HOME   WISE Uranium Project   >   Mining & Milling   >   Issues   >

Uranium Mining Issues: 2010 Review

(last updated 19 Jan 2011)


> See also 2010 News Archive


During the first half of the year 2010, the uranium spot market price, as published by Ux Consulting (UxC), decreased from US$ 44.50 to 40.50 per lb U3O8. It then increased to 62.50 per lb U3O8 at year end, 40% above the value at the beginning of the year, but still far below the unprecedented June 2007 peak of 136 US$ per lb U3O8. The long term average price, as published by Cameco, recovered from US$ 61 to 66 per lb U3O8.


Uranium exploration projects


The Canadian province of Québec declined a uranium mining moratorium, dismissing a petition signed by 14,000 supporters.

Greenland relaxed its zero-tolerance uranium policy for exploration licenses, thus enabling continued exploration work at the Kvanefjeld rare earth/uranium deposit.


Environmental opposition against uranium exploration:

Uranium exploration projects continued to draw oppostion at a number of locations: In Argentina, a High Court halted a uranium project in the UNESCO World Heritage area Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy province.


Violations at exploration sites:

At several uranium exploration sites, violations were found and, in some cases, even prosecuted:


Positive preliminary economic assessments:

Positive preliminary economic assessments were announced for more than a dozen of proposed uranium mining projects. As most of these assessments were based on uranium prices on the order of US$ 60 per lb U3O8, while the actual spot price was hovering close to US$ 40 during the first half of the year, the anti-uranium activist could hardly suppress a smile. Towards the end of the year, however, with the uranium spot price reaching just that level, the smile migrated to the mine developers.
Positive preliminary economic assessments, preliminary feasibility studies, or scoping studies were announced for the following uranium mine projects:

The Etango low-grade uranium mine project in Namibia only just reached feasibility at a uranium price of US$ 60 per lb U3O8, and this only, after the size of the already huge 400 m deep open pit had casually been doubled from 3 by 1 km to 6 by 1 km.


Uranium mine development projects

License applications for new uranium mines were actually filed for the following projects:

Uranium mining licenses were issued for:

Projects currently under development, or being prepared for development:

In Canada:

In the USA:

In South America:

In Africa:

In Europe:

In Asia:

In Australia:

In Australia's Northern Territory, however, the uranium industry stumbled upon a number of difficulties:


Alternate uranium recovery projects

By-product recovery of uranium from mining primarily for other ores is planned for two projects:

By-product recovery of other elements from mining primarily for uranium, on the contrary, is the goal of technology Toshiba is developing for the recovery of rare earths from uranium in situ leach mining in Kazakhstan.

The recovery of residual uranium from existing uranium mill tailings deposits is planned at four sites in South Africa:

The recovery of uranium from seawater may become cheaper with a new absorbent tested in Japan.


Issues at operating uranium mines and mills

Planned expansion of existing uranium mines and mills:


Environmental issues at operating uranium mines and mills:

In Saskatchewan, Canada, environmental monitoring revealed a sharp increase of uranium loads in lake sediments near the Rabbit Lake mine in the years 2007-2008, similar to the increase observed in 2002-2003. The 2009 data showed some decrease, but the uranium loads remained above the "probable effects level".

In Wyoming, USA, Cameco Resources payed a $13,000 fine for failure to report an excursion at its Highland in situ leach mine. At the idle Christensen Ranch in situ leach mine in Wyoming, the U.S. NRC requested further groundwater cleanup efforts at inadequately restored mine sections.

In Colorado, USA, Cotter Corp.'s currently closed Schwartzwalder uranium mine was found to contaminate groundwater near a Denver Water reservoir. Cotter Corp. defied state orders to clean up the contaminated mine water and even sued the state over the cleanup order. The state imposed a $55,000 penalty, which was later increased by an additional $39,000. Mining regulators also ordered Cotter Corp. to address heaps of toxic uranium ore at the mine site.
Cotter Corp moreover announced to willfully neglect the EPA requirement to conduct radon measurements at its Cañon City uranium mill tailings impoundment in Colorado. Cotter Corp. apparently is determined to contest Areva's long-held No. 1 rank as the most irresponsible uranium mining company.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) released a report on health hazards at the residential area of Lincoln Park near Cotter's Cañon City uranium mill site. The agency found that drinking contaminated private well water over many years may have put some Lincoln Park people at risk for health effects. While most people in Lincoln Park are now on the public water supply and thus no longer exposed, ATSDR recommends that people still using private well water in Lincoln Park stop using it for household purposes.
A citizens group filed a lawsuit accusing Colorado regulators of failing to require Cotter Corp. to set aside enough money to clean up its uranium mill in Cañon City. Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste (CCAT) filed the lawsuit in Denver District Court against the state health department and others. It says the department has estimated it will cost at least $43 million to decommission and decontaminate Cotter's mill, which is a Superfund site, but the state let Cotter set its financial surety at just $20.2 million.
The company, on the other hand, disputes a state order requiring Cotter to adjust its $2.6 million surety to $9.9 million to cover groundwater monitoring at the Cañon City uranium mill site.

