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(last updated 19 Jan 2008)
> See also 2007 News Archive
During the first half of the year 2007, the uranium spot price climbed further, from US$72.00/lb U3O8 to an unprecedented peak of $136.00/lb in June. It then declined - for the first time in 47 months - reaching a low of $75.00/lb in October. Towards the end of the year, it recovered to $90.00/lb. These are the price estimates given by Ux Consulting Company, LLC (UxC); the estimates provided by Tradetech LLC differ slightly.
In spite of the tight uranium market, world uranium production decreased by 5% to 39,655 t U in 2006, due to various problems at producing mines and the long timespans required for the development of new mines (2007 figures are not yet available). Production continued to be lower than the actual demand, the balance being supplied by various stockholdings.
The number of uranium mining and exploration companies listed on the WISE Uranium Project website increased by 65% from 570 to 940 during the course of the year.
In a few cases, though, indigenous people welcomed the development of new uranium mines, or, want to profit from the expected economic boost, at least:
Applications for uranium exploration licenses were denied in several cases: in Donegal (Ireland), in Billingen (Sweden), and at several sites in Finland.
The current rush for uranium leads to the development of new projects in countries that do not have an adequate regulatory regime for the uranium industry. This does not only concern countries, such as Malawi, that had not seen uranium mining before, but also, for example, Namibia: after decades of ongoing uranium mining in the country, the Namibian Chamber of Mines only now plans to develop radiation and environmental standards for uranium mines; apparently, Rio Tinto's Rössing mine used to be "self-regulated", so far. Particularly disturbing is the high speed at which countries such as Namibia and Malawi are licensing new uranium mines; a process that elsewhere takes years is completed here within months; moreover, the public involvement process is conducted by the applicant, rather than the regulator. This leaves only rudimentary opportunities for stakeholder involvement. For example, there was a comment period of just two weeks conceded for the Draft Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Report for Uramin's Trekkopje Uranium Project in Namibia. Obviously, Uramin's new parent company Areva had no scruples about taking advantage of this very special Namibian regulatory regime.
But, even in countries such as the United States, there are efforts underway to fast track the licensing of new uranium projects: the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) prepared a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) for uranium recovery operations, to simplify the licensing process for in-situ leach uranium mines and for uranium mills. This proposal provoked an outrage among environmental NGOs, and even the New Mexico Governor blasted NRC's efforts and called on NRC to abandon the GEIS plans.
In dry areas, access to water is becoming a major, if not the main factor for the development of uranium mine projects. In Namibia, local water supplier NamWater could provide only the water required for Paladin's new Langer Heinrich mine. All further uranium mine projects will have to install desalination plants at the coast to meet their freshwater demand. The demand of 20 million cubic metres per year for Uramin's Trekkopje mine project alone is higher than that of all other consumers in the area combined. Concerns were raised about the impacts of the desalination plant on sea life, and of the impacts of the necessary pipeline on the unique lichen fields found in the area, among others. But, while the public involvement process still was ongoing, Uramin already commissioned the desalination plant. Uramin's parent company Areva not even sees the necessity to submit to this rudimentary regulatory regime.
In South Australia, water supply is becoming an issue for the proposed expansion of the Olympic Dam copper/uranium mine: BHP Billiton has been challenged by the fishing industry, scientists and environmentalists to justify its selection of the shallow, tidal Spencer Gulf for the massive desalination plant.
In several cases, the development of new uranium mine projects is proposed in areas where legacies from the historic uranium boom have not been cleaned up yet, or, where, at best, reclamation has just (more or less) been completed, for example in Elliot Lake, Ontario (Canada), or at the Ambrosia Lake mill site, New Mexico. At Maybell in Colorado, there even were claim stakes found on the Department of Energy's (DOE) uranium mill tailings disposal site, posted by overkeen uranium prospectors; this is particularly embarassing for the DOE, as the tailings pile was meant to have been managed to assure safe disposal for a period of 1000 years.
