MAC: Mines and Communities

Kyrgyzstan's uranium disaster defies long-term solution

Published by MAC on 2012-07-03
Source: Statement, AFP

And it's not the only one of its kind

In 2006, Mailuu-Suu in Kyrgyzstan was declared one of the world's ten "worst polluted" places by the US-based Blacksmith Institute. See: The world's worst places

The dire state of the town's uranium tailings piles has been covered on the MAC website several times over the past six years. See: Kyrgyz Officials Fear Radioactive Spills

In December 2008, we reported a lack of consensus among 'experts' as to whether these deadly wastes should be removed or 'stabilised' in situ. See: Uranium's dirty past, present - and future?

Following a 2009 UNDP-government conference in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, the first option appears to have been dropped.

For its part, the World Bank is currently working on a plan to protect the tailings site from flooding - rather than removing the threat altogether.

While the Blacksmith Institute has initiated a programme to filter radiation out of water used by local people, this is confined to hospitals and schools.

Present and future dangers

Reminding us that uranium mining is also a source of  future dangers, an Aboriginal elder last week went to court in Australia.

Kevin Buzzacott claims that the federal Environment Minister has failed to safeguard him and his people from  risks posed by the storage of radioactive tailings at BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam copper-uranium mine.

And, last week, a group of armed men - suspected to be from Chad - reportedly  attacked Areva's Bakouma uranium operations in the Central african Republic.

Exhibiting the Global Threat of Uranium-power

The critical situation prevailing at Mailuu-Suu, as well as at other sites, is graphically described in a carefully-organised and documented poster exhibition,which will be displayed in Hiroshima in August 2012.

Created by The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), it covers fifty places all over the world affected by the nuclear industry.

Now released on line, the exhibition opens where the "problems" originate - with the impacts of uranium mining and processing, primarily on Indigenous Peoples territories.

According to its organisers:

"Indigenous people whose homes were turned into nuclear wastelands by uranium mining, down winders of the nuclear weapons tests, the survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the people affected by radioactive fallout from civil and military nuclear accidents and nuclear meltdowns.

"All of these people would all be better off, if the uranium had been left in the ground."

Go to:

Filtering Radiation Out of Water in Kyrgyzstan's Schools

Blacksmith Institute

27 June 2012

Recent news reports that fish caught off the coast of Southern California contained radiation from Japan's damaged Fukushima nuclear plant illustrates the great distances that some toxic substances can travel.

If radioactive particles (albeit small doses not enough to cause health concerns) can journey some 6,000 miles across the ocean, imagine what the town of Mailuu-Suu is like? When local children turn on the tap in their schools, they get water highly contaminated with radiation.

That is because Mailuu-Suu, in Kyrgyzstan, is located downstream from an old uranium mine with piles of toxic radioactive waste left exposed to the elements. Here, the potent pollutant only needs to travel a few miles to reach the town. Mailuu-Suu was on Blacksmith's first-ever list of world's worst polluted places.

For decades, piles of radioactive waste in Mailuu-Suu have been slowly leaching into the ground, contaminating the land and water, and sickening its 20,000 residents.

Moreover, with each earthquake or heavy rain, there is a danger that a catastrophic landslide will block the river next to the dumpsites, cause a flood, and spread radiation throughout large parts of Kygryzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Data collected over 17 years show a clear correlation between cancer and congenital diseases with the level of life-threatening pollution in the town.

While the World Bank works on a long-term plan to protect the dumpsites from flooding, Blacksmith is reducing the risks to the most vulnerable residents by placing water filters in the town's hospital and schools. The cartridge in each filter is designed to remove toxins for three years.  However in Mailuu-Suu, the extraordinary level of contamination renders the cartridges useless in just nine months.

This year, Blacksmith is returning to install filters in three additional schools and replace cartridges in older filters. Since 2008 when the program began, levels of radioactive elements in the water have decreased by between 48% and 65% in the hospital and schools where filters were installed.

Central Africa: gunmen attack French uranium plant: army

By Christian Panika


25 June 2012

BANGUI - Rebels attacked and looted a plant operated by French nuclear giant Areva near a uranium mine in the southeast of the Central African Republic, army and French diplomatic sources said Monday.

