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(last updated 29 Mar 2002)
> See also 2001 News Archive
During the course of the year 2001, the uranium spot price slowly recovered from a US$ 7.10 record low to $9.60 per lb U3O8, but this increase was not sufficient for the uranium mining industry to become hopeful.
WMC, operator of the Olympic Dam copper/uranium mine in South Australia, reportedly is a takeover candidate for its aluminium business. Any possible buyer probably would try to sell of the copper/uranium business.
Pioneer Metals Corp. and Cameco announced to form a public uranium exploration company to assess the Riou Lake and other properties in Saskatchewan, Canada.
In South Australia, possibly a new Olympic Dam-style copper/gold/uranium deposit was discovered. The size of the deposit is not known yet, however.
In February, Cameco even announced a delay until 2005 of the Cigar Lake high-grade uranium mine project in Saskatchewan, Canada (commercial production of its other high-grade mine McArthur River had only begun in November 2000). In July, the project obtained a Site Preparation Licence. In December, CAMECO became the new operator of the project, so far operated (and still owned) by a joint venture.
In December, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission announced it is planning to issue an operating license for the Midwest uranium mine project in Saskatchewan, owned by COGEMA and others.
The costs for the La Jara Mesa project, New Mexico, USA, were written off by Anaconda Uranium Corp. in 2001.
In Argentina, the government's search for a developer of the Cerro Solo uranium mining project failed.
The agreement between ENU and Anaconda on the development of the Nisa project, Portugal, has expired.
Russia announced plans to develop the Khiagdinskoe uranium in-situ leach project located in the permafrost region in Buryatia, Russia.
Cameco announced to double its investment in the Inkay uranium in-situ leach project in Kazakhstan. Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan agreed on a joint venture to develop the Zarechnoye uranium deposit in Kazakhstan. And, Kazakhstan started to develop the Aktal, Moinkum, and Karamurun uranium in-situ leach projects.
The Beverley in-situ leach uranium mine in South Australia officially opened.
Rio Tinto, the new majority owner of ERA, placed a 10-year moratorium on the controversial Jabiluka uranium mine project located inside the Kakadu National Park in Australia's Northern Territory. The decision was based on the Traditional Owner's opposition to the project and the poor market conditions for uranium.
In November, the Honeymoon uranium in-situ leach project in South Australia received all necessary government approvals for commercial operation. Only one week later, an acid excursion was disclosed that had occured during leach trials in 1999.
In December, Rio Tinto's subsidiary Kennecott was fined for illegally mining uranium in the Loxicha region in southern Mexico's Oaxaca state. Its license was canceled. Under Mexican law, uranium extraction and processing is the sole prerogative of the state.
In November, the Lagoa Real / Caetité uranium mine in Brazil received authorisation to resume operation after a one-year outage due to an estimated 5000 cubic meter acid leakage at the heap leaching facility.
On October 21, a large kerosene fire broke out at the solvent extraction plant of the Olympic Dam copper/uranium mill in South Australia - in the same area where a similar fire had occured two years earlier. The new fire caused damages above A$20 million. During the rebuilding period, the mine's annual uranium output would fall by 1500 tonnes from 4500 tonnes.
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is assessing the situation at 11 old uranium tailings sites in Ontario, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories. CNSC plans to issue temporary licensing exemptions for currently unlicensed sites, until arrangements for their clean-up will be made with previous owners.
A five-year aerial survey of abandoned uranium mines areas in the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona was completed and identified 39 square kilometers of excess radiation areas.
The State of Utah plans to close 140 abandoned uranium mines in the San Rafael Swell area, north of Hanksville.
Argentina plans to reclaim the former uranium mining sites in the country with the help of a World Bank loan - maybe an interesting alternative also for other countries with low budgets.
France started the decommissioning of the Le Bouchet uranium mill and uranium processing facility near Paris. The mill had processed high grade uranium ores between 1946 and 1958, before uranium mills were in operation near the country's uranium mines.
An environmental watchdog group published a survey of residual radiation at several abandoned uranium test mines in the Puy-de-Dôme department in central France, and called for the clean-up of the sites.
In Germany, the official assessment of abandoned uranium mining sites (no longer owned by previous operator Wismut) was completed. The survey showed that radiation hazards exist at 20% of the 8000 sites identified. However, clean-up of these sites (other than for those still owned by Wismut) is not assured yet.
In Poland, the Kowáry uranium mill tailings were reclaimed with EU aid.
In Kazakhstan, attempts to find a contractor for the radiation monitoring at the major uranium mill tailings dump near Aktau were unsuccessful.
Russia is assisting Kyrgyzstan in the reclamation of uranium mill tailings located in the south of the country. The uranium waste is located over an area of 20 square kilometres in an area prone to floods and landslides on the bank of the Maylisu river, near houses and production facilities.
The South African Chamber of Mines identified no need for reclamation of the country's gold/uranium mill tailings, based on a radiation survey of these sites. There were nearly no environmental hazards connected to these waste dumps (!?).
The U.S. EPA issued another aquifer exemption for the disposal wells of COGEMA's closed Christensen Ranch in-situ leach uranium mine Wyoming.
