Uranium Mining Issues: 2012 Review
(last updated 27 Feb 2013)
> See also 2012 News Archive
The uranium price remained weak in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster.
During the first half of the year 2012, UxC's weekly spot price stayed around the US$ 51.75 per lb U3O8 it had reached at year-end 2011, but, during the second half of the year, it declined to a low of US$ 40.75 on November 5, only slightly recovering to US$ 43.50 at year end.
The monthly industry average price for long-term contracts, as published by Cameco, declined from US$ 62.00 per lb U3O8 at year end 2011 to US$ 56.50 at year end 2012.
So, other than expected by many market observers, the uranium price remained below the lower bound required for the profitability of many of the mine projects currently under consideration or under development, leading to a deep uncertainty among companies and investors.
The continuing weakness of the uranium market also led a number of exploration companies to delete the word "uranium" from their name - in contrast to the situation during the sharp price rise in 2007, when many companies hurried to include that word in their name. There was, however, one startling exception: on December 18, Fischer-Watt Gold Company announced a name change to "Cyclone Uranium Corporation" - a gross misjudgement of the market situation, or a forerunner for an imminent cyclone-force recovery of the uranium market? The announcement came after the Japanese government had postponed a decision on the phase-out from nuclear energy in September.
- In Canada, the Grand Council of the Crees demanded a moratorium on uranium mining in northern Québec.
- In the USA, the Interior Secretary signed a 20-year moratorium on new uranium mining claims on a million acres of federal lands around the Grand Canyon. The mining industry, joined by Mohave County in Arizona, subsequently sued to end the uranium mining ban.
- In Australia's Northern Territory, the Northern Land Council agreed to incorporate the site of the Koongarra uranium deposit into Kakadu National Park. This is considered the final step in a long battle that Aboriginal traditional owner Jeffrey Lee has waged to protect his land from mining.
- Marathon Resources (of all companies!) received an A$ 5 million compensation over a decision to stop exploration in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary (South Australia), which became subject to a mining ban in 2011. The company's exploration licence had only been reinstated a few months before the ban was proclaimed - following a three year suspension for improper waste disposal; the ultimate fate of the recovered waste is still unclear (see below).
- In Canada, the Labrador Inuit enacted legislation to lift the moratorium on uranium mining imposed by the Nunatsiavut government in 2008.
- Also in Canada, the Nunavut government announced a pro-uranium mining policy.
- In Virginia (USA), the struggle on the proposed lifting of the state's uranium mining moratorium is still ongoing. While the Virginia Governor ordered the preparation of a regulatory framework for uranium mining, various local and regional political entities opposed the lifting of the ban.
- Denmark and Greenland established a commission to assess the impact of the proposed lifting of Greenlands "zero-tolerance" uranium policy.
- In Australia, New South Wales and Queensland lifted their uranium mining bans, provoking protests at numerous places and occasions.
- In Québec, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) issued a license for underground exploration of the Matoush uranium deposit, a project that provoked opposition from the Cree Nation of Mistissini. Subsequently, however, the province of Québec announced plans for a public inquiry into the environmental impacts of uranium projects in the Province, delaying also the Matoush project. The announcement of the inquiry also caused a postponement of further uranium exploration work at the Baie Johann-Beetz Property in the Mingan area.
- In Nunavut, Canada, exploration company Uravan Minerals canceled plans to explore for uranium near Garry Lake due to the "unheard of" requirement to prepare an Environmental Impacts Statement already for an exploration project.
- In Argentina, the provincial government of San Juan signed an agreement with the president of the National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA) on uranium exploration in the province. Also in Argentina, an NGO denounced that the provincial government of La Rioja and the CNEA continue uranium exploration in La Rioja, despite legislation prohibiting it.
- In Jämtland, Sweden, the struggle of several municipalities against uranium exploration in their area continued. After their vetoes and appeals were turned down by courts, a new exploration permit was awarded.
- In the Czech Republic, an uranium exploration permit was denied in the Ploužnice oblast in North Bohemia.
- In Southwestern Poland, 4000 signatures were collected against the proposed restart of uranium exploration and mining.
- In Meghalaya, India, a fish kill in West Khasi Hills rivers was blamed on uranium exploration.
- In Andhra Pradesh, India, uranium exploration in the Mahbubnagar district continued despite local opposition. In August, the Atomic Minerals Directorate announced that new uranium deposits were identified in the Guntur and Jaipur districts of Andhra Pradesh.
- China announced the find of a large uranium deposit in Inner Mongolia.
- In the Northern Territory of Australia, Cameco announced the find of a "significant" uranium deposit in Arnhem Land.
