Tag Archives: Uranium

The poor pay for the grim legacy of uranium mining

Uranium mining costs humans dearly. The nuclear industry prefers not to discuss the price paid by miners and their families.

LONDON, 31 July, 2020 – The scars left on barren landscapes by uranium mining are rendered more frightening in many countries – in the former Soviet bloc, for example – by the signs warning would-be visitors of their presence, decorated with little more than a skull-and-crossbones.

The signs use few words to explain that vast areas of land, containing small mountains of mine tailings, will be dangerous to intruders for billions of years, by which time the deadly alpha particles in the dust should have decayed.

But the terrible price paid by the poor miners and indigenous peoples who have had their lands torn apart to get at the uranium ore is now laid bare  in a new publication, The Uranium Atlas, Facts and Data about the Raw Material of the Nuclear Age. It is the work of a band of researchers from around the world, first published in German and now updated in English.

The central message of the Atlas is uncompromising: “The price for keeping the nuclear power stations in South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, the EU and USA online is paid by the people in the mining regions: their health and livelihoods are destroyed.”

The particles inhaled by uranium miners bring lung cancer, and the dust carried back to their homes endangers their families, even unborn children. Although uranium is everywhere, even in seawater, extracting it for use in nuclear power stations is a messy business.

“Any mention of the health risks of uranium mining, the possibility of a nuclear meltdown, and the still unsolved issue of the ‘permanent disposal’ of highly radioactive nuclear waste is studiously avoided”

The Atlas shows how extracting uranium from the ore is carried out in remote locations, often on the lands of indigenous peoples, for example in Canada, Australia and the US. More recently, though, two African states, Namibia and Niger, have joined the list of prime examples.

At the mines large quantities of rock have to be crushed and treated with chemicals to leach out the uranium. For a uranium content of 0.1%, 10,000 tonnes of ore must be mined to yield one tonne of uranium.

The ore is then ground down and the uranium chemically extracted, producing a form of powdered concentrate called yellowcake, totalling 7.11 kgs of usable material left over from the original 10,000 tonnes of ore.

The yellowcake then has to be transported long distances to the countries which use nuclear power so that they can extract the fissile material needed to fuel power stations and make nuclear weapons – uranium-235.

Little European mining

The point the “Atlas” is making is that supposedly civilised and crowded countries that rely on nuclear power to keep the lights on will not allow uranium mining at home because of the destruction it causes and the danger to the health of their citizens.

The authors write: ”At the start of 2020 there were still 124 nuclear power plants in operation in the EU, making it the world’s largest consumer of uranium. The nuclear fuel is imported from outside the EU and there is strong opposition to any new uranium mining in Europe.”

With maps and diagrams the Atlas traces the history and current operations of the uranium mining business, but comments: “The exact pathway of uranium is hard to follow: the mining companies do not disclose where they deliver the uranium and the power plant operators do not reveal where the uranium for their power plants comes from.”

Not surprisingly, the researchers conclude that nuclear power has no place in the modern world, and that renewable technologies are both cheaper and safer than power from uranium.

They say: “One kilogram of uranium-235 contains enough energy to generate 24 million kilowatt hours of heat; one kilogram of coal can generate only eight. As a result the nuclear industry has always promoted nuclear power as a better alternative to fossil fuels, and is now using the climate crisis to justify its continued – and expanded – use.

High subsidies

“Any mention of the health risks of uranium mining, the possibility of a nuclear meltdown, and the still unsolved issue of the ‘permanent disposal’ of highly radioactive nuclear waste is studiously avoided.

“For almost 70 years the nuclear industry has been highly subsidised and has never been able to stand on its own two feet economically.

“From cleaning up the damage caused by uranium mining, to routine operations, to decommissioning and final storage of nuclear waste, the industry has neither calculated the real costs of its activities nor has it adequately disclosed its financial conditions.