In Arizona, USA, mining at Denison's Arizona 1 uranium mine started in January. In May, however, the U.S. EPA said the mine was operating illegally, as the company did not secure the necessary federal approval before ventilating the mine or testing emissions. In June, a court denied a Preliminary Injunction to suspend operations at the mine; environmental organisations had claimed that potential impacts on endangered species had not been considered.

In Brazil, wells near the Caetité uranium mine were closed for excess radiation levels.

In Niger, Areva took action to clean up the radiation spots identified by Greenpeace in the streets of Akokan, near Areva's Akouta underground uranium mine. In September, Niger citizens filed a class action in USA against Areva for damages suffered by the State of Niger and the inhabitants of the area of Niger where Areva operates its uranium mines.
On December 17, a dam failure of a retention basin spilled 200 cubic metres of uranium-containing liquids at Areva's Arlit open pit mine in Niger.

In Namibia, experts of the Geologic Survey of Namibia and Germany's Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources called for an end of groundwater abstraction for the purposes of uranium mining and processing; the experts rather recommend the construction of a second desalination plant.
In November, a railcar destined for the Rössing uranium mine in Namibia spilled sulfuric acid after a derailment.

Uranium miner Paladin Energy Ltd refused the disclosure of its carbon footprint. The company operates the Langer Heinrich mine in Namibia and the Kayelekera mine in Malawi.

In South Africa, a burst of the Cooke gold/uranium tailings dam on December 18 sent toxic mud into the Wonderfonteinspruit river.

In Russia, a court ordered the Krasnokamensk uranium mill to stop local lake pollution. Due to insufficient waste water treatment capacity, the concentrations of zinc, phosphate, phenol, oil products, iron, magnesium, sulphates, nitrates and several other dangerous admixtures exceed the permissible standards.

In Kazakhstan, ranchers complained about the impacts of the Karamurun uranium in situ leach project on cattle. Affected residents in the Shieli region demanded the creation of a commission to investigate the situation.

In India, Uranium Corporation of India (UCIL) was served a notice for illegally drawing river water at its Jaduguda uranium mine in Jharkand.

In Australia, uranium concentrations in tailings seepage at the Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory were 5400 times background, and the regulator says it will be impossible to rehabilitate the site. The reported uranium concentration in the seepage (27 mg/l) is slighthly higher than that to be used for a uranium byproduct recovery project in the Talvivaara nickel/zinc mine in Finland (see above) - conincidentally announced the same day...
In June, Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) conceded after two months of denials, abnormal salt levels found in Kakadu creek were caused by the Ranger mine. An ice core from the Antarctic was found to bear traces of uranium that may have been carried by the wind from Australian mines in 1995, according to a glacier expert.


Miners' health issues at operating uranium mines and mills:

In Utah, USA, a uranium miner died on May 26 in a rockfall accident in Denison's Pandora mine. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) cited the mining company for inadequate worker training and failure to test a tunnel wall for loose rock.

In Malawi, Paladin Energy Ltd ordered miners to work in its Kayelekera mine in spite of shortage of dust masks.

In South Africa, a miner died on November 16 in a fall-of-ground accident at the Ezulwini gold/uranium mine.

In South Australia, workers are exposed to unsafe levels of radiation at BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam mine, according to a company whistleblower. The whistleblower reportedly produced documents that show BHP uses manipulated averages and distorted sampling to ensure the figures are below the maximum exposure levels set by government.

In Australia, the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) in Queensland and the Northern Territory is banning its members from working on uranium mines or within the nuclear energy industry. ETU secretary Peter Simpson says corporate interests and political leaders are trying to bribe workers with the promise of high wages while denying the health risks of uranium mining.


Other issues at operating uranium mines and mills:

In Saskatchewan, Canada, a Federal Court dismissed an application by the Athabasca Regional Government to review the license renewal for the McClean Lake mine and mill.