- In South Australia, the fate of the drilling waste from former uranium exploration in the Arkaroola wilderness sanctuary is still unclear; the waste had been illegally dumped in the area and has since been secured in a provisional storage.
Positive preliminary economic assessments:
Positive preliminary economic assessments, preliminary feasibility studies, or scoping studies were announced for the following uranium mine projects - however, often assuming uranium selling prices far beyond current market prices:
- Lavoie uranium deposit (Québec),
- Eco Ridge mine (Ontario),
- Sheep Mountain uranium mine project (Wyoming),
- Dewey-Burdock uranium in situ leach project (South Dakota),
- Hansen Uranium Deposit (Colorado),
- Roca Honda uranium mine project (New Mexico) ... provided that the uranium price rises,
- Churchrock Section 8 uranium in situ leach mine project (New Mexico),
- Berlin multi-element deposit (Colombia),
- Etango Uranium Project (Namibia) - provided that the uranium price increases significantly...
- Kvanefjeld rare earth / uranium project (Greenland),
- Häggån mine project (Sweden),
- Salamanca 1 uranium mine project (Spain),
- Kurišková uranium/molybdenum mine project (Slovakia),
- Milo multi-element mine project (Queensland, Australia),
- Wiluna uranium mine project (Western Australia) - only after a significant increase of the uranium price.
License applications for new uranium mines were actually filed for the following projects:
- Ludeman uranium in situ leach project (Wyoming),
- Reno Creek uranium in situ leach project (Wyoming),
- Strathmore's Gas Hills open pit uranium mine project (Wyoming).
Uranium mining/milling licenses were issued for:
- Ross uranium in situ leach project (Wyoming),
- Lost Creek uranium in situ leach project (Wyoming) - but conservation group sues BLM,
- Nichols Ranch uranium in situ leach mining project (Wyoming),
- Canyon Mine (Arizona) - despite 26-year-old environmental review,
- Goliad uranium in situ leach project (Texas),
- Zhonghe uranium mine project (Namibia),
- Kylleng-Pyndemsohiong-Mawthabah uranium mine project (Meghalaya, India).
Several uranium mine development projects were temporarily suspended due to the unfavourable market situation (...and other issues):
- Jane Dough uranium in situ leach project (Wyoming): license application deferred.
- Churchrock Section 8 uranium in situ leach mine project (New Mexico): construction deferred due to "challenging market environment".
- Apex uranium mine and mill project (Nevada): postponed.
- Mutanga uranium mine (Zambia): development postponed, waiting for higher prices.
- Areva's Trekkopje uranium mine project (Namibia): mothballed.
- South Zarechnoye uranium deposit (Kazakhstan): not to be mined due to unfavourable exploration results and uranium price slump.
- Kintyre uranium deposit (Western Australia): the development was deferred for its poor economics.
- Angela Pamela uranium mine (Northern Territory, Australia): the plans are kept on hold due to the low uranium price.
- Oban in situ leach uranium project (South Australia): the proposal was withdrawn.
Projects currently under development, or being prepared for development:
- Areva's Kiggavik uranium mine project (Nunavut): the review process was pushed back at Areva's request.
- Areva's Midwest uranium mine project with milling at McClean Lake (Saskatchewan): the Environmental Assessment was approved by Canada's Environment Minister.
- Millennium uranium mine project (Saskatchewan): Areva sold its stake to Cameco.
- Cameco's Cigar Lake uranium mine project (Saskatchewan): a public hearing was announced on a license renewal for the construction.
- Eco Ridge mine project (Elliot Lake, Ontario): a shift of focus from uranium to rare earth elements was announced.
In the USA:
- Lance uranium in situ leach project (Wyoming): Peninsula Energy Ltd announces decision to mine.
- Shirley Basin uranium in situ leach project (Wyoming): Ur-Energy announces intent to start mining.
- Cameco's Gas Hills uranium in situ leach project (Wyoming): U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) invites comment on the draft EIS, including Resource Protection Alternative (!).
- Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill project (Colorado): Court sets license issued in 2011 aside (!) and orders hearing.
- Expansion of Prince Albert Mine (Colorado): U.S. BLM issues Scoping Notice; local environmental groups submit concerns.
- Reopening of La Sal #2 mine (Utah) for ore "sampling": Environmental Assessment released for public comment.
- Sage Plain mines (Utah): Energy Fuels Inc. plans restart, although the mines have never been properly reclaimed.
- Cebolleta uranium mine (New Mexico): State solicits public comment on plan for collection of baseline data.
- La Jara Mesa Mine Project (New Mexico): Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) available for comment.
- Dewey-Burdock uranium in situ leach project (South Dakota): South Dakota announces hearing on proposed appropriation of water for the mine; U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issues Draft EIS for comment.