“Viewed as an essential component of the construction of nuclear weapons and the maintenance of nuclear submarine fleets, the nuclear power industry has always been a steady recipient of generous state subsidies.” – Climate News Network

Uranium mining costs humans dearly. The nuclear industry prefers not to discuss the price paid by miners and their families.

LONDON, 31 July, 2020 – The scars left on barren landscapes by uranium mining are rendered more frightening in many countries – in the former Soviet bloc, for example – by the signs warning would-be visitors of their presence, decorated with little more than a skull-and-crossbones.

The signs use few words to explain that vast areas of land, containing small mountains of mine tailings, will be dangerous to intruders for billions of years, by which time the deadly alpha particles in the dust should have decayed.

But the terrible price paid by the poor miners and indigenous peoples who have had their lands torn apart to get at the uranium ore is now laid bare  in a new publication, The Uranium Atlas, Facts and Data about the Raw Material of the Nuclear Age. It is the work of a band of researchers from around the world, first published in German and now updated in English.

The central message of the Atlas is uncompromising: “The price for keeping the nuclear power stations in South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, the EU and USA online is paid by the people in the mining regions: their health and livelihoods are destroyed.”

The particles inhaled by uranium miners bring lung cancer, and the dust carried back to their homes endangers their families, even unborn children. Although uranium is everywhere, even in seawater, extracting it for use in nuclear power stations is a messy business.

“Any mention of the health risks of uranium mining, the possibility of a nuclear meltdown, and the still unsolved issue of the ‘permanent disposal’ of highly radioactive nuclear waste is studiously avoided”

The Atlas shows how extracting uranium from the ore is carried out in remote locations, often on the lands of indigenous peoples, for example in Canada, Australia and the US. More recently, though, two African states, Namibia and Niger, have joined the list of prime examples.

At the mines large quantities of rock have to be crushed and treated with chemicals to leach out the uranium. For a uranium content of 0.1%, 10,000 tonnes of ore must be mined to yield one tonne of uranium.

The ore is then ground down and the uranium chemically extracted, producing a form of powdered concentrate called yellowcake, totalling 7.11 kgs of usable material left over from the original 10,000 tonnes of ore.

The yellowcake then has to be transported long distances to the countries which use nuclear power so that they can extract the fissile material needed to fuel power stations and make nuclear weapons – uranium-235.

Little European mining

The point the “Atlas” is making is that supposedly civilised and crowded countries that rely on nuclear power to keep the lights on will not allow uranium mining at home because of the destruction it causes and the danger to the health of their citizens.

The authors write: ”At the start of 2020 there were still 124 nuclear power plants in operation in the EU, making it the world’s largest consumer of uranium. The nuclear fuel is imported from outside the EU and there is strong opposition to any new uranium mining in Europe.”

With maps and diagrams the Atlas traces the history and current operations of the uranium mining business, but comments: “The exact pathway of uranium is hard to follow: the mining companies do not disclose where they deliver the uranium and the power plant operators do not reveal where the uranium for their power plants comes from.”

Not surprisingly, the researchers conclude that nuclear power has no place in the modern world, and that renewable technologies are both cheaper and safer than power from uranium.

They say: “One kilogram of uranium-235 contains enough energy to generate 24 million kilowatt hours of heat; one kilogram of coal can generate only eight. As a result the nuclear industry has always promoted nuclear power as a better alternative to fossil fuels, and is now using the climate crisis to justify its continued – and expanded – use.

High subsidies

“Any mention of the health risks of uranium mining, the possibility of a nuclear meltdown, and the still unsolved issue of the ‘permanent disposal’ of highly radioactive nuclear waste is studiously avoided.

“For almost 70 years the nuclear industry has been highly subsidised and has never been able to stand on its own two feet economically.

“From cleaning up the damage caused by uranium mining, to routine operations, to decommissioning and final storage of nuclear waste, the industry has neither calculated the real costs of its activities nor has it adequately disclosed its financial conditions.

