Uranium mining is one of the most regulated and safest forms of mining in the world, but remains controversial, principally because of environmental and health impacts associated with the early years of uranium mining, according to a new report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Nuclear Energy Agency.
The NEA said the report aims to “dispel some of the myths, fears and misconceptions” about uranium mining by providing an overview of how “leading practice” mining can significantly reduce the impact of mining compared to the early period.
It says negative public perceptions of uranium mining are largely based on the adverse health and environmental impacts of outdated past practices used when uranium mining was undertaken for military purposes. The driving force, as in all types of mining at the time, was maximising production, with little regard for health, safety and the environment.
The report says governments, industry, regulatory agencies and the public should work together to make sure that leading practice uranium mining becomes normal practice.
For countries considering uranium mining for the first time, all “life cycle components” should be established before work begins. Those components include the design of the mine through to rehabilitation and transfer of rehabilitated areas once mining is finished.
The report says uranium producers should be open and transparent about their operations in order to provide the information necessary to evaluate practices.
The NEA said those purchasing uranium should ensure that uranium is preferentially purchased from producers using leading practices.
Leading practice uranium mining includes repeated opportunities for public consultation throughout the life of a mining facility, the report says.
The report says nuclear power plants generate “significant amounts of electricity with life cycle carbon emissions that are as low as renewable energy sources”.
It notes that with over 430 reactors operational worldwide at the end of 2013, more than 70 under construction and many more under consideration, providing fuel for these long-lived facilities will be essential for the uninterrupted generation of significant amounts of baseload electricity for decades to come.