- Coles Hill uranium deposit (Virginia): the mining proposal continues to draw opposition from various local and regional political entities and environmental groups; on December 28, Energy Fuels Inc. announced the plan to acquire a 19.9% interest in the owner of the deposit.
In Central/South America:
- In Argentina, protests were held against the reopening of the Sierra Pintada uranium mine in Mendoza.
- In Brazil, a manifestation was held against the Itataia uranium mine project in Ceará.
- Many African countries do not have the capacity to implement at the level of regulation which should be in place for sustainable and safe uranium mining, according to a researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs: "At the moment, sustainable uranium mining depends mostly on the industry's goodwill."
- Areva's Imouraren uranium mine project (Niger): independent French radiation laboratory CRIIRAD and local NGO Aghir in'Man are concerned about the anticipated environmental impacts of the huge open pit mine (start of production expected in 2014), such as the drying up and contamination of water resources and the disappearance of pasture in an area covering hundreds of square kilometres, impacts on fauna and flora, dust and seepage from the waste rock piles; the organizations rather demand the preparation of a new Environmental Impact Assessment.
- Azelik uranium mine in Niger: the Chinese-owned mine sent its first uranium shipment to China.
- Mkuju River uranium mine project (Tanzania): The World Heritage Committee approved the excision of the proposed uranium mine site from the Selous Game Reserve - however, it turned out that elephant poachers take advantage of the access road constructed to the site; construction of the mine is to start in 2013; a Parliamentary Committee and various NGOs demanded the development of a policy on uranium mining, before the mine can start; Tanzania's defence minister even urged the strengthening of the armed forces in wake of discoveries of uranium and other resources (!).
- In Zambia, where Denison plans to develop the Mutanga uranium mine, the Council of Churches called for a policy on uranium mining.
- Areva's Bakouma uranium mine project (Central African Republic): the site was attacked by gunmen.
- Etango uranium mine project (Namibia): the project received environmental approval.
- Omahola /Tubas Red Sand uranium mine project (Namibia): Environmental Clearance was issued for the INCA area of the Omahola uranium mine project and for the Tubas Red Sand uranium mine project.
- In the Namib desert in Central Namibia, where several uranium mines are planned, lichens and unique plant species are under threat from mining activities, according to the findings of an environmental study prepared by the Gobabeb Research and Training Centre.
- Husab uranium mine project (Namibia): China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Corp. is the new owner of the project;
construction start is imminent - in spite of the planned change of the tailings disposal scheme to wet disposal.
- Areva's Trekkopje uranium mine project (Namibia): a worker fell to death at the mine site; the first uranium produced at the mine was ready for shipment.
- Salamanca I project (Spain): Berkeley Resources reached an agreement with ENUSA on uranium exploitation.
- Czech Republic: the Czech government considers new uranium mines in South Moravia and near Liberec in North Bohemia.
- Stráž pod Ralskem (North Bohemia, Czech Republic): residents are outraged about the government proposal for a restart of in situ leach uranium mining, while the EUR 1.21 billion groundwater restoration program is still ongoing (see below).
- Kurišková uranium deposit (Slovakia): company signs MoU with Ministry of Economy on development of deposit.
- Mecsek Hills uranium project (Pécs, Hungary): Hungary starts inquiry into the restart of uranium mining in Pécs.
- Tulgheş-Grinţieş uranium mine project (Romania): state uranium company CNU announces plans for a uranium mine project in the East Carpathian Mountains.
- Mohuldih uranium mine (Jharkhand, India): the mine was commissioned in April.
- Tummalapalle uranium mine project (Andhra Pradesh, India): the inauguration of the mine and mill was celebrated in April; the groundwater abstraction performed for the mine turns out to endanger the agriculture in a 19 square kilometre area.
- Gogi uranium mine project (Karnataka, India): the environmental clearance was issued for the project; however, a regional People's court ordered a new hearing for the project, as norms were not followed when the public hearing for the project was held.
- Wiluna uranium mine project (Western Australia): the project, which provoked protests from environmentalists at many occasions, obtained the State's environmental approval, in spite of the discovery of new plant species on site, which are now facing extinction; the State's approach to protect the endangered species rather is to collect samples and clone them later; the Federal Environment Minister, however, deferred his decision on the project.
- Mulga Rock Project (Western Australia): mining leases were granted.
- Kintyre uranium deposit (Western Australia): Cameco secured support of the Traditional Owners for the development of the project.
- Yeelirrie uranium deposit (Western Australia): BHP sold the Yeelirrie uranium deposit to Cameco, a development that provoked opposition form a Traditional Owner.
