MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Uranium update: more slices of the yellowcake

Published by MAC on 2006-06-06


Uranium update: more slices of the yellowcake

6th June 2006

There's loads of uranium in the ground most of it is on Indigenous peoples' territory) according to the UN International Atomic Energy Agency. It's sufficient to last another 85 years at the current planned rate of expansion of nuclear installations.

Following a recent accord with China, Australia's government is pushing the uranium boat out even further. The prime minister has also initiated a review process to examine setting-up nuclear power plants in the country.

The Indian government plans to shell out around US$400 million for uranium mining and nuclear plants in three states - including Meghalaya, where citizens continue being denied their right to demonstrate.

(Editorial note: A recent article from The Australian, posted on this site [http://www.minesandcommunities.org/Action/press1037.htm], accused WWF-Australia of backing uranium mining and tacitly supporting nuclear power. In the second article which we post below, a WWF-Australia spokesman is now quoted as saying that the organisation does not support uranium mining, although "we don't campaign on it".)


Global Nuclear Expansion Based on Plentiful Uranium Supply

VIENNA, Austria, ENS

6th June 2006

Over the next 20 years, world nuclear energy capacity is expected to increase between 22 percent and 43 percent, according to a new estimate issued by the UN nuclear watchdog agency. At that rate of increase and using current technology, there is enough uranium to last for the next 85 years, although the study says that fast reactor technology would lengthen this period to over 2,500 years.

Released Thursday in Vienna, the new edition of the world reference guide "Red Book": Uranium 2005: Resources, Production and Demand," was jointly prepared by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a group of 30 industrial democracies.

Head of the IAEA Department of Nuclear Energy Yuri Sokolov told reporters, "There is plenty of uranium assuming the industry keeps moving ahead with exploration and new mines. The message in the Red Book is that, for the immediate future at least, they are doing precisely that."

Total conventional uranium resources are estimated at 14.8 million metric tons, the Red Book shows.

Of that amount, Sokolov said the nuclear experts are confident of 4.7 million metric tons of "identified resources," which can be mined for less than $130 per kilo. "We know they exist because we can see them in mines that are already dug, or in rock samples that have been analyzed for the next mine, or they can be inferred from the surrounding geology," he said. World uranium resources in total are considered to be much higher. Based on geological evidence and knowledge of uranium in phosphates, the study considers that more than 35 million metric tons are available for exploitation.

"One important reference point to note is that in the whole 60 year history of the nuclear era through today, the total amount of uranium that has been produced adds up to about 2.2 million metric tons," Sokolov said.

If world nuclear capacity increasts 22 percent by 2025, the industry would require about 80,000 metric tons each year. If the increase is up to 43 percent, the industry would require 100,000 metric tons per year, the new Red Book shows.

"Those levels are certainly achievable based on industry expansion activities and plans today," said Sokolov. "They simply mean that the activities have to continue and the plans have to be implemented."

Critics of the nuclear power industry say the problem of waste disposal has not been solved and highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel continues to pile up in facilities that may release radiation into the environment, and may also be targets for terrorists.

The two major uranium producers are Canada and Australia, both OECD countries. In 2004, Canada produced 29 percent of the world's uranium supply and Australia produced 22 percent. Most of the other major producing countries – Kazakhstan, Niger, Namibia, Russia, and Uzbekistan – add up to less than 10 percent of the total.

Over the next five years, new mines are expected in Australia, Canada, Kazakhstan, Brazil, India and other countries. They would add around 30,000 tons of uranium of annual production capacity, about a 60 percent increase over today’s capacity. Australia is going to study whether or not it should develop nuclear power, Prime Minister John Howard, said today.

Until now Australia has relied on coal for its energy, although 40 percent of known uranium reserves are found on the continent. Howard said that a panel of experts would examine whether it is "economically feasible to contemplate nuclear power stations in our country."

"I have always maintained that holding the reserves of uranium that we do, it is foolish to see ourselves simply as an exporter," the Prime Minister said. If the review backs nuclear power, private companies would be able to build and operate nuclear power stations. To date, Australia has only one research reactor in a Sydney suburb.

The United States, Russia, China and India, among other countries, have recently announced plans to build more nuclear power plants.

Sokolov said nuclear power expansion is a worldwide phenomenon.

"The spot price of uranium has also increased fivefold since 2001, fuelling major new initiatives and investment in exploration," he said. There is currently a revival of the uranium industry after the extended period of low prices and low activity.

The IAEA report makes the point that diverse sources of uranium enhance supply security. Sokolov says that any risk to supply security now comes not from limited resources or political instability, but from possible delays in moving from discovery to production, particularly if demand increases rapidly.

"One possible driver of a large nuclear power expansion is the introduction of increasingly stringent environmental constraints on power generation, especially on greenhouse gas emissions," said Sokolov.

"Nuclear power, including the fuel cycle chain from mining through waste disposal and decommissioning, has one of the lowest greenhouse gas emission levels of all power generation options – 1-6 gC/kWh of electricity – about the same as wind and solar power and well below coal, oil and natural gas.