In Wyoming, USA, Uranium One Inc. acquired Areva's idle Christensen Ranch and Irigaray uranium in situ leach mines. Subsequently, a majority in Uranium One Inc. was acquired by Russia's Atomredmetzoloto, making these mines plus the new Moore Ranch in situ leach mine the first Russian-owned uranium mines in the U.S.
In December, the U.S. NRC authorized the restart of the Christensen Ranch/Irigaray uranium ISL mines.

Brazil's minister of defense, Nelson Jobim, rejected IAEA inspections of uranium processing plants and restrictions on sale of uranium to third countries. The IAEA urges Brazil to sign an additional protocol that imposes controls on the commercialization of uranium and establishes inspection of the processing plants.

In Niger, Areva restarted uranium recovery from low grade ores by heap leaching at its Arlit mine. On September 16, seven foreigners, including one Areva employee, were kidnapped in the uranium mining town of Arlit.

In Namibia, a water crisis in Swakopmund affected also the uranium mines. Paladin Energy Ltd, operator of the Langer Heinrich mine, targets first uranium deliveries to China in 2011. In October, Paladin reported a doubling of the ore reserves at the Langer Heinrich deposit.

In South Africa, the uranium plant at the Ezulwini gold/uranium mine was temporarily closed in August for repair works.

In Kyrgyzstan, the Kara-Balta uranium mill stopped operations because of unstable deliveries of the Kazakh raw material.

In Kazakhstan, Mukhtar Dzhakishev, former head of state uranium company Kazatomprom, was sentenced to 14 years in jail for theft and corruption.

In Jharkhand, India, Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL) seeked assistance against protests from people displaced for the Jaduguda mine: In wake of frequent demonstrations by displaced people seeking compensation in the form of job and financial aid, the UCIL management approached the district administration and sought safety and security help. The agitators often stage dharnas [method of seeking justice by sitting at the door of one's debtor or wrongdoer and fasting until justice is obtained] and demand job and cash compensation from time to time.

In Australia, Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) downgraded the production target for its major Ranger mine from 5240 to 3900 tonnes, due to "disappointing ore grades".

The breakdown of the Olympic Dam mine ore haulage system in October 2009 caused losses of more than US$ 200 million; a computer failure was identified as the cause. In July, protesters blocked a road to the Olympic Dam uranium mine.

Participants and observers of a protest at the Beverley uranium mine on May 9, 2000, were awarded compensation; the protesters had been beaten, capsicum-sprayed and locked in a shipping container by police.


Abandoned mines issues

In Saskatchewan, Canada, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) ordered the Saskatchewan Research Council to assess and eliminate continued safety risks identified during an inspection at the former Gunnar mine site.

In Arizona and New Mexico, USA, plans were prepared to deal with the hazards of at least a few of the many abandoned uranium mines in these states.

Near Johannesburg in South Africa, an announced environmental disaster took its course, when on January 27 acid mine water started overflowing from abandoned West Rand gold/uranium mines. The river of acid mine water threatens, among others, the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. If no adequate measures are taken by end 2011, acid mine water will start to decant even in central Johannesburg (!).
This is, however, not the only problem left from 120 years of mining in South Africa: tailings seepage is of concern at many sites; an informal settlement was built on radioactive mine waste (!), leading to high radiation exposures of the residents; and a brick factory produces bricks made from radioactive tailings (!).
A surveillance report prepared by the Nuclear Regulator on the radiological impacts of mining wastes in the Wonderfonteinspruit Catchment Area is full of errors and raises many questions.

In Saxony, Germany, cleanup of the 1954 (!) Lengenfeld uranium mill tailings spill started in April. In Thuringia, however, other than in Saxony, there still is no management program for abandoned legacy uranium sites that are not covered by the federal Wismut cleanup program. In view of several incidents, a local environmental group urged the reassessment of the Thuringian legacy uranium sites.

In Ukraine, independent environmentalists detected high radiation levels at an abandoned uranium mine in the Dnepropetrovsk region. The contaminated site is being used for livestock.

In Kyrgyzstan, after two decades of discussions, finally, preparatory work started for relocation of two of the most dangerous tailings dumps at Mailuu Suu.

In Kazakhstan, an analysis of plant samples documented contamination in the surroundings of the former Aktau uranium mines.

In Australia's Northern Territory, a recreation reserve was closed due to radiation from the former Rum Jungle uranium mine.
In New South Wales, the cleanup of the former Hunters Hill uranium mill site located inmidst a suburb of Sydney faces indefinite delay; plans to move the contaminated material to a landfill near Penrith have been abandoned after protests from the Penrith Council.