- Four Mile uranium in situ leach project (South Australia): the owners announced a decision to recommence the development of the project.
- Ben Lomond uranium mine project (Queensland, Australia): Environmental concerns were raised over a possible resumption of development of the mine that had been closed more than 20 years ago amid serious environmental concerns.
- Coal-fired power station (near Namibian uranium mines): the Environmental and Socio-Economic Impact Assessment was made available for comment.
- Heavy fuel oil power plant and waste oil recycling plant (near Namibian uranium mines): the Draft EIA was open for public comment.
- Industrial park for production of uranium industry chemicals (Namibia): the Namibian Cabinet approved a lease for the project.
By-product recovery of uranium from mining primarily for other ores:
- Central processing plant at Smith Ranch in situ leach uranium mine (Wyoming): Cameco plans to test extraction of uranium from ion exchange resins generated at phosphate mining facilities.
- Ethiopia suspended tantalum mining and export, until a domestic refining plant is operational, which will also allow for by-product recovery of uranium.
- Kanyika Niobium (uranium by-product) mine project (Malawi): the Environmental Impact Assessment was submitted for public comment.
- De Bron-Merriespruit South (DBM) gold/silver/uranium mine project (South Africa): the Department of Mineral Resources accepted the mining right application for the project.
- Uranium byproduct recovery plant project at Talvivaara Sotkamo nickel mine (Finland): a license was issued for the uranium byproduct recovery, but the required environmental permit was delayed due to appeals; the project provoked protests from environmentalists due to the poor environmental track record of the mine - with a long history of waste water emissions into the environment; the concerns about the mine increased, when hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of contaminated waste water spilled through a leak in a gypsum pond of the mine in November, causing excessive concentrations of uranium and other metals in surrounding surface waters.
The recovery of residual uranium from wastes and tailings:
- Buffelsfontein Mine Waste Solutions gold/uranium tailings reprocessing project (South Africa): processing of the first legacy tailings dam in Stilfontein area was completed.
- Gold One and Gold Fields investigate the feasibility of tailings reprocessing in the West Rand region (South Africa).
- DRDGold ponders uranium extraction at the East Rand tailings project (South Africa).
- India eyes thorium and uranium recovery from monazite tailings.
- After the lifting of the New South Wales uranium ban, the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council is keen to explore uranium in coal waste dams (Australia).
- Uranium extraction from seawater is getting more efficient due to new technology developed by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Planned expansion of existing uranium mines and mills, with licensing processes at various stages:
- McClean Lake mill (Saskatchewan): the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) started the Environmental Assessment on the expansion of the JEB Tailings Management Facility; CNSC also approved Areva's license application for processing of ore from the McArthur River mine at McClean Lake; and, Areva began the expansion of the McClean Lake uranium mill for processing of ore from the Cigar Lake mine at McClean Lake.
- Cameco's Smith Ranch uranium in situ leach mine (Wyoming): Cameco started construction of the North Butte satellite facility.
- Cameco's Crow Butte uranium in situ leach mine (Nebraska): the U.S. NRC announced the opportunity for public involvement on the Marsland Expansion.
- Kingsville Dome uranium in situ leach mine (Texas): the mine that was shut down since 2009, can resume operations after cleaning groundwater, a judge ruled.
- Rössing mine (Namibia): the proposed extension of the open pit mine obtained environmental clearance in July; in addition, Rössing now plans to mine the only recently discovered Z20 deposit and process the ore at the existing uranium mill, which would, among others, double Rössing's water consumption; in November, the Draft Scoping Report for a Social and Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA) was released for comment.
- Rožná uranium mine (Czech Republic): the Czech government, once more, approved the continuation of uranium mining in the country's only active uranium mine at Rožná, against opposition from environmentalists.
- Krasnokamensk uranium mine (Russia): Mine No. 8 was commissioned.
- Inkay in situ leach uranium mine (Kazakhstan): the mine seeks government approval for a 33% production increase.
- ERA's Ranger mine (Northern Territory, Australia): construction of an exploration decline began at the Ranger 3 Deeps site, where ERA hopes to continue mining underground, after mining of the open pit ended in December.
- BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam copper/uranium mine (South Australia): after the proposed mine expansion with conversion to an open pit operation obtained government approval in October 2011, an Aboriginal elder challenged the mine expansion in Federal Court, but the move was rejected; in July, environmentalists held a several days' rally against the mine expansion under the motto 'Lizards Revenge'; in August, BHP Billiton put the expansion of the mine on hold, and the State Government subsequently granted a four-year extension on the expansion project.