Given this advantage of nuclear power, a significant tightening of greenhouse gas emission limits creates incentives for an accelerated nuclear power expansion," Sokolov said.

The IAEA foresees continuing advances in nuclear technology that will allow much better utilization of uranium resources and may also help solve the issue of nuclear waste. Fast reactor designs are capable of extracting more that 30 times more energy from uranium than today's reactors, and they already exist.

These reactors can, in principle, "not only provide more effective use of uranium but also incinerate long-lived wastes," Sokolov said. "At the moment they need to be improved for better commercial competitiveness."


Prime Minister Howard Hustles Australia Down Nuclear Path

CANBERRA, Australia, ENS

6th June 2006

Today, Prime Minister John Howard announced the establishment of a taskforce to review the role of nuclear power and uranium mining in Australia. Currently, Australia holds 40 percent of the world's known low cost recoverable uranium reserves but has no nuclear generating stations. Critics say that resource-rich Australia does not need nuclear power and that the taskforce is weighted towards support of nuclear development.

Nuclear physicist Ziggy Switkowski, former chief of the telecommunications company Telstra, has been appointed to run the inquiry. Dr. Switkowski is a board member of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO).

Dr. Ziggy Switkowski holds a degree in nuclear physics from the University of Melbourne, with a further six years of post-doctoral research experience in international institutions, and a business degree from Harvard. (Photo courtesy Brisbane Institute)

To date, the taskforce includes two professors from the Australian National University - George Dracoulis, head of the Department of Nuclear Physics and economist Warwick McKibbin, who is a member of the Board of the Reserve Bank of Australia. Three other members will also be named.

Australia's Chief Scientist, Dr Jim Peacock, will support the review, facilitating a peer review of the scientific aspects. The work of the taskforce will be supported by a whole-of-government secretariat based in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The review will begin this month, with a draft report planned for public consultation by November 2006. A final report will be completed by the end of the year.

While promising an "objective, scientific and comprehensive" review, Howard indicated that nuclear development would be good for Australia's economy. "Energy prices and energy security are key considerations for future economic growth in a lower emissions future," he said today.

"There is significant potential for Australia to increase and add value to our uranium extraction and exports," said Howard, noting that recent developments in global energy markets have renewed international interest in nuclear energy as a technology that "can help meet growing demand for electricity without the fuel and environmental costs associated with oil and gas."

The taskforce announcement comes shortly after last month’s controversial agreement to supply uranium to China.

Opposition Leader Kim Beazley of the Australian Labor Party says the Prime Minister wants the review to endorse nuclear power. "That is what the Prime Minister would sincerely hope from it, something to justify his position," he said.

Australian Greens energy and climate change spokesperson Senator Christine Milne said today that everything about the Prime Minister's taskforce and terms of reference and the tenor of his remarks in announcing the inquiry "points to enrichment of uranium as the Prime Minister's real agenda."

"The Prime Minister continually talked about mining and value-adding Australia's uranium, in the context of global nuclear fuel suppliers," Milne said in Hobart.

"During his recent visit to the United States, Prime Minister Howard had talks in Washington with President [George W.] Bush about the President's desire to set up new nuclear fuel supply centers around the world with a view to having these supply centers enrich uranium and lease it with an agreement to take back the spent fuel rods," Milne said.

Prime Minister Howard says he wants to engage the public in a wide-ranging debate on the issues. On ABC TV May 30, he said, "The scene on nuclear energy is going to change significantly in our country and I want a full-blooded debate in Australia about this issue and I want all of the options on the table."

While Australian environmental groups oppose any further nuclear development, Howard said today, "A growing number of environmentalists now recognize that nuclear energy has several other advantages over fossil fuel electricity generation, including significant lower levels of air pollution and greenhouse emissions."

He is referring to statements of British scientist James Lovelock, the creator of the Gaia hypothesis which considers the Earth as a self-regulating organism, and a member of the association of Environmentalists For Nuclear Energy. Lovelock wrote for the British paper "The Independent" a 2004 article entitled, "Nuclear power is the only green solution."

"Opposition to nuclear energy is based on irrational fear fed by Hollywood-style fiction, the Green lobbies and the media," wrote Lovelock. "These fears are unjustified, and nuclear energy from its start in 1952 has proved to be the safest of all energy sources."

Still, Australian environmental groups attacked the taskforce and the possibility that Australia might build nuclear power plants.

The Australian Conservation Foundation said, "The composition of the government's nuclear power inquiry and the declared purpose of the inquiry, announced by the Prime Minister today, expose a deeply worrying lack of focus on climate change and any serious examination of clean, safe and credible energy futures."

"The Prime Minister promised us a wide ranging inquiry, but what we've got so far looks like a uranium mining, enrichment and nuclear power promotional exercise.

"With no disrespect to the individual members, the deck looks stacked - the inquiry is being chaired by a nuclear physicist and ANSTO board member and is being supported by the Chief Scientist, a proponent of nuclear power.

