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(last updated 14 May 2002)
> See also 1999 News Archive
The change of ownership in the Canadian mines, which had been initiated by Cameco's acquisition of all North American properties of Uranerz in 1998, found its continuation in 1999: Cogéma acquired parts of the Key Lake uranium mine and of the McArthur River and Midwest projects from Cameco; Cameco became majority owner of Cigar Lake; and Denison acquired a further interest in the Midwest project from Cogéma. While exploration expenditures remained low in 1999, one major discovery was announced: Cameco located high-grade uranium at La Rocque Lake in Saskatchewan.
In Australia, construction of the decline for the controversial Jabiluka mine (surrounded by UN World Heritage Kakadu National Park) in the Northern Territory was completed in July, and no further construction work took place since. Through intense lobbying, the Australian government achieved the Kakadu National Park not being listed "In Danger" by the UN World Heritage Committee for the development of the Jabiluka mine; the Comittee posed a number of conditions, however.
Since the Traditional Owners vetoed the milling of Jabiluka ore at the existing Ranger mill, Energy Resources of Australia now is considering building a new mill at Jabiluka at costs of A$ 150 million. It seems to be unclear, however, whether the mine then will be viable under the current market conditions.
Traditional Owner Yvonne Margarula and her speaker Jacqui Katona received the prestigeous 1999 Goldman Environmental Prize, worth US$ 125,000, for their campaign against the Jabiluka uranium mine.
The Beverley in-situ leach uranium mine in South Australia received final approval in April, and construction has begun. In November, several protestors were arrested who had tried to stop construction work at the site.
The environmental impact statement for the Honeymoon in-situ leach mine in South Australia was expected to be released in December.
At the Olympic Dam copper/uranium mine in South Australia, aboriginal and anti-nuclear protestors blocked the mine entrance in September. They raised their concerns about the lasting effects of the tailings dam and about production of uranium at the site which ended up as nuclear waste.
In December, a fire at the solvent extraction plant destroyed some of the solvent extraction facilities.
In India, the environmental hazards from the Jaduguda uranium mine and mill are gaining growing attention. It is suspected that thousands of tribal residents are at risk of contamination. A video by Shriprakash on the case was awarded the third prize at the Film South Asia 1999 Festival in Kathmandu. The Indian Supreme Court issued a notice to the Union and State governments on the uranium mine pollution.
In South Africa, the Council for Nuclear Safety estimates that at least 10,000 mineworkers, or roughly one in 20 mineworkers, have been exposed to radiation levels that exceeded safety limits.
The cleanup of Dawn Mining Co.'s uranium mill tailings pile at Ford (Washington State) used to be a matter of similar controversy. Dawn wanted to cover the tailings pile with low level nuclear waste to get at the money needed for the reclamation. Tension increased in January, when the Washington State Dept. of Health approved the nuclear dump on Dawn's uranium mill tailings. However, a dramatic change occured in September, when Dawn announced that they had changed their plans and now would cover the pile with clean fill. Dawn had not been able to contract for the radioactive waste they had had an eye upon. This preliminary happy end also led to Owen Berio, founder of the environmental group Dawn Watch, being awarded the 'environmental hero' award by the Washington Environmental Council.
Groundwater standards at U.S. uranium mill tailings sites most often are met by approval of "alternate concentration limits" or "supplemental standards" rather than real groundwater cleanup. The only site for which active groundwater cleanup was proposed in 1999 so far, was the Monument Valley, Arizona, uranium mill tailings site. Relaxed groundwater standards were approved for the following uranium mill tailings sites: Sohio's L-Bar site (New Mexico), Exxon's Highland site (Wyoming), the Grand Junction site (Colorado), and the Lakeview site (Oregon).
The proposal of Western Nuclear Inc. for its Split Rock uranium mill tailings site (Wyoming) even goes further: it comprises the prohibition of groundwater use rather than the prevention of contaminant plume dispersion.
The cleanup of 424 vicinity properties at the Monticello uranium mill in Utah has been completed in 1999. The properties had been contaminated from windblown tailings and from misuse of tailings for construction purposes.
The Palangana uranium in-situ leach site in Texas was released for unrestricted use, after relaxed groundwater standards had been approved earlier. The Pawnee ISL site in Texas was also released for unrestricted use.
In Canada, the environmental assessment process for the decommissioning of Cogéma's Cluff Lake uranium mine and mill has begun; the facility has to be closed prematurely for unexpected (!) lack of tailings dam capacity.
And, the Canadian Federal government has signed a commitment to clean up the Port Radium uranium mill tailings site on the shore of Great Bear Lake (Sahtu) in the Northwest Territories. The site had been abandoned in 1960. A film on the case has been produced by Peter Blow.
In the Czech Republic, groundwater cleanup at the former Stráz pod Ralskem in-situ leach facility is continuing. Contaminated groundwater is pumped and treated in an evaporator, concentrating the contaminants. As a stopgap measure, the evaporator condensate is returned underground into the wellfield, rather than processed into sale products, for unavailability of the necessary processing plant. This practice is foreseen to continue until at least 2006.
In Japan, protestors have dumped a truckload of radioactively contaminated soil from the former Ningyo-toge uranium mine at the doorsteps of a nuclear facility in December, to call for the safe management of the material so far "temporarily" stored on their lands without their consent.
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