine, is one of the richest in the world. The proposal was to build a massively bigger mine than that at Ranger, which would be underground and therefore more dangerous for the workers. It was projected to produce 19 million tonnes of ore over its lifetime, which would be trucked 22 kilometres through World Heritage listed wetlands.

The Liberals hoped to make a point. After all, if you could put a uranium mine in the middle of a national park in the face of Aboriginal opposition, what couldn’t you do?

The fight immediately began. The traditional owners of the area, the Mirarr, were led by senior traditional owner Yvonne Margarula and the CEO of the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, Jacqui Katona. They were supported by anti-nuclear campaigners around the country, most notably Dave Sweeney of the Australian Conservation Foundation, as well as a network of activist groups.

The most important objective was to delay construction of the mine, scheduled to begin in 1998. To do this, the Mirarr called on activists to travel to Jabiluka in order to take part in a blockade of the proposed mine site until the onset of the wet season would make construction impossible.

The blockade was immensely successful. Beginning on 23 March 1998, it continued for eight months, attracted 5,000 protesters and led to 600 arrests at various associated direct actions. Yvonne Margarula was one: she was arrested in May for trespass on her own land after she and two other Aboriginal women entered the Ranger mine site.

The blockade also attracted high-profile environmental and anti-nuclear activists such as Peter Garrett and Bob Brown. This helped signal to activists that this was a serious fight. The sheer length of time the blockade lasted created a fantastic opportunity for the campaign in the cities. Activists were constantly returning from Jabiluka with a renewed determination to fight.

The Jabiluka Action Group was key to building an ongoing city-based campaign in Melbourne, and the campaign was strongest there of any city. It held large – often more than 100-strong – weekly meetings, organised endless relays of buses to the blockade and  took the fight to the bosses and corporations that stood to profit from the mine.

We were determined to map the networks of corporate ownership and power behind the mine. But in the late 1990s, when the internet barely existed, this wasn’t as simple as just looking up a company’s corporate structure on its glossy website. It took serious, time consuming research.

A careful tracing of the linkages of the North Ltd board members showed that they were very well connected – and not one but two of them were members and past chairmen of the Business Council of Australia (BCA) – one of Australia’s leading bosses’ organisations. So our June 1998 protest naturally headed to the Business Council of Australia. We occupied their office, and the two groups of anti-uranium protesters, 3,800 kilometres apart, exchanged messages of solidarity, courtesy of the office phones of the BCA.

We were also staggered to learn that the chairman of a company that owned two uranium mines and was Australia’s biggest exporter of hardwood woodchips was also a member of the Parks Victoria board, the national president of Greening Australia and the Victorian Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) board president!

The EPA, and corporate greenwashing in general, thereby became a target for the campaign. Another target was the Royal Society of Victoria, which made the mistake of inviting Sir Gus Nossal, a famous scientist and longstanding booster for the nuclear industry, to give a dinner address. We surrounded its building, and the organisers, somewhat mystified, cancelled the dinner. This action once again made headline news, helping to keep the issue of the Jabiluka mine in people’s minds.

We held regular protests at the headquarters of North Ltd on Melbourne’s St Kilda Road. On the day that Yvonne Margarula was facing court on her trespass charge, a vigil was held overnight. When we heard she had been found guilty, the protest erupted in fury. Cans of red paint – not water-based – materialised, and the corporate facade of North Ltd received an unscheduled refurbishment. The Herald-Sun went berserk.

The leadership of the Mirarr people gave this campaign a different focus from other environmental campaigns of the time. It was fundamentally about land rights, sovereignty and the right of Aboriginal communities to veto destructive developments on their land. In Melbourne, the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation appointed long-time Aboriginal militant and historian Gary Foley as their representative. Gary worked tirelessly to provoke and educate the many activists who turned up wanting to “support” or “do something” for Aboriginal people.

At a time when “reconciliation” was strongly supported by liberals and much of the left, Foley told us that reconciliation was bullshit. He argued native title (supposedly a key achievement of Keating) was “the most inferior form of land title under British law”, and that the ALP was every bit as racist as One Nation – if not worse. He insisted activists must educate themselves about sovereignty and the struggles happening right here, not just those happening 3,800 kilometres away. The way the Jabiluka Action Group activists approached this challenge was an example of how people’s ideas change. Many came into the campaign primarily as environmental activists, but almost all left as committed fighters for Aboriginal rights.

**********

When the blockade wound down at the onset of the wet season, it was an opportunity to fight on some other fronts. Representatives of the UN World Heritage Committee visited Kakadu in late 1998 and issued a declaration that the World Heritage values of the area were in danger. They called on the government to stop the mine. Yvonne Margarula and Jacqui Katona travelled to Paris to speak to the European Commission about the mine.

John Howard, at the time mired in ministerial scandals and resignations, had called an election for September 1998, and there was hope in some quarters that Labor might win and stop the mine. But Howard scraped back in on only 48.3 percent of the vote, and it was clear that the fight on the ground would have to continue.