Further examples are in Pécs, Hungary, where Australian-owned WildHorse Energy wants to restart uranium mining in a former Cold War era uranium district, and the Sierra Pintada mine at San Rafael in Mendoza, Argentina, where stakeholders are demanding that the legacy of the former mining operation is cleaned up first, before any new mining can be allowed.
In the United States, first license applications for new in-situ leach uranium mines have been filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) after almost two decades:
Further plans to submit license applications for uranium mines in the U.S. have already been announced:
Uranium ore mined in conventional mines has to be processed in a uranium mill to extract the uranium. At present, there is only one uranium mill active in the USA, Denison Mines' White Mesa Mill in Blanding, Utah; intermittently, it processes small batches of ore and of alternate feed material. In view of the new uranium boom, Denison now offered toll milling services for smaller uranium mines, but, in spite of the high market price for uranium, the cost turned out to be prohibitive for many potential customers, mainly for the high transport cost from the remote mines to the mill. Therefore, several proposals are now being made for the reopening of the idle and mothballed mills still in existence, and even for the construction of new uranium mills:
License applications for new uranium mills filed in the U.S.:
Further plans to submit license applications for uranium mills in the U.S. have been announced:
In addition, the following mining permits have been issued in the U.S.:
In Mendoza, Argentina, the wine producers of San Rafael summoned an investigation on the impacts of the proposed Sierra Pintada uranium mine on their product; later, a judge prohibited works preparing production at the mine site.
Calypso Uranium Corp. filed claim to set aside an anti-mining law in Mendoza Province.
Thousands protested in the city of Tinogasta to protest against uranium mining projects in the west of Catamarca province.
In the Czech Republic, a demonstration was held against the proposed mining of the Osečná-Kotel uranium deposit in North Bohemia.
The proposed mining of the Kurišková/Jahodná uranium mine project in Slovakia prompted Greenpeace to hold a protest action at Tournigan Gold Corp.'s annual meeting in Vancouver, Canada.
In Hungary, the Environment Ministry raised concern over the proposed re-opening of mines in Southern Hungary.
Ukraine plans to develop the Novokonstantinovskoye uranium field.
In the Central African Republic, Areva's subsidiary UraMin Inc. plans to build the Bakouma uranium mine.
In Namibia, Paladin's Langer Heinrich uranium mine was officially opened in March.
Areva's subsidiary Uramin Inc. plans to mine the Trekkopje deposit by shallow open pit mining in combination with heap leaching. A draft version of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Report for Trekkopje Uranium Project was made available for comment.
Forsys Metals Corp. plans to mine the Valencia deposit in a giant open pit mine; the mining license application was lodged in November.
A scoping study confirmed the viability of a large scale uranium mine at Bannerman Resources Ltd's Goanikontes deposit.
Extract Resources Ltd. announced a positive preliminary scoping study for the Ida Dome prospect, for which not even a mineral resource has been defined.
In Malawi, Paladin obtained a mining license for the Kayelekera uranium mine project. Several NGO's filed legal action against the mine project and called for a halt of the mine development, until the legal challenges are concluded.
Zambia plans to open a uranium mine in Siavonga, Southern Province. A pre-feasibility study started on the Njame North uranium mine project.
In Niger, a Chinese-owned mining company was granted a mining license for the Azelik uranium deposit, and an Indian company was granted a uranium exploration and mining permit in the Arlit region.
In DR Congo, Brinkley Mining PLC signed a contract for a uranium exploitation venture.
In South Africa, processing of uranium commenced at the Dominion Reefs project; Areva's subsidiary Uramin Inc. plans to build the Ryst Kuil uranium mine; DRDGold formed a Joint Venture to reopen idle gold mines to dig for uranium; production from First Uranium's Ezulwini mine is expected to begin in June 2008; and Harmony Gold announced to revive uranium production at the Cooke Section mine, Randfontein.
In Andhra Pradesh (India), the uranium mine and mill at Tummalapalle, Cuddapah, received approval.
In Jharkhand, Uranium Corporation of India (UCIL) sought police help as displaced people disrupted work at the Bandugurang open pit uranium mine project. The Bandugurang mine and the Turamdih uranium mill were inaugurated, and the capacity of the Jaduguda uranium mill was increased by 74%.