Decommissioning issues

In the Northwest Territories, Canada, the cleanup of the former Rayrock uranium mine site was found to be incomplete - 13 years after it supposedly was completed; moreover, the tailings cover was already deteriorating.

In Nebraska, USA, Cameco again requested an enormous extension of the period of groundwater restoration at an exhausted section of its Crow Butte in situ leach mine, extending the period of groundwater restoration to nine years - far beyond the regulatory requirement of 2 years.

In Wyoming, the U.S. NRC approved relaxed groundwater standards at the Split Rock uranium mill tailings site.
At the Bear Creek tailings site, uranium concentrations in groundwater were found to exceed predicted values more then tenfold.

In New Mexico, the failed groundwater cleanup at the Church Rock tailings site is nothing but an administrative problem, according to its previous operator United Nuclear: compliance could easily be achieved, if EPA and NRC issued the requested waivers and alternate concentration limits. At the surface, the company again demonstrated its incapability to even keep the site fences in proper condition, so inspectors had to chase three cows, this time.
At Grants, Homestake offered to plug (!) contaminated private wells near its uranium mill tailings site; and in July, a tailings evaporation pond breached during heavy rains; in September, Homestake had to repair the cover on the sideslope of the tailings pile after high rainfall events; and in December, a review report identified numerous deficiences with ongoing groundwater cleanup at the site.
At the Bluewater mill site, uranium concentrations in a monitoring well are found to be increasing and are expected to exceed the standard soon.

In Colorado, at the disposal site of the relocated Grand Junction uranium mill tailings, the rise of uranium concentrations in groundwater beyond standards did not alarm custodian DOE. Moreover, in Grand Junction, uranium mill tailings underneath roadways still pose a problem.
At the Maybell tailings disposal site, during an inspection, another claim stake was found - this time on top of the disposal cell (!), making DOE's efforts to achieve safe disposal for a period of 1000 years look ridiculous.
At the disposal site of the relocated Durango uranium mill tailings, rising uranium concentrations in a monitoring well caused concern; however, the groundwater standard miraculously is no longer exceeded.
At the Old Rifle processing site, the chosen groundwater management strategy of natural flushing turned out not to function as predicted; any alternative approaches still have to be evaluated.

In Utah, the relocation of the Moab uranium tailings is progressing well; it is however feared that the project could lose two thirds of its funding by 2012.

In Arizona, a radiological assessment of stained soils at the former Monument Valley, Arizona, uranium mill site found no elevated risk - if you stay away 99.86% of the time.

In Argentina, the Supreme Court ordered the cleanup of the San Rafael uranium mine site, before mining can restart.

In Gabon, the NGO Brainforest called for an independent study on the radiological situation in Mounana, where Cogéma/Areva mined uranium until 1999. In September, the European Parliament commissioned a study on the use of radioactively contaminated material from uranium mines in building construction in Gabon and Niger. In October, Areva launched the "Mounana health observatory" to study the impact of uranium mining at this site on the health of former workers, in particular.

In Spain, the decommissioning of the Quercus uranium mill was deferred in expectation of a restart.

In France, the inspector of the DREAL authority called for an improvement of the water treatment at Areva's Bellezane tailings site in the Limousin area, where excessive uranium concentrations were found in creeks.

In Romania, an ecological group has initiated some monitoring of uranium mine waste dumps that are still awaiting rehabilitation in the Ciudanoviţa area.

In Ukraine, the State Nuclear Regulation Committee assessed the technical conditions of the Zheltiye Vody and Dniprodzerzhynsk uranium mill tailings ponds as satisfactory.

In Australia, a study found that the rehabilitation of the Rum Jungle mine in the Northern Territory has "clearly failed" after just two decades; in particular, the study criticized the exclusion of polluted groundwater from rehabilitation and the poor design, construction and/or performance of engineered soil covers - both leading to increasing acid drainage impacts on the Finniss River.
In West Australia, high radiation levels were found at the former Lake Way uranium mine; and, children were found accessing an old uranium site in Kalgoorlie.


Health impacts: science issues

A study found no increase in cancer incidence among residents at the former Homestake Grants, New Mexico, uranium mines and mill other than that attributed to mine work.

A study found decreases in white blood cell counts and alterations in systolic blood pressure among residents in the vicinity of the former Fernald Feed Materials Production Center in Ohio, which functioned as a uranium processing facility from 1951 to 1989.

A study found association between cerebrovascular diseases mortality and cumulative radon exposure in a French uranium miner cohort.

A study found excess chromosomal aberrations in Kazakh uranium mine/mill workers.