In the meantime, an important legal loophole had been identified. North Ltd had failed to secure agreement for the Jabiluka ore to be trucked to the Ranger mine for processing. It turned out the Mirarr did have the right to refuse this, and by exercising this right they would increase the cost of the project by $200 million (the cost of building a new processing plant at Jabiluka). This, combined with the ongoing protests, became a huge problem for the company.

Something we enjoyed doing at the time was monitoring North Ltd’s share price. It start

Australia’s Labor Party must keep to its strong nuclear-free policy

November 3, 2018

Uranium

  1. The production of uranium and its use in the nuclear fuel cycle present unique and unprecedented hazards and risks, including:
  • Threats to human health and the local environment in the mining and milling of uranium and management of radioactive materials, which demand the enforcement of strict safety procedures;
  • The generation of products that are usable as the raw materials for nuclear weapons manufacture, which demands the enforcement of effective controls against diversion; and
  • The generation of highly toxic radioactive waste by-products that demand permanently safe disposal methods.
  1. Labor accordingly will allow the mining and export of uranium only under the most stringent conditions.
  1. In relation to mining and milling, Labor will:
  • Ensure the safety of workers in the uranium industry is given priority. Labor has established acompulsory register for workers in the uranium industry that includes regular health checks and ongoing monitoring. The register is held by an independent agency and will be subject to privacy provisions;
  • Ensure Australian uranium mining, milling and rehabilitation is based on world best practice standards, extensive continuing research on environmental impacts and the health and safety of employees and affected communities, particularly Indigenous communities;
  • Ensure the Australian public is informed about the quality of the environmental performance of uranium mines through public accountability mechanisms;
  • Foster a constructive relationship between mining companies and Indigenous communities affected by uranium mining; and
  • Prohibit the mining of uranium within national parks under International Union for Conservation of Nature protected area category 1A, category 1B, and category 2, and listed world heritage areas.
  1. In relation to exports other than to India, Labor will allow the export of uranium only to those countries that observe the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), are committed to nonproliferation policies, and have ratified international and bilateral nuclear safeguards agreements.

Labor will export uranium only to countries that maintain strict safeguards and security controls over their nuclear power industries.

CHAPTER 3: BUILDING AUSTRALIA’S FUTURE 57

  1. In relation to India, an important strategic partner for Australia, commitments and responsible actions in support of nuclear non-proliferation, consistent with international guidelines on nuclear supply, will provide an acceptable basis for peaceful nuclear cooperation, including the export of uranium, subject to the application of strong safeguards.
  1. In addition, Labor will work towards:
  • Strengthening export control regimes and the rights and authority of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA);
  • Appropriate international responses to violations of existing safeguard commitments;
  • Limiting the processing of weapon usable material (separation of plutonium and high

enriched uranium in civilian programs);

  • Tightening controls over the export of nuclear material and technology;
  • Universalising of the IAEA additional protocol making it mandatory for all states and

members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to adhere to the additional protocol as a condition

of supply to all their transfers;

  • Criminalising actions of individuals and companies that assist in nuclear proliferation;
  • The development of an international guarantee of nuclear fuel supply to states foregoing

sensitive nuclear technologies;

  • Revising the NPT to prevent countries from withdrawing from the NPT and passing a new resolution in the United Nations Security Council addressing the penalties for withdrawal from the NPT;
  • Encouraging all nuclear states to join the NPT;
  • Reserving the right to withhold supplies of uranium permanently, indefinitely or for a specified period from any country that ceases to observe the non-proliferation safeguards and security conditions applied to Australian uranium exports to that country, or which adopts nuclear practices or policies that do not further advance the cause of nuclear nonproliferation;
  • Supporting the maintenance and enhancement of international and Australian safeguards to ensure that uranium mined in Australia, and nuclear products derived from it, are used only for civil purposes by approved instrumentalities in approved countries that are signatories to the NPT (with the exception of India) and with whom Australia has safeguard arrangements; and
  • Seeking adequate international resourcing of the IAEA to ensure its effectiveness in undertaking its charter.
  1. Labor will progress these commitments through diplomatic means including the re-establishment of the Canberra Commission to re-invigorate Australia’s tradition of middle power, multilateral diplomacy. In doing so, Labor believes that as a non-nuclear armed nation and a good international citizen, Australia can make a significant contribution to promoting disarmament, the reduction of nuclear stockpiles, and the responsible use of nuclear technology.
  1. Labor will:
  • Vigorously and totally oppose the ocean dumping of radioactive waste;

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  •  Prohibit the establishment of nuclear power plants and all other stages of the nuclear fuel cycle in Australia;

  • Fully meet all Australia’s obligations as a party to the NPT; and
  • Remain strongly opposed to the importation and storage of nuclear waste that is sourced from overseas in Australia.