Grand Canyon protection from mining about to end
By Ginger D. Richardson
The Arizona Republic
The Bureau of Land Management today is expected to eliminate a regulation that gave two congressional committees the ability to block future uranium mining and exploration on public lands near the Grand Canyon.
The little-used provision, which is buried in Section 204 of the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act, has for decades provided the House and Senate natural-resources committees with the authority to take emergency action to protect threatened federal land.
It was last invoked in June by Tucson Democrat Raul Grijalva, in a failed attempt to order Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to ban immediately new mining claims on more than 1 million acres of property near the Canyon for a period up to three years.
The department ignored the order, questioning its constitutionality, and started in late October the public process to abolish the rule.
Thursday, Grijalva, who is rumored to be a leading candidate to head the Interior Department in President-elect Barack Obama’s Cabinet, blasted the Bush administration’s decision to abolish the regulation.
“This last-minute change puts at risk the health of millions of citizens of the West,” Grijalva said in a statement, adding that “in my view, the Grand Canyon is one of those places that deserves extra protection from the impact of industrial activities.”
Roger Clark, air and energy director for the Grand Canyon Trust, expressed similar sentiments.
“We are deeply disappointed that the Bush administration places a higher priority on helping the mining industry than it does on protecting the Grand Canyon,” he said.
Environmentalists fear that uranium mining could adversely harm the national park and have a negative impact on the Colorado River, which provides drinking water to residents in Arizona, Nevada and California.
But the BLM, one of several agencies under the umbrella of the Interior Department, has argued that ample protections are in place to protect the Grand Canyon and to ensure the sanctity of federal lands.
This week’s action likely will not end the fight; environmental groups have sued over the mining issue, and that case is pending in U.S. District Court.
The Effects of Uranium Mining are Disastrous.
Extracting a disaster
By David Thorp
December 5 2008
The increased sourcing of raw uranium that will arise from nuclear new build is an ethical and environmental nightmare currently being ignored by the government.
The World Nuclear Association (WNA), the trade body for companies that make up 90% of the industry, admits that in “emerging uranium producing countries” there is frequently no adequate environmental health and safety legislation, let alone monitoring. It is considerately proposing a Charter of Ethics containing principles of uranium stewardship for its members to follow. But this is a self-policing voluntary arrangement. Similarly, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s safety guide to the Management of Radioactive Waste from the Mining and Milling of Ores (pdf) are not legally binding on operators.
The problem is that transparency is not a value enshrined in the extractive or the nuclear industries. Journalists find themselves blocked. Recently, to tackle this issue, Panos Institute West Africa (IPAO) held a training seminar for journalists in Senegal which highlighted that only persistent investigation – or, in the case of the Niger’s Tuareg, violent rebellion – has a chance of uncovering the truth.
The co-editor of the Republican in Niger, Ousseini Issa, said that only due to local media campaigns was there a revision of the contract linking Niger to the French company Areva. “As a result of our efforts, the price of a kilogram of uranium increased from 25,000 to 40,000 CFA francs,” he said. The local community hopes now to see more of the income from the extraction of its resources.
IPAO has much evidence that in Africa the legacy of mining is often terrible health, water contamination and other pollution problems. IPAO would laugh at the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative – an Orwellian creation launched by Tony Blair in 2001.
What is the effect of uranium mining? Nuclear fuel from fresh uranium is cheaper than from recycled uranium or recycled plutonium (MOX), which is why there is a worldwide uranium rush.
To produce the 25 tonnes or so of uranium fuel needed to keep your average reactor going for a year entails the extraction of half a million tonnes of waste rock and over 100,000 tonnes of mill tailings. These are toxic for hundreds of thousands of years. The conversion plant will generate another 144 tonnes of solid waste and 1343 cubic metres of liquid waste.
Contamination of local water supplies around uranium mines and processing plants has been documented in Brazil, Colorado, Texas, Australia, Namibia and many other sites. To supply even a fraction of the power stations the industry expects to be online worldwide in 2020 would mean generating 50 million tonnes of toxic radioactive residues every single year.
These tailings contain uranium, thorium, radium, polonium, and emit radon-222. In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency sets limits of emissions from the dumps and monitors them. This does not happen in many less developed areas.
The long-term management cost of these dumps is left out of the current market prices for nuclear fuel and may be as high as the uranium cost itself. The situation for the depleted uranium waste arising during enrichment even may be worse, says the World Information Service on Energy.
No one can convince me that the above process is carbon-free, as politicians claim. It takes a lot of – almost certainly fossil-fuelled – energy to move that amount of rock and process the ore. But the carbon cost is often not in the country where the fuel is consumed.
And what of the other costs? Over half of the world’s uranium is in Australia and Canada. In Australia the government is planning to make money from the nuclear renaissance being predicted; uranium mining is expanding everywhere. Australian Greens are fast losing the optimism they felt when the Labor party won the last election.
In the Northern Territory plans to expand a nuclear dump at Muckaty station are being pushed forward with no regard for the land’s Aboriginal owners. The supposedly greener new Australian government Minister Martin Ferguson has failed to deliver an election promise to overturn the Howard government’s Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act, which earmarks a series of sites for nuclear waste dumps.
