Week 3 - Exploration, Extraction and Milling

Given current exploration and mining practices, what are the lessons for the current management of environmental impacts which should be learned from past exploration and mining practices?


  1. The topic of nuclear waste storage has been extensively studied recently in Australia, and documented in the World Nuclear Assn. Information Library , (WNAIL) .

    Issues surrounding new requirements for nuclear waste storage in South Australia, arising from the work of the SA NFCRC, can be profitably informed by published information in the studies and practices in other countries, also documented in the WNAIL.

  2. Much can be learned from the thousands of resulting compensation claims made by miners, millers, ore transportation workers and their living relatives for harm caused by radiological or chemical exposure in the USA. Claims were paid out under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. More detailed info is available here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation_Exposure_Compensation_Act

    It would be reassuring for all Australians to know that occupational exposure issues for modern nuclear industrial workers has improved measurably since the Radium Hill worker study demonstrated increased incidence of lung cancer among uranium mining workers in South Australia. That study was completed in 1987, with several publications following in the early 1990s. Poor ventilation and the inhalation of Radon gas were determined to be key contributing factors to cancer development.

    The only way to empirically demonstrate that conditions for uranium mining, milling and transportation workers have improved since is to conduct epidemiology studies of worker cohorts from both Olympic Dam and Ranger uranium mines.

    Will the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission mandate such studies, and ensure their independence and rigor?

  3. dan brings up a good point. The 1989 report “Wayward governance: illegality and it’s control in the public sector” by P N Grabowsky, published by the Australian Institute of Criminology, details the lack of proper care taken by PM R.G. Menzies and ANU’s Sir John Titterton, to protect Australian residents adequately during the British nuclear tests.

    Today, workers and others who visit areas with above normal nuclear radiation exposure are generally required to wear radiation detecting badges, and are kept away from these areas once their badges show an increase in total exposure to a critical level well below the threshold of serious concern. In this way the safety of all involved personnel can be monitored and safeguarded.

    It should be noted that in some areas critical levels of Radon can develop in the underground levels of buildings far away from any mining and refining operations, due to natural levels of Radon in the soil where these buildings are located. Such buildings can generally be made safe by adequate ventilation.

  4. On the original topic of this section: Waste, the figure below shows the much lower nuclear waste from a Uranium Powered Reactor, and a Thorium Powered Reactor:

    See: Figure 3. Comparison of Fuel and Waste Quantities from a 1GW LFTR and 1GW LWR.
    Image: Hargraves & Moir. from the “Report for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Thorium Energy” Thorium-Fuelled Molten Salt Reactors. by The Weinberg Foundation, June 2013.

    nb this post does not allow me to post the image here, but it can be inspected as Figure 3 in the url posted above. Basically, whereas a 1GW Uranium-235 Light Water Reactor produces 35 tons of spent fuel and waste, a 1 GW Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor produces only 1 ton of fission products. (See the cited report at the url for specific details.)

  5. Or you could work on energy technologies that do not have a sliding scale of speculatively less-worse ongoing cancer risk for generations of workers and communities.

    If we are going to critique past governments for lack of duty of care, our current knowledge and experience globally shows us that further investment in nuclear would be an ongoing generational breach of duty of care. The planet already has a radiation load which is breaking ecologies and communities. We have the skills and expertise to develop new renewable technologies without those risks. QED.

    Past and current experience shows us that we do not have the skills to denature the risks, particularly over the longer term. Developing technologies and tools to bioremediate existing spills is the only responsible investment we can take in nuclear technologies. The fact that no nuclear industries are active in Fukushima and Chernobyl working to capture radiation and save local species and communities speaks to the dislocation between generating the risk and standing by responsibilities for damage inherent in this industry. The ephemeral nature of corporate responsibility does not mix well with the generational nature of the damages caused. Short term profits causing regional economic and social collapse over generations are a poor investment.

    20% healthy birth rate with those children becoming ill subsequently.
    Nuclear centred societies will run out of able bodied citizens/workers, safe food, safe water, ecological context. Companies which are already complicit due to mining uranium and should step up to the plate to change this trajectory. Dramatically shift the dialogue and the investment in new sources of problems.

    We do have a good range of safe alternatives in SA. We need to develop use and export those safe alternatives so that the global radiation load does not cause universal collapse regardless of local choices.
    We can do that as ideas or as products and services. Primarily WE need the world to shift technologies so it is in our interests that they can adopt new technologies cheaply and contribute to innovation so avoiding patenting constructive technologies would be useful. We need a broad based fast innovative curve on safe renewable technologies to avoid ecological collapse and climate change.

    We could use the chemical and materials knowledge of the mining sector to shift to a safer climate but nuclear is not the answer we need. We could ‘mine’ the plastic gyres and the waters of the Pacific for radiation, we need to capture methane, cesium, other toxins, released into the environment from destructive fracking practices. We need to capture methane released in the arctic. We need to lower the ocean temperatures and balance ph. Plant trees and seagrass. There are many desperately needed ecological shifts we need. There may be less need for traditional mining as we have most of the materials we need already in play above the ground and need to be smarter about recycling and developing technologies with non-contended resources which can be recycled easily and safely.

  6. Extraction, exploration and mining always entails the irreversible usage of limited natural resources, including those providing the energy, This is always an unsustainable process. The time scale, of course, varies. Australia is better off than most countries in that regard but that does not alter the principle that problems will occur in the near future. For example, how will these activities be carried out when the supply of liquid fuels used by land, sea and air transport dries in the near future.