Environmental issues at operating uranium mines and mills:
- Cameco's Rabbit Lake uranium mine and mill (Saskatchewan): in 2010, the uranium discharges to surface waters (already highest by far in Canada) showed an increase rather than the predicted decrease; in July, personnel evacuated from the Rabbit Lake operation in northern Saskatchewan due to forest fire activity.
- Cameco's and Areva's Key Lake uranium mill (Saskatchewan): on April 22 (Earth Day!), a caribou wandered through a fence into the uranium mill tailings pond and spent several hours in the water (!).
- Cameco's Smith Ranch / Highland in situ leach uranium mine (Wyoming): Cameco requested exemption from the groundwater restoration schedules, but the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) refused to review the request; insufficient data is available to assess the long term post mining groundwater conditions at the Highland in situ leach uranium mine, a study found; State inspectors issued a Notice of Violation for deficiencies identified, and Cameco agreed to pay $20,000 in a settlement agreement; later, inspectors found further "potential for violations".
- Uranium One's Christensen Ranch in situ leach uranium mine (Wyoming): the U.S. NRC denied approval of groundwater restoration in Mine Units 2-6.
- Cameco's Crow Butte in situ leach uranium mine (Nebraska): Cameco requested exemption from the groundwater restoration schedules, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) refused to review the request; in September, the mine site evacuated due to threatening wildfire.
- Energy Fuel's White Mesa uranium mill (Utah): a new study found mild radioactive contamination - probably from windblown dust - outside the mill; the State regulator approved the remediation plan for nitrate in groundwater at the site.
- Denison's La Sal uranium mines (Utah): local NGO Uranium Watch denounced the poor supervision of radon emissions from the mines.
- Caetité uranium mine and mill (Brazil): a spill of uranium ore concentrate occurred at the mill.
- Areva's Akouta and Arlit uranium mines (Niger): Areva received the defamatory "Pinocchio Award" for the environmental impact of its uranium mines in Niger.
- Rössing uranium mine (Namibia): the French CRIIRAD laboratory finds elevated radiation levels around the mine.
Miners' health issues at operating uranium mines and mills:
- Areva's Akouta uranium mine (Niger): The social security tribunal of Melun (France) condemned Areva for the lung cancer death of a former employee at its Akouta uranium mine in Niger; in December, the NGO Sherpa terminated its agreement with Areva on health monitoring around its mining sites in Niger and Gabon - the NGO finds it unacceptable that compensation was paid only to the families of just two miners and only of French nationality, while local miners did not receive any compensation at all.
- Krasnokamensk uranium mine (Russia): in March, a miner was killed in a roof-collapse accident.
- China: a study analyzed excessive radon concentrations in Chinese uranium mines, and discussed reduction measures.
Other issues at operating uranium mines and mills:
- McClean Lake uranium mine (Saskatchewan, Canada): a Federal Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal against the license renewal issued for McClean Lake - the appeal was based on the duty to consult with aboriginal people; Areva, moreover, won a legal case against the province of Saskatchewan over royalties.
- Smith Ranch in situ leach uranium mine (Wyoming): the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced the opportunity for public involvement on the license renewal for the mine.
- Uranium One's Willow Creek uranium in situ leach mine (Wyoming): in July, the U.S. NRC stopped uranium shipments from the mine, after a contamination incident occurred in a Canadian refinery caused by inadequately packed yellow cake shipped from the mine; in December, NRC allowed resumption of yellow cake shipments from the mine.
- Daneros and Beaver uranium mines (Utah): the mines are to be placed on standby for poor economics.
- Palangana uranium in situ leach mine (Texas): the mine obtained state authorization for the operation of the third Production Area.
- Areva's Akouta and Arlit uranium mines (Niger): workers held strikes at Akouta in July and at Arlit in August; Niger's government rated the partnership with Areva as "very unbalanced" and said it wanted to increase the benefits from the mining sector to the population.
- Kayelekera uranium mine (Malawi): Workers were on strike in May over labour conditions.
- Ezulwini gold/uranium mine (South Africa): in October, operations were suspended, after striking workers were first suspended, then dismissed.
- Bandugurang uranium mine (Jharkhand, India): Workers were on strike in May.
- Bagjata and Mahuldih uranium mines (Jharkhand, India): In October, excavation work at the mines has been stalled following protests by local residents, whose demands include permanent jobs in the company as compensation against land acquisition.
- Ranger mine (Northern Territory, Australia): open pit mining was completed in December.
- Honeymoon uranium in situ leach mine (South Australia): the mine is now completely owned by Atomredmetzoloto subsidiary Uranium One Inc.
- In the USA, cleanup started in the course of the year at only four of the thousands of abandoned uranium mines across the country: the Juniper mine in California and three mines on Navajo land. However, Congress ordered the Department of Energy (DOE) in December to prepare a report on the cost and logistics required to clean up abandoned uranium mines all over the country.