Professor Ian Lowe AO, who heads the Australian Conservation Foundation, is emeritus professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University in Brisbane, an adjunct professor at Sunshine Coast University and QUT, an honorary research fellow at the University of Adelaide and a consultant to the CSIRO Division of Sustainable Ecosystems.

Lowe was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2001 for services to science and technology, especially in the area of environmental studies.

In an address to the National Press Club on October 19, 2005, Lowe said, "Nuclear power is expensive, slow and dangerous, and it won't stop climate change."

"I wonder how much the current debate about nuclear power has to do with BHP Billiton's planned expansion of the Roxby Downs uranium mine in South Australia," Lowe told reporters. The company has applied to the Commonwealth and South Australian governments to take five times more water than it currently does from the Great Artesian Basin to develop its uranium mine.

Lowe warned that this massive water extraction "could threaten the fragile Mound Springs ecosystem in the desert" and he said BHP Billiton "will not get away with making a big mess in the South Australian outback."

The concern about bombs fueled with radioactive waste is not something being whipped up by fringe-dwelling extremists, Lowe said, pointing out that a few days previous, President Bush claimed his security forces had foiled a plot by terrorists to detonate a "dirty bomb."

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said in the desire of terrorists to get hold of nuclear material presented a much greater problem than any "rogue state."

"You won't hear people worrying about terrorists getting hold of wind turbine parts or making dirty bombs out of solar panels. The only clean energy is renewable energy," Lowe said.

"It is safe, plentiful and lasts forever. It is better environmentally, economically and socially. It will take us toward a sustainable future, whereas nuclear energy would be a decisive step in the wrong direction, producing serious environmental and social problems for little benefit."

Other Australian environmental groups agree.

WWF-Australia says the country is "blessed with abundant clean and renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and natural gas. Consequently, Australia does not need nuclear energy, which is fraught with problems associated with waste disposal and the threat of accidents."

"Australia has more renewable resources per person than any other nation on Earth - we do not need nuclear power plants in this country," WWF-Australia CEO Greg Bourne said in May.

WWF-Australia spokesman Andy Whitely said today that the group does not support uranium mining but adds, "We don't campaign on it. Our primary focus is on climate change."

The Wilderness Society said, "Uranium mining causes widespread environmental damage, particularly through its use in generating nuclear power, and members of the Australian environment movement remain totally opposed to it."

Greenpeace Australia says that despite claims of the uranium and nuclear industries, nuclear power is not a solution to climate change. "The nuclear industry claims that nuclear energy is a clean alternative to fossil fuels. It is not. Nuclear power did not suddenly become safe and clean. It is just as radioactive and dangerous as it always was," the group says on its website.

"Nuclear power is risky at every stage of development, from mining the uranium to producing the energy to the dangers of transporting and storing radioactive waste," Greenpeace said, adding that the best investment for our planet's future is "clean renewable energy, such as solar and wind, combined with technologies that vastly improve energy efficiency."

Taskforce Terms of Reference

The nuclear energy review will consider the following matters:

Economic issues

The capacity for Australia to increase uranium mining and exports in response to growing global demand. The potential for establishing other steps in the nuclear fuel cycle in Australia, such as fuel enrichment, fabrication and reprocessing, along with the costs and
benefits associated with each step. The extent and circumstances in which nuclear energy could in the longer term be economically competitive in Australia with other existing electricity generation technologies, including any implications this would have for the national electricity market. The current state of nuclear energy research and development in Australia and the capacity for Australia to make a significantly greater contribution to international nuclear science.

Environment issues

The extent to which nuclear energy will make a contribution to the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The extent to which nuclear energy could contribute to the mix of emerging energy technologies in Australia.

Health, safety and proliferation issues

The potential of ‘next generation’ nuclear energy technologies to meet safety, waste and proliferation concerns.
The waste processing and storage issues associated with nuclear energy and current world’s best practice. The security implications relating to nuclear energy. The health and safety implications relating to nuclear energy.


UCIL exploring uranium ore in Chattisgarh, Rajasthan, Karnataka

PTI, Jamshedpur

5th June 2006

Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) is exploring uranium deposits in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Karnataka.

Besides Jharkhand, Meghalaya and Andhra Pradesh, deposits of the precious metal have been found in other parts of the country as well and these were at different stages of evaulation, UCIL chairman-cum-managing director Ramendra Gupta told newsmen here.

UCIL will invest roughly Rs 3,100 crore to open new mines and set up processing plants in Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Meghalaya.

Gupta said that the UCIL is investing Rs 650 crore in Jharkhand alone. Turamdih ore processing plant would be commissioned by December, 2006. Banduhurang, Bagjata and Mahuldih project of UCIL in Jharkhand are likely to be completed by the yer 2007, 2008 and 2010 respectively.

In Meghalaya the Kylleng-Pyndemsohiong-Mawthabah would start next year, he said. The road to the mining area has already been constructed and a clearance from the Environment Ministry is awaited.

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