Legal and regulatory issues

The Colorado Legislature passed the Uranium Processing Accountability Act that will force uranium mills to clean up existing messes before launching new projects.
The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS) approved new rules to protect groundwater during in situ leach uranium mining; these rules carry out state legislation passed in 2008. Powertech Uranium Corp., the proponent of the Centennial in situ leach uranium mine, is suing the state claiming the rules are unlawful and unreasonable.
The U.S. NRC issued a proposed rule to ease restrictions on commencement of construction before a licence is issued.

An investigation by journalists revealed that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) spent two decades under-reporting radiation levels in local water supplies, which helped water districts avoid fines, but exposed residents to potentially harmful radioactive elements. Hundreds of water providers near the Gulf Coast had delivered drinking water containing radioactive contaminants, all with the blessing of state officials, using a reporting method that came to be known as "Texas math." The TCEQ also regulates uranium mines in Texas.

Zambia has established safeguarding guidelines for uranium and regulations for uranium mining

Namibia's government declared its determination to permit uranium mining in protected areas: Mining Commissioner Erasmus Shivolo said no mines would be prohibited from protected uranium-rich areas given the industry's economic value.

A Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) commissioned by the Namibian Ministry of Mines and Energy calls for a government policy to prevent the Namibian uranium 'rush' from turning into a uranium 'crush'.
In November, Namibia started the development of a "uranium policy" covering not only uranium mining, but the entire nuclear fuel cycle (!); the policy is being developed with assistance from Finland, which has no uranium mines (!).

The government of France plans to weaken the regulatory scheme for uranium mill tailings: deposits of radioactive mining residues, including uranium mill tailings, shall no longer be licensed as "installation nucléaire de base" (INB), but as the less tighter regulated "installation classée pour la protection de l'environnement" (ICPE).

The German legislator approved a 10 µg/L drinking water standard for uranium, which is lower than WHO's provisional guideline value of 15 µg/L, but still higher than the 2 µg/l demanded by some environmentalists.

The Slovak parliament, in response to a petition against uranium mining signed by over 113,000 people, finally agreed on legal changes in the geological and mining laws. The changes are giving local communities, municipal and regional authorities more information access and powers to stop or limit exploration of uranium deposits and to stop proposed uranium mining. All 41 municipal authorities influenced by proposed uranium mining already have declared that they do not agree with proposed uranium mining in their territories.

Australia throws a cloak of secrecy over its uranium exports: for the year 2009, Australia for the first time no longer reports the destination of its uranium exports by country; the latest report only shows data by continent: "Individual country information is not provided in order [to] protect commercial confidentiality".


Uranium trade and foreign investment issues

Uranium trade

Canada signed a nuclear agreement allowing uranium exports to India, and Cameco signed an agreement to supply uranium to China.

Kazakhstan signed a nuclear technology and uranium supply pact with Japan, and Kazatomprom signed a uranium supply contract with Chinese companies.

Australia ratified an agreement that allows uranium exports to Russia, but Australia still abstains from exports to India.

France released a report making the material flux of nuclear fuel production more transparent.

The Bern Canton government demanded to establish a legal requirement for full disclosure of the origin of the uranium used in Swiss nuclear power plants, after utility BKW was inable to trace back the origin of the uranium used in its Mühleberg reactor.

According to a report prepared by professinal services firm Ernst & Young, bauxite and uranium are the two minerals most affected by fraud and corruption.


Proliferation issues and uranium trafficking

The Brazilian police discovered 450 kg of contraband uranium ore.

Brazil rejects IAEA inspections of uranium processing plants and restrictions on sale of uranium.

Congo armed groups are forming criminal gangs, trafficking uranium, among others, a UN report says.

DR Congo signed a nuclear proliferation deal with the USA.

Iran assists Guyana with uranium prospection and intends to prospect for uranium in Bolivia.

Iran's 15% stake in the Rössing uranium mine in Namibia is causing headaches in view of the U.N. sanctions imposed on Iran. The mine's majority owner Rio Tinto, however, declared "that it believes to be complying with the current United Nations requirements."

Reporters of a dissident radio station have collected files and photographs which suggest that the ruling junta of Myanmar (Burma) is mining and experimenting with uranium with the aim of one day creating a bomb.

The Indonesia House demanded an inquiry into alleged uranium mining by Freeport in Papua.


Foreign exploration and mining investment and cooperation

Major uranium consumers without sufficient domestic uranium resources have developed frantic activities to get access to uranium resources abroad:








> See also:

HOME   WISE Uranium Project   >   Mining & Milling   >   Issues   >