- In DR Congo, unauthorized mining is continuing at the former Shinkolobwe uranium mine, according to a journalist's investigation: artisanal miners are getting access to the mine site by bribing the guards; while the miners are after copper and cobalt, some ores also contain considerable concentrations of uranium; the product is exported in the form of copper and cobalt concentrates that still contain the uranium; the uranium can then easily be extracted in the unknown destination countries.
- In South Africa, a funding shortfall became evident for the acid drainage abatement projects - desperately needed to prevent the acidic mine water that is flowing out of abandoned gold/uranium mines from reaching the surface; in addition, South Africa runs out of time for the acid mine drainage abatement; in December, a study found extreme uranium and heavy metal contamination in cattle grazing near Wonderfontein Spruit.
- The removal of the radioactive Tudor shaft mine dump (South Africa) was halted - the NGO Federation for a Sustainable Environment fights in court to ensure the mine dump is removed safely.
- In Germany, the Thuringia state parliament turned down a petition demanding the reclamation of Wismut's abandoned legacy sites in the state that are not covered by the federal cleanup program. The neighbouring state of Saxony, by contrast, has set up a cleanup program for the abandoned uranium mines located on its territory.
- In Kazakhstan, studies on the Shu river and on the former Kurday uranium mine site found that past uranium mining is still causing elevated uranium concentrations in the environment. At the Aktau uranium mill tailings dump, a plant opened for the recovery of rare earths from the tailings.
- In Tajikistan, alarming concentrations of polonium-210 were found in fish from the pit lake of the former Taboshar uranium mine, while high concentrations of uranium were found in water and fish from the pit lake. In December, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) sounded the alarm on the 54.8 million tonnes of unsecured uranium mill tailings in the country, a waste that is "not treated, not confined, not secured".
- In Kyrgyzstan, the Kadzhi-Say tailings dump is endangered by erosion of the bank of the river flowing on one side of the dump, and by locals digging the dump for metal debris; the locals have destroyed all fences to get access to the site. Moreover, a study on the radiation exposure situation at former uranium mine and mill sites in Kyrgyzstan identified excessive doses to residents from past practice of misuse of contaminated material: the major radiation hazard is represented by abandoned radioactive filtration material that was being used as insulation by some Minkush residents for a longer period of time; annual radiation doses of several hundred milli-Sieverts could be received as a consequence of using this material in their houses. The government announced that it will reclaim the Min-Kush and Kadzhi-Say tailings dumps in a program developed by Russia's Rosatom together with the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC). The EurAsEC countries allocated US$ 39 million for the remediation of uranium mill tailings in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
- In New South Wales, Australia, a rally was held against the proposed dumping of contaminated soil from the former Hunters Hill uranium mill site (located in a suburb of Sydney) at Lidcombe; the removal of the contaminated soil is to start early next year.
- In the former uranium mining province of Elliot Lake, Ontario, increasing radium concentrations were unexpectedly observed in the water cover of the Denison TMA-1 and Stanleigh tailings deposits. In addition, elevated radium concentrations were found downstream from the Denison tailings deposit; it is assumed that they are not caused by recent releases from the deposit, but by "historically accumulated sediments".
In the USA:
- At the uranium mill and tailings sites cleaned up by the government under the UMTRA program, a number of problems surfaced, indicating that not all is going well, in spite of the efforts taken so far:
- Contaminant concentrations in the surficial aquifer at the former Riverton uranium mill site (Wyoming) remain high after the 2010 flooding.
- Groundwater restoration by natural flushing at the former Slick Rock uranium mill sites (Colorado) still is not functioning as predicted.
- Any significant decreases in contaminant concentrations are "not apparent" with the groundwater remediation being performed at the Tuba City uranium mill tailings site (Arizona).
- And again, claim stakes were found on the Maybell tailings disposal site (Colorado) - even on the disposal cell, hinting at problems not only with environmental issues, but also with the administrative side of the reclamation program.
- New problems have arisen also at a number of tailings sites cleaned up by their former operators:
- Uranium concentrations in groundwater even exceed the relaxed Alternate Concentration Limit (ACL) standard at the Gas Hills North (formerly Lucky Mc) disposal site (Wyoming).
- Monitoring indicates the possibility that contaminated groundwater is leaving the former Bluewater uranium mill site (New Mexico).
- The radon flux from the cover of the Homestake Grants uranium mill tailings pile (New Mexico) exceeded the 20 pCi/m2s (0.74 Bq/m2s) standard in 6 of 7 years monitored.
- In response to problems detected earlier, the following measures were taken at some other sites:
- The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved relaxed soils standards for the Uravan uranium mill site (Colorado).
