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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Breaking The Cycle of Anti-nuclear Indoctrination -- Uranium Mine Tailings Argument



Above is a photo I took of a Toucan while I was in the Brazilian Cerrado. Not a birder, have no idea which species it is. I'm including because it brings me pleasure and as a reminder of why I blog about the environment.

Below is a collection of quotes from comments under a pro-nuclear article at Grist:
The "waste" problem from nuclear power isn't the "spent" fuel, it's the tailings piles from uranium mining ...Uranium tailings piles are even more toxic than coal or tar sands tailings piles, and they all leach into the environment ... The argument against coal ash is a more general environmental issue similar to some of the issues raised against nuclear. (mountains of radioactive tailings.) ...During early years of operation, mine tailings at this site were discharged onto a flat, low-lying area adjacent to the processing facility... 
Back in the day, long before the internet came along, uranium mine tailings were used (along with everything else they could think of) as an anti-nuclear argument. Many people are now indoctrinated with that misinformation and the internet is still full of articles echoing it, as indoctrination victims of indoctrination victims continue to carry the torch. That's how indoctrination works and why beliefs like creationism endure.

Bottom line?
  • Everything in your car, phone, and computer came from mines.
  • Uranium mining accounts for a tiny fraction of a single percent of all mining (1).
  • Uranium mining is no worse for the environment than the mining of any other metal (5).
  • Uranium is a heavy metal with similar toxicity to the (75 pounds of) lead found in in your car battery (3).
  • Uranium mine tailings are about as radioactive as your granite countertop, and less radioactive than the original ore (2) (5).
  • Old mine sites of all kinds are being cleaned up and returned either to a natural state or to a state safe to use for other purposes (4).
  • Environmental regulations now exist to prevent the repeat of environmentally damaging mining practices regardless of what is being mined (6).

This site does a nice job describing what mine or mill tailings are. This Wikipedia article on the environmental impact of mining doesn't even mention uranium.





Copper Mine


Footnote (1):

"Some" examples of materials that are extracted from the earth by mining include:

  •     Base metals
  •         Bauxite (Aluminium)
  •         Cassiterite (Tin)
  •         Chromite (Chromium)
  •         Cinnabar (Mercury)
  •         Cobaltite (Cobalt)
  •         Coltan (Niobium and Tantalum)
  •         Columbite (Niobium)
  •         Copper – see List of copper ores
  •         Ilmenite (Titanium)
  •         Iron ore (Iron)
  •         Galena (Lead)
  •         Magnesite (Magnesium)
  •         Malachite (Copper)
  •         Molybdenite (Molybdenum)
  •         Pentlandite (Nickel)
  •         Pyrolusite (Manganese)
  •         Scheelite (Tungsten)
  •         Sphalerite (Zinc)
  •         Tantalite (Tantalum)
  •         Wolframite (Tungsten)
  •     Baryte (Barium)
  •     Beryl (Beryllium and Gemstones)
  •     Clay
  •     Construction aggregates
  •         Gravel – see Gravel pit
  •         Sand – see Sand mining
  •     Diamonds
  •     Dolomite (ornamental stone, Magnesium)
  •     Fossil fuels
  •         Coal – see Coal mining
  •         Oil sands
  •         Oil shale – see Oil shale industry and Shale oil extraction
  •     Gemstones
  •     Kaolinite
  •     Limestone
  •     Phosphorite (Phosphate)
  •     Precious metals
  •         Gold – see Gold mining
  •         Silver – see Silver mining
  •         Platinum
  •     Potash
  •     Rare-earth elements
  •     Slate – see Slate industry
  •     Rock salt
  •     Stone – see Quarry
  •         List of decorative stones
  •     Sulfur
  •     Uranium ore
Footnote (2):

http://hps.org/documents/Radiation_granite_countertops.pdf

"Note: The emanation fraction for uranium mill tailings is nominally assumed to be approximately 0.2 (NRC 1980). Granite is more like a relatively tight rock. The emanation fraction for two different types of granite was estimated to be between 0.03 and 0.28 (Sakoda et al. 2008)."

Footnote (3): 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium

"...a lump of pure uranium would give off some gamma rays, but less than those from a lump of granite. Its alpha radioactivity in practical terms depends on whether it is as a lump (or in rock as ore), or as a dry powder. In the latter case the alpha radioactivity is a potential, though not major, hazard. It is also toxic chemically, being comparable with lead. Uranium metal is commonly handled with gloves as a sufficient precaution. Uranium concentrate is handled and contained so as to ensure that people do not inhale or ingest it."



Uranium

Footnote (4):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mine_reclamation

https://www.epa.gov/superfund/abandoned-mine-lands



Reclaimed Uranium Mine

Footnote (5):

http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/mining-of-uranium/environmental-aspects-of-uranium-mining.aspx

"... uranium mining is much the same as any other mining. Projects must have environmental approvals prior to commencing, and must comply with all environmental, safety and occupational health conditions applicable. Increasingly, these are governed by international standards, with external audits.

 Once approved, open pits or shafts and drives are dug, waste rock and overburden is placed in engineered dumps. Tailings from the ore processing must be placed in engineered dams or underground. Finally the whole site must be rehabilitated at the end of the project. Meanwhile air and water pollution must be avoided.

 These processes are common to all metalliferous mining, and are well recognised and understood.

 The balance becomes tailings, and at this point has about 86% of its original intrinsic radioactivity. However, with the removal of most U-238, the following two short-lived decay products (Th-234 & Pa-234) soon disappear, leaving the tailings with a little over 70% of the radio-activity of the original ore after several months
."


Footnote (6):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surface_Mining_Control_and_Reclamation_Act_of_1977






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