In Meghalaya, road blockades and a 36-hour general strike were held against a proposed uranium mine. In December, the project was granted environmental clearance; the final decision is to be issued by the state.
Pakistan prepared a $600 million plan for exploring and mining uranium deposits.
In Russia, Techsnabexport announced to develop 8 uranium deposits in South Yakutia; uranium mining at the Elkon deposit in Yakutia is to start in 2012-13.
In Kazakhstan, pilot production was to begin at the West Mynkuduk in-situ leach uranium mine project.
In South Australia, Curnamona Energy Ltd. announced a field leach trial at its Oban property;
the startup of the Honeymoon in-situ leach uranium mine was delayed further; and a Pre Feasibility Study and Environmental Impact Study was commissioned for the proposed Mt Gee uranium mine.
In Western Australia, Rio Tinto began work on a new pre-feasibility study for the Kintyre uranium mine project.
In Queensland, development studies of the Ben Lomond mine project commenced; a scoping study showed the economical viability of the Westmoreland uranium mine project; a Sino-Australian company joined uranium exploration projects in Queensland.
While such alternate feed processing continued during the depression of the uranium market, a number of other resources are now gaining attention, as the market price has increased:
One of them is uranium contained in phosphate rock. There used to be a number of uranium extraction plants associated with phosphoric acid production plants in the U.S. (in Florida and Louisiana), but all of these became unviable with the decline of the uranium price and have been shut down and dismantled. Meanwhile, Florida's phosphate industry is studying the feasibility of a resumption of uranium extraction from phosphate rock. And, French nuclear firm Areva announced to study the feasibility of uranium extraction from phosphates in Morocco. Indústrias Nucleares do Brasil (INB) plans to mine the Santa Quitéria deposit in Ceará state (Brazil), for phosphate and uranium; for the project to become viable, INB needs to get a uranium export clearance, since the uranium production would exceed the domestic demand.
Another resource for uranium considered from time to time are the gold tailings in South Africa. During times of a high uranium price, uranium used to be extracted as a by-product in the South African gold mines, but during the depression of the uranium market, the uranium recovery circuits were mostly shut down. So, most of the uranium went to the tailings dams in the last years, but their uranium concentrations still are very low. Therefore, earlier assessments showed that a uranium extraction from those tailings would not be viable; but now, the situation has changed: AngloGold offered to process waste containing uranium for rivals; Mintails announced an inferred uranium resource for recovery from the West Rand gold tailings; DRDGold Ltd announced "encouraging" uranium concentrations in the Blyvooruitzicht gold tailings; Harmony Gold announced to initiate re-mining of the tailings dams in the Randfontein area for uranium and gold, consolidating the tailings in a new "megatailings" dam; First Uranium Corp. announced to immediately start construction of a uranium recovery plant from the Buffelsfontein tailings; and, Mintails Ltd and DRDGold Ltd announced a Joint Venture project for uranium recovery from the East Rand gold tailings.
Uranium mine waste rock as a further resource for uranium recovery is being investigated by Uran Ltd at the Příbram uranium mine waste dumps in the Czech Republic.
The recovery of uranium from coal ash is being tested by Sparton Resources Inc. in China, and, in a Joint Venture with Wildhorse Energy Ltd, in Hungary.
The Czech cabinet has approved the continuation of uranium mining at the Rožná mine for as long as it will be profitable, which might be until 2012, according to the latest estimates.
In Namibia, Rio Tinto extends the Rössing mine life further to 2021.
In Australia's Northern Territory, Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) plans to extend the mine life of the Ranger mine to 2012.
Cameco announced that it is targeting to increase the combined production at its Crow Butte (Nebraska) and Smith Ranch-Highland (Wyoming) in-situ leach operations by 70% to 1,769 t U annually by 2011. The planned production increase requires the restart of the idle Highland uranium recovery plant. Cameco already received permission for an increased plant throughput at its existing Crow Butte in-situ leach mine. For the proposed expansion of the same mine, however, the State denied the required aquifer exemption, and seven petitioners filed for hearing. For a proposed in situ leach satellite facility at Smith Ranch, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued an Environmental Assessment.