USX's Boots/Brown, Clay West, and Moser uranium in-situ leach mine sites in Texas were released for unrestricted use, after relaxed groundwater standards had been approved earlier.
Umetco applied for relaxed groundwater standards at its former Gas Hills uranium mill site in Wyoming. The same was requested by Quivira Mining for its Ambrosia Lake mill site in New Mexico. In addition, a 2-year extension of the reclamation deadline was requested for the latter. Relaxed groundwater standards were also requested by Homestake for its Grants uranium mill tailings site in New Mexico.
The U.S. NRC approved another 5-year postponement of initiation of decommissioning of Kennecott's Sweetwater uranium mill in Wyoming - in view of President Bush's Energy Plan (!). The mill was shut down and has been on stand-by since April 1983.
Pathfinder Mines requested, among others, approval of a reduced cover thickness for the tailings at its Shirley Basin site in Wyoming.
Petrotomics completed the tailings reclamation at its Shirley Basin site in Wyoming.
The Washington State Dept. of Health terminated the Sherwood uranium mill license.
In October, the U.S. DOE, as ordered by Congress one year earlier, assumed ownership of the leaking Moab tailings site in Utah, a legacy of decades of uranium mining by now bankrupt Atlas Corporation. DOE investigated the remediation options for the site and currently awaits a review of its proposals by the National Academy of Science. A decision between the alternatives of capping in place or the (more expensive) relocation to a safer disposal site has not yet been made. In December, International Uranium Corporation (IUC), owner of the White Mesa Mill south of Blanding, proposed to build a slurry pipeline to transport the Atlas tailings from Moab to White Mesa over a distance of approx 120 km.
For the groundwater remediation activities at the Shiprock, New Mexico,UMTRA site, the Draft Environmental Assessment was available for public review (UMTRA sites are reclaimed by the Department of Energy). The project includes the pumping and treatment of contaminated groundwater.
At present, the Draft Environmental Assessment of Ground Water Compliance at the New Rifle, Colorado, UMTRA site is available for public review. Here, on the contrary, the proposal is to rely on natural flushing rather than on active groundwater clean-up.
In May, the last uranium mine in France was shut down. France used to be the largest uranium producer in Western Europe for decades.
The decommissioning of the former Lodève uranium mine and mill site in Southern France is affected by recent plans to build a motor racing circuit on the site.
In Germany, the scheduled flooding of the Königstein underground and in-situ leach uranium mine started, after preparatory measures for groundwater protection had been completed.
Some uranium mill tailings sites even are licensed to accept offsite radioactive waste without prior processing. In June, for example, the license for storage of offsite radioactive waste at Umetco's closed Uravan uranium mill site in Colorado was renewed. But, only one month later, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency surprisingly canceled plans to ship 72,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste from the old Shattuck Chemical Co. site in Denver to the Uravan uranium mill tailings site. The material will, instead, be shipped to a licensed radioactive waste disposal site.
In June, a federal jury awarded $16 million to 32 residents living near Cotter Corp's former Cañon City uranium mill in Colorado. In November, 16 others were awarded $41 million. The plaintiffs contended uranium from the Cotter mill contaminated their neighborhood and damaged their health. Both judgments were appealed by Cotter Corp. Back in 1998, 14 residents had been awarded $2.9 million.
A new scientific study found chromosomal aberrations in white blood cells of former German uranium miners. An earlier study had found such aberrations in Namibian uranium miners, but its results could not be confirmed in a verification study.
Also given the presently difficult conditions for the uranium mining industry, the U.S. National Mining Association (NMA) filed a petition for rulemaking to wave the licensing fees for uranium mines: "The NMA believes that relieving the fee pressure on the licensees would be in the public interest and serve to maintain a viable domestic uranium recovery industry, including its substantial waste disposal capacity."(!) According to the petition, the NRC would have to shift approximately $4 to 5 million in annual fees to other nuclear fuel cycle licensees.
In July, U.S. Congress planned to grant $30 million in subsidies to the domestic uranium in-situ leach industry for the development of groundwater restoration technologies. After heavy protests from the Navajo affected by an in-situ leach mine project in Crownpoint, New Mexico, and from environmental organizations, including NIRS, the provision for these subsidies was removed from the U.S. Senate bill in November.
One month after the terrorist attacks of September 11, the U.S. NRC completely shut down its web site - thus also cutting WISE Uranium Project off from one of its major sources of information. In the meantime, the NRC relaunched its web site with a very small fraction only of the material that was available earlier.
The German parliament approved new radiation protection regulations implementing the European Union radiation protection directive of 1996. The German implementation allows for exceedance of the 400 mSv lifetime dose standard for uranium mine cleanup workers, many of whom have received high doses during their former work in the Wismut mines and would have to cease their clean-up work for exceeding the new lifetime dose standard.
The European Commission issued a proposal for a directive aimed at preventing industrial accidents involving dangerous substances. The new rule amends the so called Seveso II directive of 1996 and includes measures aimed at improving safety measures for tailings ponds. Once finalized, the directive will have to be implemented into national law by all EU member countries. To our knowledge this is the first initiative on a higher than national level to establish binding rules addressing the often neglected serious hazards of tailings ponds.
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