Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Uranium mining will leave Western Australian tax-payers with virtually permanent toxic pollution

Preventing tailings contamination even after a uranium mine has closed has proved impossible in every uranium mine in Australia to date there is no former Australian uranium mine that has been rehabilitated successfully — all are still radioactive no-go zones because of radionuclide dispersal from waste stockpiles and water seepage. We will be fooling ourselves if we think that “best practice” regulation can somehow contain tens of millions of tonnes of finely powdered carcinogenic wastes for thousands of years.

Uranium mine tailings leave an enduring toxic legacy http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/opinion/post/-/blog/13904615/uranium-mine-tailings-leave-an-enduring-toxic-legacy/ Alison Xamon , June 8, 2012,  The Environmental Protection Authority’s approval of a uranium mine in Wiluna should concern all West Australians. This is no longer a theoretical discussion. Research shows a serious risk that uranium mining will cause long-term harm to WA communities. Uranium mining has caused a string of accidents across Australia and has proved impossible to regulate appropriately.

Yet the highly radioactive waste produced by uranium mines — known as uranium mine tailings — remain radioactive for thousands of years. The State Government has given a commitment to seek to regulate uranium mining through “world’s best practice”, including isolating uranium tailings for at least 10,000 years. This is a worthy commitment but it is unclear how it will be achieved, especially when it is apparent that no uranium site in Australia has successfully accomplished this for even 10 years.

The best regulations will not stop chronic radioactive waste seepage. Preventing tailings contamination even after a uranium mine has closed has proved impossible in every uranium mine in Australia to date, according to mine expert Dr Gavin Mudd, of Monash University, who has studied uranium mines in Australia and overseas. Dr Mudd’s research shows that there is no former Australian uranium mine that has been rehabilitated successfully — all are still radioactive no-go zones because of radionuclide dispersal from waste stockpiles and water seepage. It is the Australian taxpayer who bears the burden of monitoring and clean-up of uranium mines, while regional communities and the environment suffer irreparable losses. Uranium mining is highly inefficient and generates vast amounts of toxic waste for a relatively small amount of uranium. Typically, the uranium mine tailings contain 80 to 85 per cent of the radioactivity of the ore itself — so the waste is almost as radioactive as the ore itself. The radioactivity in the tailings includes the uranium decay product Thorium-230 which has a half life of about 75,000 years. This is the timeframe over which uranium tailings dust and sludge pose a hazard to human health. Therefore, a vast amount of toxic, radioactive waste rock and dust is the legacy of any uranium mine.

Even at Ranger in the Northern Territory, which has boasted “world’s best practice”, there have been a string of failures relating to tailings management and human error, including contamination of groundwater beneath Kakadu National Park. The WA public has every right to expect the Government to do everything possible to protect our environment, water resources and health of regional communities from radioactive contamination caused by uranium mining — now and in the long term. We will be fooling ourselves if we think that “best practice” regulation can somehow contain tens of millions of tonnes of finely powdered carcinogenic wastes for thousands of years.

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June 9, 2012 - Posted by | environment, uranium, Western Australia

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