Indústrias Nucleares do Brasil (INB) plans to double production from the Caetité uranium mine (Bahia) to 800 t by 2011.
Ukraine plans to achieve self-sufficiency in uranium by boosting annual uranium production from the current 800 tonnes to 2,500 tonnes by 2013.
Niger plans to triple its annual uranium production from 3,500 to 10,500 tonnes a year in the next few years.
In Namibia, Rössing raises its annual production target to 4,500 t U3O8 (3,816 t U).
Kazakhstan planned to increase uranium production by 31% to 6,937 tonnes in 2007 from the previous year. Cameco and Kazatomprom announced to double the future production of the Inkai in-situ leach mine to 4,000 t U "on a timeframe to be confirmed".
In Russia, the Dalmatovskoye in-situ leach mine plans to double the annual uranium production to 640 metric tons by 2010. Uranium production in the Krasnokamensk area is to be raised from 3160 to 5000 t/a U in 2015.
In South Australia, BHP Billiton considers export of unsmelted Olympic Dam copper/uranium concentrate to China: In view of the huge cost of the planned expansion of the Olympic Dam mine on the one hand, and of China's expected serious over-capacity of copper processing on the other hand, BHP has asked the Australian Government to approve the export of uranium-bearing copper concentrate to China. Export of the concentrate rather than copper metal would mean that BHP would have to expand the Olympic Dam mine only, but not the on-site smelter. BHP would directly ship up to 1.2 million tonnes of Olympic Dam copper concentrate a year, rather than convert the ore into metal at the mine site. This concentrate would contain up to 2,500 tonnes of uranium each year. It is not yet clear whether BHP would propose, or be required, to repatriate that uranium. Any sale of the uranium to China's nuclear industry would first require the finalisation of the bilateral safeguards agreement which is part of the Australia-China Nuclear Transfer Agreement signed in April 2007.
A fire at a sulfuric acid plant affected uranium production in Kazakhstan's in-situ leach uranium mines in November and December.
In India, a delay in commissioning of the Jaduguda (Jharkhand) mill expansion lead to further fuel shortage at India's nuclear power plants.
Heavy rainfall stopped uranium mining at Ranger (Northern Territory, Australia) in March.
In Niger, NGOs demanded the immediate removal of radioactive material found in the streets of Akokan; the material is most likely waste rock from Areva/COMINAK's nearby Akouta uranium mine reused for road construction.
In South Africa, the National Nuclear Regulator withheld a report on serious contamination of water and food from gold/uranium mining activities in Gauteng.
A Water Research Commission report confirmed that South African gold/uranium mines are causing excessive uranium concentrations in streams and stream sediments.
In December, a stormwater dam failed at the Dominion Reefs uranium mine, spilling about 100,000 cubic metres of water.
In the Krasnokamensk area in Russia, resettlement is planned of 2,000 residents from the ecologically hazardous Oktyabrskoe settlement located right over the uranium mine of the Priargun enterprise uranium mine.
In India, NGOs filed a petition seeking an investigation into a tailings pipeline burst that occured at the Jaduguda uranium mine (Jharkhand) in December 2006.
In July, a Yellow Cake truck overturned in Andhra Pradesh.
In the Northwest Territories (Canada), a contract was awarded for remediation work at the former Port Radium mine.
Canada's Government and the Province of Saskatchewan announced the first phase of the cleanup of Saskatchewan's abandoned uranium mine sites. The clean-up project is to address the issue of "Cold War legacy mines," which were small, short-term mining operations conducted in the 1950s and 1960s primarily in the vicinity of Uranium City in northern Saskatchewan.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency announced the commencement of an environmental assessment for the Former Gunnar Mine Site Rehabilitation Project in Saskatchewan.
In South Dakota (USA), a one-man "occupation" of Slim Buttes protested the slow clean-up of old uranium mines in the area.
In New Mexico, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) started the clean-up of residential properties contaminated from the former Church Rock and Northeast Church Rock uranium mines.
In Germany, the reclamation of the abandoned Lengenfeld uranium mill tailings site in Saxony was announced to start with a 4-year delay in 2009; this is one of the Wismut legacy sites that were not covered by the major federal cleanup program of the former Wismut sites.
In Kazakhstan, reclamation of two sections of the Koshkar-Ata uranium mill tailings dam was to begin in November and would last 20 months.
NATO announced to help Kyrgyzstan in the realization of five projects on the management of uranium tailings dumps.
In Zambia, a study was commissioned on environmental and health hazards from waste dumps of former uranium mining in the Kitwe area. So far, 600 people who were living near the uranium dumps have been resettled elsewhere.
An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) programme is assisting Tajikistan to assess the impact of millions of tonnes of uranium tailings in abandoned sites. The tailings sites, a potential source of radioactive and heavy metal pollution, are the legacy that has accumulated in the region over five decades of operation of uranium mines and mills without proper environment management programmes in place. Some of the 10 abandoned uranium mill tailings sites are sited near towns and villages. All of them are in the north of Tajikistan. In Taboshar, a former centre of uranium mining and milling, a hill of more than one million tonnes of process residue tailings lies unprotected, vulnerable to erosion by wind and rain. Animals drink from pools of water that gather at the foot of the hill when seasonal rains fall, and children play around it. Some material from the tailings sites has also been used in home construction.
At the Shirley Basin South uranium mill tailings disposal site (Wyoming), it was found that Radium-228 exceeds the alternate concentration limits in groundwater. The cause for this occurrence has not been determined.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) released a report about the health hazards at the former Midnite Mine Site (Washington). The report found no public health hazard, unless the site use would change to residential.
The never-ending story of the management of the Moab uranium mill tailings (Utah) experienced another twist, when in February it became known that the planned relocation of the 10-million t tailings pile away from the bank of the Colorado river could span more than 20 years, since the U.S. Government hasn't made sufficient funds available. In addition, the U.S. Department of Energy raised its cost estimate for the relocation to the range of $635 - $835 million.
Cameco sought approval for a bioremediation test for groundwater restoration at its Crow Butte in-situ leach mine (Nebraska). So far, bioremediation has not been used for this purpose on a commercial scale.
In Arizona, contaminated groundwater from a radioactive waste dump near Tuba City was found to be migrating towards a Hopi drinking water spring; a chemical analysis has linked waste found in the dump to byproducts of a uranium mill formerly located a few miles from Tuba City; the Department of Energy had previously dismissed any such link.
The New Mexico Environment Department was unable to raise funds for well testing required to prove elevated contaminant concentrations found in residential wells near Grants are attributable to former uranium mining activities in the area. In turn, residents living downstream from the Homestake Grants uranium mill tailings site have formed the Bluewater Valley Downstream Alliance to emphasize their demand for a restoration of the contaminated groundwater in the area.
A pilot study to improve groundwater restoration at the Church Rock uranium mill tailings site by injection of alkalinity ended unsuccessful.
The Texas Department of State Health Services issued an Agreed Order to Everest Exploration Inc. imposing a $2,500 penalty on violations at the Hobson in-situ leach decommissioning site.
In Argentina, the National Commission of Atomic Energy (CNEA) began repair works at the effluent ponds of the former Sierra Pintada uranium mine in Mendoza.
In France, a so-called "pluralist expert group" released a first report on the uranium mill tailings deposits in the Limousin area. The group had been appointed by the ministries of the Environment, Health and Industry. In its first report, the group mainly looked at the Bellezane uranium mill tailings deposit. The group recommends to develop a better understanding of the site hydraulics, to search for possible diffuse sources of contamination, and to conduct a quantitative assessment of the efficiency of the tailings cover, among others.
An unannounced sampling of effluents by the DRIRE agency found no exceeding of standards at former uranium mine sites in the Limousin area.
The independent laboratory CRIIRAD identified elevated radiation levels at several public locations around the reclaimed site of the former open pit uranium mine and uranium mill at St Pierre du Cantal.
In Germany, the relocation of Wismut's landmark waste rock piles in the Ronneburg area in Thuringia was completed. The former Wismut uranium mining area in Ronneburg became a site of the 2007 German federal garden festival. The almost completed reclamation effort in the area still left some problems unresolved, though: at times of wet weather, contaminated waters from the flooded underground uranium mines in the Ronneburg area were found to reach the surface and spill into surface waters. Due to various technical problems, Wismut GmbH currently is not capable of treating the water nor keeping the groundwater level at a lower level (in order to avoid further spills).
The NGOs SHERPA, CRIIRAD and Médecins du Monde presented the results of an investigation into the health and environmental situation at Areva/COGEMA's former Mounana uranium mine in Gabon. They denounced the follow-up of the health of the former miners, as well as the reclamation done at the site, as inadquate.
In South Africa, windblown dust still presents an issue at Harmony Gold's Randfontein gold/uranium mill tailings; the intermediate dust suppression measures taken improved the situation somewhat, but a real solution requires some long-term measure.
A cohort mortality study conducted among residents near the former Uravan uranium mill in Colorado (USA) found no increased mortality attributable to environmental radiation exposures above natural background associated with the uranium mill operations.
A new study found that drinking water with uranium below U.S. EPA water standard causes estrogen receptor dependent responses in female mice. The authors conlude that their data supports the conclusion that uranium is an endocrine disrupting chemical and populations exposed to environmental uranium should be followed for increased risk of fertility problems and reproductive cancers.
The fuel shortage at India's nuclear power plants is worsening further: Five of the 17 nuclear power plants in the country had been shut down and the remaining are operating at an average of less than 50 per cent capacity for lack of fuel.
The South African government considers compelling local miners to offer uranium first to the state to feed the country's expanding nuclear energy programme.
Australia and China ratified agreements on nuclear cooperation and uranium exports to China, heavily opposed by Australian NGOs.
Australia signed an agreement for uranium exports to Russia, in spite of a nuclear weapons proliferation risk.
Australia made further moves to sell uranium to non-NPT signatory India; a formal agreement has not been announced yet, however. Pakistan said that it wants Australian uranium, too, if India should get it.
Somalia offered export of uranium to Russia.
Areva's subsidiary UraMin Inc., developer of the Trekkopje mine in Namibia, plans to sell 35% of its future uranium output to China.
BHP Billiton considers the export of unsmelted Olympic Dam copper/uranium concentrate to China (see above).
Japan signed an agreement with Kazakhstan for procurement of 30% of its uranium demand.
Russia is to help Ukraine to develop the Novokonstantinovskoye uranium field.
Russia enters a uranium mining joint venture in Armenia.
Russia and Mongolia are to jointly prospect, produce, and process uranium.
Russia and Canada agreed on joint uranium prospecting.
Russian firms formed a Joint Venture and signed a memorandum to produce uranium in Namibia.
Chinese-owned mining company SOMINA was granted a mining license for the Azelik uranium deposit in Niger.
China is to get a stake in a uranium mine in Kazakhstan.
Sino-Australian company Dragon Energy Ltd joined uranium exploration projects in Queensland (Australia).
China's Sinosteel Corporation was given green light for investment in an Australian uranium exploration company.
Indian company Taurian Resources Pvt Ltd. was granted a uranium exploration and mining permit in Niger.
India's Reliance Industries joined uranium exploration projects in Australia.
South Korea and Ukraine signed an agreement on nuclear cooperation and development of uranium deposits.
Korea Electric Power Co is to participate in the development of the Valencia uranium mine in Namibia.
Russia and South Korea consider a uranium production Joint Venture.
Japanese Sumitomo Corp. (notorious for the 1999 Tokai criticality accident) is to join the development of the Roca Honda uranium mine project in New Mexico (USA).
Japanese Itochu Corporation is willing to develop a uranium mine in Namibia.
Japanese utilities acquired an indirect participation in the Kharasan uranium mine project in Kazakhstan.
Furthermore, some current uranium miners committed to assist newcomers to develop their own uranium mining industries:
Kazakhstan assists Jordan with development of uranium deposits.
India is to assist Vietnam with uranium ore processing technology.
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