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Uranium Mining Issues: 1998 Review

(last updated 20 Mar 2002)


> See also 1998 News Archive

Hard Times for the Uranium Industry

Uranium Market depressed

At the end of 1998, the uranium spot price is rapidly falling towards its all-time low: Uranium Exchange Co reported US$ 8.75 per lb U3O8 on Dec. 14, 1998. This figure is not very meaningful, however, since only low volumes are being traded on the spot market now.

The uranium production from mines at present supplies only about 60% of consumption. Other sources of uranium entering the market stem from various stockpiles:

An improvement of the uranium market in the near future is not very likely. While International Nuclear Inc. sees prices beginning to rise after 2003, Ron Shani of IAEA says: "Even the gloomiest of industry projections indicate at least a small uranium market through 2050" [Nuclear Fuel Oct. 19, 1998, p.16/12]


One of the consequences of the weak uranium market is a beginning concentration process in the uranium industry:

Slow Down of Production and New Mine Developments

Another impact of the weak uranium market are shut-downs and capacity reductions of existing uranium mines and suspensions of uranium mining projects:

International Uranium Corp. (IUC) is pursuing another way to survive under the current conditions: The processing of alternate feed at its White Mesa mill in Utah. In 1998, the processing of uranium-contaminated material from the Blind River refinery and the Port Hope conversion plant in Ontario, and from the Tonawanda nuclear weapons production site in New York were licensed. After recovery of the uranium, the processing wastes are being dumped on the mill's tailings pile, a matter of concern for Utah residents.

New Mining Projects

Most new uranium mining projects being developed at present are low-cost mines, either for their extraordinary high ore grades (as in Saskatchewan, Canada), or for their amenability to the in-situ leaching technique (as in USA and Australia).

Decommissioning Projects

Regarding the present situation of the uranium industry, it is no surprise that the decommissioning standards are getting weaker.

Impacts on Uranium Workers

The compensation claim of an Ex-Rössing worker was dismissed by London High Court in December.
The Dene of Great Bear Lake (NWT, Canada) demanded investigations about the cancer deaths of community members who used to work for the former Port Radium uranium mine, and on persisting hazards from the mining wastes.

Science News: Archer et al found that not only lung cancer, but also pulmonary fibrosis occuring in uranium miners can be caused from excessive exposure to radon progeny.

Impacts on Residents near uranium mining and processing facilities

On July 15, 1998, a federal jury awarded $2.9 million to 14 residents of Lincoln Park who were contaminated by Cotter Corp.'s Cañon City (Colorado) uranium mill during the 1970s and '80s. The mill was in operation from 1958 to 1987. Liquid wastes containing radionuclides and heavy metals were discharged from 1958 to 1978 into eleven unlined tailings ponds. The ponds were replaced in 1982 with the construction of two lined impoundments. Prior to 1982, a number of Lincoln Park wells showed elevated levels of contamination.

Science News: Zamora et al, for the first time, studied the effects of chronic ingestion of uranium with drinking water on humans. They found that kidney function is affected by uranium uptakes considered safe in the publications based on animal studies.

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