Officials said no Areva employees were killed or wounded but one military source said one villager was killed by the gang near the Bakouma mine before Sunday's attack.

"A violent clash yesterday afternoon pitted" Central African troops against "an unidentified group of armed men attempting to launch an assault on the site of mining company Areva," a military statement said.

"The enemy did some material damage and pulled back while taking a sizeable quantity mainly of food with them," Lieutenant-Colonel Jean Ladawa said in the statement, which was read on national radio.

"For the moment, it's difficult to establish a casualty toll from the fighting. However, we sustained no losses either among personnel or the population at Bakouma," he said.

Areva in Paris confirmed an attack had taken place in Bakouma.

"Some food supplies as well as computer equipment were stolen," a spokesman said. "Nobody was threatened and nobody was wounded."

A military source in Bangui, who asked not to be named, said that the raid had claimed no victims but operations were under way "to neutralise this group of armed men, who are believed to be members of the Chadian rebel Popular Front for Recovery (FPR) led by 'General' Baba Ladde."

The FPR has been active in the Central African Republic since 2008.

Last January, the Central African army attacked FPR positions in the north, about 400 kilometres (250 miles) from Bakouma, and announced that they had contained the rebels.

"A few hours before the clash, these armed men killed a villager 25 kilometres from Bakouma. They took hostage an elder and a young man who served as their guides," the source said.

According to another anonymous official, the rebels "are not on the (Areva) site, but they are still in the Bakouma zone. They are heavily loaded (after looting) and they are trying to recruit porters."

A French diplomatic source told AFP that five French Areva staffers at the uranium mine were in contact with French authorities to find "the most suitable solution" for them.

In September 2010, seven people employed by Areva and its subcontractor Satom -- including five French nationals -- were captured by Al-Qaeda's North Africa franchise in Niger. Four of them are still held.

In November 2011, Areva delayed the launch of mining operations at Bakouma after uranium prices fell in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

About 170 people were then working at the Bakouma site but the Areva spokesman in Paris said Monday that only around 15 people had been working there recently.

With an estimated 32,000 tonnes of uranium to be mined, the site is considered important by Areva, even if it does not match the 180,000 tonnes of the giant Imouraren mine in Niger.

A 2008 peace process led to accords with most of the rebel groups in the country who have laid down their arms, but the Central African Republic remains prey to armed groups including rebels, highway robbers and poachers.

Rebels from Joseph Kony's Ugandan-born Lord's Resistance Army are also active.

Buzzacott returns to court to block dam expansion


21 June 2012

SOUTH AUSTRALIA: An Arabunna elder has returned to the Federal Court to tell "a good story" in his bid to block the $30 billion expansion of the Olympic Dam copper, uranium and gold mine in South Australia's north.

Kevin Buzzacott first took action earlier this year, claiming federal Environment Minister Tony Burke had not given enough consideration to a number of issues including the risks posed by the storage of radioactive tailings.

His action was dismissed, but on Thursday he argued an appeal before the full court.

"We put up a good argument, a good story, to the judges but we don't really know what's going to happen until the judgment which will be in a few weeks time," he said.

"But I've got to do this for my land."

Before the court his counsel Geoffrey Kennett SC argued it was not sufficient for Mr Burke to have just considered the impact of taking water from the basin.

He said the minister had to have proper regard to the conditions already imposed on water extraction by the state government.

Mr Kennett also pointed to aspects of the expansion that were still to be resolved, including plans and conditions related to the construction of a desalination plant, ore shipments from the port of Darwin and the construction of major pipelines.

He said the result was an approval that "wasn't really an approval".

South Australian Solicitor-General Martin Hinton said in relation to water extraction, Mr Burke did not need to have regard to the conditions imposed by the state government under water licences because there was no proposal to take additional water.

"The action does not occasion any change ... the licences then become irrelevant," he said.

The appeal was continuing with the three judges expected to reserve their decision to a date to be fixed.

The Olympic Dam expansion will create the world's largest open-cut mine with annual copper production forecast to more than triple to about 750,000 tonnes and uranium oxide production to jump to 19,000 tonnes.

BHP Billiton is yet to give final approval for the expansion and, under the terms of state government approvals, has until the end of the year to make a decision.

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