In South Australia, in August the Australian government approved the expansion of a controversial uranium mine, Beverley ISL. This was dubbed a “blank cheque licence for pollution”. Groundwater specialist Dr Gavin Mudd has examined the data from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and called for it to be “independently verified by people not subservient to the mining industry” (The Epoch Times September 2 2008).
Elsewhere in the Northern Territory, BHP Billiton plans to have the first of five planned stages of expansion at its Olympic Dam mine in production by 2013. This will increase production capacity to 200,000 tonnes of copper, 4500 tonnes of uranium and 120,000 ounces of gold. This is a vast open cast mine, from which the wind can carry away radioactive dust.
Not far away locals are fighting a new uranium mine 25 kilometres south of Alice Springs. At the Ranger mines, Energy Resources of Australia – 68.4% owned by Rio Tinto – expects to find 30,000 to 40,000 tonnes of ore in the Ranger 3 Deeps area. In October it agreed to supply uranium oxide to a Chinese utility, signing a safety accord. This is how safe the mine in fact is – and you won’t find such records at African mines: almost 15,000 litres of acid uranium solution leaked in a 2002 incident, and since then further leaks ranging from 50 to over 23,000 litres have been reported.
The list goes on.
The bottom line is this: UK ministers are blind to the consequences of their pro-nuclear evangelism. Carbon credits under the Kyoto mechanism have to be independently audited by a global body to ensure that new renewable energy is unique, additional and lives up to its claims. At the very least there should be an independent, global body verifying the ethics, health and long-term safety of the nuclear supply chain.
Better, just leave it in the ground.
A little history on the Risks:
Uranium mining dangers being hidden, expert warns
Geopolitical, environmental concerns not worth short-term economic gain, author argues
January 23 2008
An expert on uranium mining is coming to the Ottawa region with a warning: Don’t let it happen to you.
Jim Harding, the former director of research in the School of Human Justice at the University of Regina, will be in Ottawa and Wakefield this week to discuss his book, Canada’s Deadly Secret: Saskatchewan Uranium and the Global Nuclear System.
From Saskatchewan himself, Mr. Harding takes issue with the uranium mining that occurs in the north of the province, “out of sight and out of mind” of most citizens.
He argues that the geopolitical uses and long-term environmental effects are being hidden, and outweigh the short-term economic gain by which communities and governments are sometimes wooed.
He cites the Harper government’s eager acceptance of nuclear energy as evidence that Canada is going down a path of misplaced intentions.
“We like to think we’re a peace broker, but behind the scenes, we’ve been supplying fuel for the weapons system since the ’50s,” he said.
Murray Elston, the president and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association, dismisses Mr. Harding’s allegations as an exaggeration of the facts.
“Other people do have weapons and that’s true, but the folks at Foreign Affairs are very strong about the use of the materials,” he said.
Mr. Elston is citing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that Canada has signed as a non-nuclear nation. Through the agreement, all trade is prefaced with the understanding that nuclear products will only be used for energy purposes.
For his part, Mr. Elston also cites a few of nuclear energy’s positive impacts on society: medical isotopes and clean energy.
But Mr. Harding isn’t convinced about that last part. He cites the Ham Commission of 1976 that studied the health effects of radon gas on uranium miners in Elliot Lake. The study found a high incidence of lung cancer in the miners and made several recommendations that created new safety standards.
Mr. Elston was not able to comment on the Ham Commission specifically, but said other studies have shown that exposure does not cause health problems.
The only active uranium mines in Canada are located in Saskatchewan. Mr. Harding said companies are now looking elsewhere as demand is high and supply is dwindling.
The prospect of uranium mining has been widely debated in Eastern Ontario and western Quebec, as claims dot a large swath of land in the two regions, including unceded Algonquin land in the Sharbot Lake area.
George White, the CEO of Frontenac Ventures, the company in the midst of the turmoil, dismissed Mr. Harding as “just another alarmist.”
He said the only thing he could agree with Mr. Harding about is the fact that the long- term effects of the spent uranium, or “tailings,” are unknown.
“That’s why they’re storing it until they can figure out how to handle it,” he said.
Much of the uproar regarding uranium mining results from the fact that the Ontario and Quebec mining acts do not require public consultation before mining can occur. Companies can legally stake a claim on private property if the owner does not possess the mineral rights.
The province of Ontario received notice of intent for a class action lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of the act in December. Nothing similar has been filed in Quebec, although public consultations with the Quebec ministry of natural resources were held in October and a report is set to come out soon, said Michael Patenaude of the West Quebec Coalition Against Mining.
“Stay tuned,” he said.
Whether it by Mining, Reactors or War, Uranium is dangerous.
Elliot Lake Uranium Mines The majority of uranium tailings in Canada — about 200 million tonnes are located in Elliot Lake.
Depleted Uranium weapons in 2001-2002 Occupational, public and environmental health issues Mystery Metal Nightmare in Afghanistan?