- The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) proposed relaxed groundwater standards for the former New Rifle uranium mill site (Colorado).
- The U.S. DOE proposed to abandon the groundwater cleanup at the former Old Rifle uranium mill site (Colorado) for "technical impracticability" (!).
- Other issues:
- A timeout was called over the cleanup of Cotter Corp.'s recently closed Cañon City uranium mill (Colorado) - in response to a call for tailings relocation rather than on-site reclamation; the state invited comment on the "Road Map" for the cleanup of the mill site and its surroundings; but, before any cleanup could even begin, the state regulator relaxed the molybdenum standard for the groundwater contamination plume at the site - with "drastic impact" on the size of the plume that extends into the Lincoln Park residential area (!).
- Cleanup of uranium mill tailings once used for construction purposes at vicinity properties continued in the Grand Junction area (Colorado).
- The state concluded a settlement deal with Cotter Corp. to stop groundwater contamination at the defunct Schwartzwalder mine (Colorado).
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to add the Jackpile-Paguate uranium mine (New Mexico) to the National Priorities List of Superfund Sites, a list of sites that pose risks to people's health and the environment: although the site had undergone reclamation previously, a 2007 report concluded that effort left several issues unaddressed.
- Homestake Mining presented an evaluation of a hypothetical relocation of its Grants uranium mill tailings pile (New Mexico).
- United Nuclear requested relaxed groundwater protection standards at its Church Rock mill and tailings site (New Mexico).
- The U.S. EPA announced a proposed plan for the relocation of contaminated soil from the Northeast Church Rock Mine to the Church Rock tailings site (New Mexico).
- The relocation project for the Moab uranium mill tailings (Utah) reached a milestone of 5 million short tons disposed, but the project had to be scaled back due to funding issues.
- A wildfire burned through a former uranium mining site in Idaho in September.
In Central/South America:
- In Brazil, the water treatment at the former Poços de Caldas uranium mine site (Minas Gerais) needs improvement, a study showed; state operator INB presented a reclamation plan for the site in June.
- In France, the CRIIRAD radiation laboratory criticized Areva's survey of the cleanup of old uranium mines in the Puy-de-Dôme department; Areva presented a survey of dispersed waste rock in part of the former Limousin uranium mining area; and, a hole opened in the ground above the tunnels of the former La Vedrenne uranium mine in the Corrèze department.
- In Spain, the regulator CSN ordered the decommissioning of the Quercus uranium mill.
- In Portugal, serious DNA damage was found in mice living in the surroundings of an abandoned uranium mining site.
- In Germany, work on the intermediate cover of the Culmitzsch A uranium mill tailings deposit (Thuringia) resumed; the reclamation of the Coschütz/Gittersee legacy uranium mill and tailings site in Dresden was completed; a solar park opened on the former Ronneburg uranium mining site (Thuringia); the reclamation of the largest legacy waste rock pile in Johanngeorgenstadt (Saxony) was completed; and, effluent from Wismut's former Aue uranium mine is to be used for geothermal heating in the town of Bad Schlema (Saxony).
- In the Czech Republic, government approved EUR 1.21 billion of funding for the ongoing groundwater restoration at the former Stráž pod Ralskem uranium in situ leach site.
- In Hungary, the total cost for reclamation of the former Mecsek uranium mining is estimated at US$ 177 million.
- The recreation reserve at the former Rum Jungle uranium mine (Northern Territory) reopened after a radiation assessment was performed.
- The Queensland government investigates the opportunity of rare earth recovery from the Mary Kathleen uranium mill tailings.
- A study found high rates of systemic lupus erythematosus among residents in the vicinity of the former Fernald uranium processing plant (Ohio).
- In December, the NGO Sherpa terminated its agreement with Areva on health monitoring around its former mining sites in Gabon, among others (see above).
- The number of former uranium miners who contracted lung cancer after the shutdown of the Wismut mines in Eastern Germany is higher than expected: 3,700 former Wismut miners contracted lung cancer since 1991.
- In an effort to "streamline" the review process for major economic projects, the following federal environmental assessments were cancelled in Canada, as a result of change in legislation: the JEB Tailings Management Facility Expansion Project at McClean Lake, the Rabbit Lake Tailings North Pit Expansion Project, and the expansion of the Key Lake Mill and McArthur River uranium mine production capacity (all in Saskatchewan), among others; regulator CNSC moreover issued a proposal for regulated timelines for the review process of uranium mine and mill projects.
- Ontario issued new mining rules requiring early consultation with aboriginal groups and eliminating most exploration on private land.