“Viewed as an essential component of the construction of nuclear weapons and the maintenance of nuclear submarine fleets, the nuclear power industry has always been a steady recipient of generous state subsidies.” – Climate News Network

Enough uranium, but nuclear power is still shrinking

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Many people believe nuclear power could save the planet from climate change. But several factors mean the industry is dying, a new analysis suggests. LONDON, 11 April – There is enough uranium available on the planet to keep the world’s nuclear industry going for as long as it is needed. But it will grow steadily more expensive to extract, because the quality of the ore is getting poorer, according to new research. Years of work in compiling information from around the world has led Gavin M. Mudd from Monash University in Clayton, Australia to believe that it is economic and political restraints that will kill off nuclear power and not any shortage of uranium, as some have claimed. Writing in the journal Environmental Science & Technology that renewables do not have the disadvantages of nuclear power, which needs large uranium mines that are hard to rehabilitate and which generates waste that remains dangerous for more than 100,000 years. In addition, research shows that renewable technologies are expanding very fast and could produce all the energy needs of advanced economies, phasing out both fossil fuels and nuclear. Mudd, who is a lecturer in the department of civil engineering at Monash, has compiled decades of data on the availability and quality of uranium ore. He concludes that, while uranium is plentiful, mining the ore is very damaging to the environment and the landscape. It is expensive to rehabilitate former mines, not least because of the dangerous levels of radiation left behind. As a result many of the potential sources of uranium will not be exploited because of opposition from people who live in the area.

‘Too cheap to meter’

His paper examines the history of uranium mining and its wild fluctuations in price. These have little to do with supply, but rather with demand that is badly affected by nuclear accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima, and by the political decisions by governments to embark on new nuclear building programmes, or to abandon them. “Despite the utopian promise of electricity ‘too cheap to meter’, nuclear power remains a minor source of electricity worldwide”, Mudd writes. In 2010 it accounted for 5.65% of total primary energy supply and was responsible for 12.87% of global electricity supply. Both contributions have effectively been declining through the 2000s. “Concerns about hazards and unfavourable economics have effectively slowed or stopped the growth of nuclear energy in many Western countries since the 1980s.” The Fukushima accident in Japan has accelerated the trend away from nuclear power. The growth in projects in some countries, notably China, Russia and India, does not offset the fact that many more nuclear power stations will reach retirement age over the next 15-20 years than will be constructed. Among the factors Mudd considered in the fluctuation of supply was the conversion of Russian and American nuclear weapons into power station fuel supplying 50% of American needs since the mid-1990s, and 20% of global uranium supply.  This has not materially affected the long-term supply of uranium.

Mining blighted

Another issue that is more politically contentious is the high cost of rehabilitating mines, notably in Germany and the US. In many of the countries where uranium has been mined and no rehabilitation attempted, the prospect of further mining is blighted. Mudd gives the examples of Niger, Gabon, Argentina and Brazil, where there has been considerable public opposition to opening up fresh deposits as a result. If these resources and other uranium deposits elsewhere in the world are to be exploited, Mudd argues, the issue of rehabilitating existing and future mines needs to be addressed. “There is a critical need for a thorough and comprehensive review of the success (or otherwise) of global U mine rehabilitation efforts and programmes; such a review could help synthesise best practices and highlight common problems and possible solutions,” he says. The paper also examines in detail the quality of the ore and the difficulty of extracting uranium from various rocks. Mudd concludes that as time passes the richer ores in the rocks that are easiest to extract are becoming scarce. As a result, for each pound of uranium extracted more greenhouse gases are generated, adding to the CO2 emissions of nuclear power. However, he believes, in the overall comparisons of various energy systems the increase is only marginal. “The future of nuclear power clearly remains contested and contentious — and therefore difficult to forecast accurately. While some optimists remain eternally hopeful, reality appears to be relegating nuclear power to the uneconomic category of history. “Overall, there is a strong case for the abundance of already known U resources, whether currently reported as formal mineral resources or even more speculative U sources, to meet the foreseeable future of nuclear power. The actual U supply into the market is, effectively, more an economic and political issue than a resource constraint issue,” Mudd says. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Many people believe nuclear power could save the planet from climate change. But several factors mean the industry is dying, a new analysis suggests. LONDON, 11 April – There is enough uranium available on the planet to keep the world’s nuclear industry going for as long as it is needed. But it will grow steadily more expensive to extract, because the quality of the ore is getting poorer, according to new research. Years of work in compiling information from around the world has led Gavin M. Mudd from Monash University in Clayton, Australia to believe that it is economic and political restraints that will kill off nuclear power and not any shortage of uranium, as some have claimed. Writing in the journal Environmental Science & Technology that renewables do not have the disadvantages of nuclear power, which needs large uranium mines that are hard to rehabilitate and which generates waste that remains dangerous for more than 100,000 years. In addition, research shows that renewable technologies are expanding very fast and could produce all the energy needs of advanced economies, phasing out both fossil fuels and nuclear. Mudd, who is a lecturer in the department of civil engineering at Monash, has compiled decades of data on the availability and quality of uranium ore. He concludes that, while uranium is plentiful, mining the ore is very damaging to the environment and the landscape. It is expensive to rehabilitate former mines, not least because of the dangerous levels of radiation left behind. As a result many of the potential sources of uranium will not be exploited because of opposition from people who live in the area.

‘Too cheap to meter’

His paper examines the history of uranium mining and its wild fluctuations in price. These have little to do with supply, but rather with demand that is badly affected by nuclear accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima, and by the political decisions by governments to embark on new nuclear building programmes, or to abandon them. “Despite the utopian promise of electricity ‘too cheap to meter’, nuclear power remains a minor source of electricity worldwide”, Mudd writes. In 2010 it accounted for 5.65% of total primary energy supply and was responsible for 12.87% of global electricity supply. Both contributions have effectively been declining through the 2000s. “Concerns about hazards and unfavourable economics have effectively slowed or stopped the growth of nuclear energy in many Western countries since the 1980s.” The Fukushima accident in Japan has accelerated the trend away from nuclear power. The growth in projects in some countries, notably China, Russia and India, does not offset the fact that many more nuclear power stations will reach retirement age over the next 15-20 years than will be constructed. Among the factors Mudd considered in the fluctuation of supply was the conversion of Russian and American nuclear weapons into power station fuel supplying 50% of American needs since the mid-1990s, and 20% of global uranium supply.  This has not materially affected the long-term supply of uranium.

Mining blighted

Another issue that is more politically contentious is the high cost of rehabilitating mines, notably in Germany and the US. In many of the countries where uranium has been mined and no rehabilitation attempted, the prospect of further mining is blighted. Mudd gives the examples of Niger, Gabon, Argentina and Brazil, where there has been considerable public opposition to opening up fresh deposits as a result. If these resources and other uranium deposits elsewhere in the world are to be exploited, Mudd argues, the issue of rehabilitating existing and future mines needs to be addressed. “There is a critical need for a thorough and comprehensive review of the success (or otherwise) of global U mine rehabilitation efforts and programmes; such a review could help synthesise best practices and highlight common problems and possible solutions,” he says. The paper also examines in detail the quality of the ore and the difficulty of extracting uranium from various rocks. Mudd concludes that as time passes the richer ores in the rocks that are easiest to extract are becoming scarce. As a result, for each pound of uranium extracted more greenhouse gases are generated, adding to the CO2 emissions of nuclear power. However, he believes, in the overall comparisons of various energy systems the increase is only marginal. “The future of nuclear power clearly remains contested and contentious — and therefore difficult to forecast accurately. While some optimists remain eternally hopeful, reality appears to be relegating nuclear power to the uneconomic category of history. “Overall, there is a strong case for the abundance of already known U resources, whether currently reported as formal mineral resources or even more speculative U sources, to meet the foreseeable future of nuclear power. The actual U supply into the market is, effectively, more an economic and political issue than a resource constraint issue,” Mudd says. – Climate News Network