In the USA:
- The NGO Natural Resources Defense Council urged the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement a more protective regulation of uranium in situ leach mining in the U.S.
- The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) plans to relax the standards for acute intake of soluble uranium.
- The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) raised concern over the adequacy of financial assurances for uranium in situ leach mines.
- A District Court dismissed Powertech Uranium's lawsuit against Colorado over the state's rules for groundwater protection at uranium in situ leach mines (affecting Powertech's Centennial project).
- Concern is rising that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) aquifer exemptions for injection wells at uranium in situ leach mines may threaten underground drinking water supplies.
- It became known that mining companies pay no royalties for uranium extracted from U.S. public lands: the government has no data on the amounts extracted, nor their value (!).
- A Uranium Working Group installed by the Virginia Governor delivered a report on the regulatory framework required, in case the uranium mining moratorium in Virginia is lifted.
- Many African countries lack the capacity to regulate uranium mining, a think-tank found.
- The South Sudan parliament passed a mining bill - apart from gold, the country has also potential deposits of uranium, among others, according to experts.
- In Tanzania, a Parliamentary Committee demanded a policy on uranium mining; a law on uranium mining was passed in March; NGO and Church groups repeatedly raised concerns about the hazards of the proposed uranium mining and the deficiencies in the regulatory framework.
- In Zambia, the Council of Churches called for a policy on uranium mining.
- In South Africa, environmentalist Mariette Liefferink resigned from the board of South Africa's Nuclear Regulator over communities' exposure to radioactive mining waste: Liefferink cited the example of the Tudor Shaft informal settlement on the West Rand - where thousands of impoverished residents continue to live on uraniferous slimes dams, as well as the identification of 36 sites as "radiological hotspots" in the Wonderfonteinspruit catchment area.
- In Jordan, lawmakers and activists have called on the government to suspend the country's nuclear programme (including uranium exploration), accusing officials of violating a parliamentary motion calling for a halt of the project; the critics also claimed that uranium mining is unviable in the country for poor economics and for water shortage.
- The uranium tailings laws of Western Australia (where a first uranium mine is planned at Wiluna) fall short, an independent review found.
- Canada allows exports of uranium to China: the countries signed an agreement on uranium shipments.
- Canada and India signed a deal for exports of Canadian uranium and nuclear technology to India, although India is no signatory to the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but details are fuzzy.
Foreign exploration and mining investment and cooperation
- The Honeymoon uranium in situ leach mine (South Australia) is now completey owned by Atomredmetzoloto subsidiary Uranium One Inc.
- India considers setting up a new company to acquire foreign uranium mines.
- China plans to speed up uranium exploration at home and abroad.
- Toshiba invests into the Madaouéla uranium mine project in Niger.
- Japan's JOGMEC is to sign an agreement on a uranium joint venture in Uzbekistan.
- A US$ 1000 donation for the restoration of the Uranium Drive-In movie theater sign in Naturita (Colorado) earned Energy Fuels Inc. a glider flight over scenic Paradox Valley - the site of its proposed Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill... (what, if they discover during the flight that this is a beautiful place that should be protected?)
- The City of Erlangen (where Areva's German headquarter is based) denied to accept the sum of EUR 15,000 collected by a local group to replace Areva's sponsoring of the city's annual Poetry Festival (!) - the group suspects that the city did not want to risk spoiling Areva's generosity in other sectors.
- Uranium mine developer U3O8 Corp. proudly announced it has won the trust of local communities for its Berlin uranium project in Colombia by "gently introducing socially supportive initiatives".
- In November, Cameco and Areva offered a deal on jobs, cash payments, and other benefits to the northern Saskatchewan community of Pinehouse (Canada) - in exchange for the suppression of any criticism or opposition; after protests, Cameco and Areva signed a revised deal with the community in December. (It can only be speculated, what made Areva and Cameco lay down their conditions in writing - we must be really grateful for this, as sponsoring has been a more discreet matter so far. Is it an indication of a beginning Areva-ization of Cameco? Their new CEO is a former Areva man, after all! It is, however, more likely they just didn't expect any opposition in a remote town like Pinehouse.)
- On Dec. 19, Paladin Energy threatened an Australian anti-nuclear website owner with court action over running Malawi press clippings alleging exploitation of workers at the company's Kayelekera mine. (This move finally earned Paladin a "Hall of Infamy" of its own on the WISE Uranium website, an honour that so far had only been granted to Areva.)
- Only one day later, Areva (offended at having lost this unique position?) announced to take legal action against a French anti-nuclear activist over a "defamatory" statement in a press release titled "Nuclear/corruption: AREVA offers a plane to the President of Niger..." (Apparently, the uranium market depression has really brought the companies on the brink, this time...)
> See also: