Environment near a modern, highly productive uranium mine and mill

The McClean Lake uranium operation is one of the most productive uranium mines in the world. The above video offers a perspective on the operation and its low impact on the surrounding environment from the people who live and work at the facility.

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18 Responses to “Environment near a modern, highly productive uranium mine and mill”

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  1. Josh says:

    Activists point to uranium mining in the southwest US as a case against nuclear power. They forget a few important things however. They are:

    Mining standards in the 1950s (in some cases through to late 1970s) were low or non-existant.

    Ventilation was only introduced in the late 1960s.

    Mining in this area was largely to service the weapons program, as opposed to civilian purposes.

    The standards that are in place now ensure environmental responsibility, and that incidents like the Church Rock spill in 1979 are not repeated.

    Uranium mining creates productive jobs. In the Northern Territory, Australia, there are programs to provide indigenous people with employment opportunities in this sector. I am lucky enough to know two such individuals who are chemical engineers employed by ERA.

    All mining carries risks, to environment and health alike. Uranium mining seems to have less of an impact than many other forms of mining.

    Remediation of former mine sites appears to have been successful.

    • EL says:

      So I take it rumors that the mill was going to close were premature.

      http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/story/2009/12/16/sk-mill-closure-912.html

      Cigar Lake was originally intended to open in 2007, but currently has a start up date of date of late 2013. We’ll see if they’ve resolved any long term issues and challenges. Expanding the site before Cigar Lake is open and producing is a gamble. We’ll see how it turns out. Glad to hear there is such a positive sense of community and abundant opportunities for outdoor recreation among temporary workers at the site.

      Maybe some might want to travel to nearby Wollaston, where there really “IS” a sense of community, and a commitment to local land use and sustainable environmental practices, like the Navajo in the SW (including constitutionally protected rights to hunting, fishing, and trapping in the region).

      • Rod Adams says:

        @EL

        …sense of community, and a commitment to local land use and sustainable environmental practices, like the Navajo in the SW (including constitutionally protected rights to hunting, fishing, and trapping in the region).

        Is that the same Navajo tribe that is so committed to sustainable living that they host one of the dirtiest coal plants in the US and depend on its continued, unimproved operation for about 1000 jobs and 50% of the tribal income?

        http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/18/e-p-a-extends-deadline-for-navajo-plants-pollution-controls/?ref=science

        • Josh says:

          Thanks for sharing Rod, I was unaware that coal plants were in use in Navajo Territory. Even if pollution controls are put in place to reduce harmful emissions, there is still the sticky problem of large volumes of coal ash and sludge. Wouldn’t this do more harm to the environment than a uranium tailing spill? Shouldn’t Doug Brugge put more energy into tackling these problems than that of uranium mining?

        • Brian Mays says:

          Aww … come on, Rod. Those Navajo have been sustainably hunting, fishing, trapping, and coal mining their lands for centuries … er … no wait.

          I meant to say that they’ve been operating sustainable casinos for centuries. In fact, our word “blackjack” is taken from the old Navajo word for a person who is bad at math and has more money than he deserves. ;-)

          It seems that EL has fallen for the old “noble savage” myth.

        • EL says:

          Brian Mays wrote: “It seems that EL has fallen for the old “noble savage” myth.”

          No … I’ve lived on the Navajo Reservation [and in N. Saskatchewan too], not everyone speaks with a single voice, a lot of people still live traditional lives, and yes, they do get income from gaming, coal mining, and a small share from the power plant (and still have very high unemployment, budget shortfalls, and heavy reliance on federal funds). Tribal income from coal is 20%, not 50% (see below). Navajo’s don’t “own” their land, it’s held in trust by the Federal Government, many land use decisions have to go through BIA. You don’t think the Navajo have been fighting this coal plant for decades (with various degrees of success), and see better choices today in clean energy alternatives (“solar farms, ecotourism and microbusinesses”), and shutting down coal. And yes, there are even a few of the 173,000 that live on the Reservation who value a return to traditional culture, values, and practices?

          “At some point we have to wean ourselves,” Earl Tulley, a Navajo housing official, said of coal as he sat on the dirt floor of his family’s hogan, a traditional circular dwelling.

          Mr. Tulley, who is running for vice president of the Navajo Nation in the Nov. 2 election, represents a growing movement among Navajos that embraces environmental healing and greater reliance on the sun and wind, abundant resources on a 17 million-acre reservation spanning Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

          “We need to look at the bigger picture of sustainable development,” said Mr. Tulley, the first environmentalist to run on a Navajo presidential ticket …

          “We need to create our own businesses and control our destiny,” said Ben Shelly, the Navajo Nation vice president, who is now running for president against Lynda Lovejoy, a state senator in New Mexico and Mr. Tulley’s running mate.

          That message is gaining traction among Navajos who have reaped few benefits from coal or who feel that their health has suffered because of it …

          “It’s a new day for the Navajo people,” said Lori Goodman, an official with Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, a group founded 22 years ago by Mr. Tulley. “We can’t be trashing the land anymore.”

          Both presidential candidates in the Navajo election have made the pursuit of cleaner energy a campaign theme, but significant hurdles remain, including that Indian tribes, as sovereign entities, are not eligible for tax credits that help finance renewable energy projects elsewhere.

          • Brian Mays says:

            And I’ve lived in France, which I guess makes me French, or at least an expert in everything French by your reckoning.

            Bonjour! Can I get you a croissant or some cheese?

            Hey, I can quote random people whom I claim to represent too, if you really want to continue to play these silly games.

            I only with that I had lived at some point in China, so that I would qualify to comment on what the “sustainable” solar industry is doing to the environment there and what the common Chinese people think about it. I used to have a girlfriend who lived and worked in China. Is that close enough?

          • EL says:

            Brian Mays wrote: “And I’ve lived in France, which I guess makes me French, or at least an expert in everything French by your reckoning.

            Bonjour! Can I get you a croissant or some cheese?

            Hey, I can quote random people whom I claim to represent too, if you really want to continue to play these silly games.

            I only with that I had lived at some point in China, so that I would qualify to comment on what the “sustainable” solar industry is doing to the environment there and what the common Chinese people think about it. I used to have a girlfriend who lived and worked in China. Is that close enough?”

            Huh … silly games indeed.

            I’m a professor of anthropology, and my research is based in Saskatchewan. I’ve spent the last 20 years studying indigenous issues in Canada and the North. I became interested in nuclear and energy issues in general primarily because of uranium mining developments in Saskatchewan and Nunavut.

            If you’re looking to shut down discussion and minimize a person’s interest and background on a topic (when you know nothing about them) … go bother some of the other folks who post on nuclear topics elsewhere (and apparently have little idea what they are writing about). You’re barking up the wrong tree.

            You can debate reasonably and objectively about an issue (there is plenty to talk about), or partake in adolescent taunts and snide character attacks without knowing a single thing about a person. I don’t know why you always choose the later? Nobody is really all that interested in your small minded and self-satisfying banter (which you seem to offer with such glee and an abundance of careless and unselfconscious reflection). Are you inconsolable, as well as being a playground bully and rude to invite to a party?

            Rod has warned you to stay focused on the merits of the argument and on objective and substantive issues. This really isn’t such a difficult thing (it’s not like we’re trying to be brain surgeons, or anything). But this seems to be like pulling teeth with you? Do you take this seriously, or do you unselfconsciously reject this careful counsel as well, and any reasonable efforts to run the site in a way that encourages open and substantive dialogue (and from all sides of the energy debate). Geez … take a hint already, and stop waisting everyone else’s time.

          • Brian Mays says:

            EL – At least everyone knows my name. If I don’t know a single thing about you (including your name), that is your fault for not providing the information, not mine.

            If I am sarcastic at times, it’s probably because I’ve listened to too many professors of anthropology and other miscellaneous fields try to lecture me on stuff that I know and that they don’t have even a minimal understanding of. Their pompous, self-satisfied, and often aggressive attitudes really grate my nerves. It’s almost impossible to take them seriously, so I don’t even bother to try anymore.

            If you don’t like it, then perhaps a little humility would help, but keep this in mind: If you’re going to persist in pointing out motes, then you’ll have to excuse me while I point out the beams.

            Feel free to ignore me if you want, but if it’s a pity party that I’m invited to then I’m sorry, but I’m afraid that I’ll have to be rude and pass.

          • EL says:

            Brian Mays wrote: “At least everyone knows my name. If I don’t know a single thing about you (including your name), that is your fault for not providing the information, not mine.

            No … it’s just a relatively simple thing to have a meaningful and substantive debate (without having to be disagreeable).

            If we’re talking about mining, for example, I make a case for what I think are the challenges (and whether costs and benefits are adequately shared between developers and owners of a resource). And you make your case for addressing these challenges, best practices in environmental controls and remediation, worker safety, and sharing benefits and costs of development (equity stakes, royalties, tax revenues, employment benefits, etc.). We have an exchange, in other words, the information gets presented for others to decide, and we either agree with each other or we don’t. Not that hard (and perhaps even a little informative to others).

            Your playground taunts and sarcastic tone has one major purpose in mind (as best I can figure) … to shut down debate and discussion (and minimize the contribution of alternative views). And there are plenty of alternative views (you can rest assured of that)! Nobody on the receiving end needs to be blamed for this, or told it is their fault (and that they had it coming for not providing their name). You own that, entirely and completely, and the decision to be respectful towards others (regardless of whether they tell you their name or not) belongs entirely to you (and whether you wish to continue to seek the role of best bully of the group, or a kind of enforcer of a litmus test of pre-approved messaging on the site). Is all of the hyperbole and sarcastic aggression really worth it? Why not just try to be informative and “rationally critical” instead (and keep a level head in the process)?

            It’s not your site … and yes, a little humility is in order.

            Their pompous, self-satisfied, and often aggressive attitudes really grate my nerves. It’s almost impossible to take them seriously, so I don’t even bother to try anymore.

            Maybe you need to take a break. Or ask yourself the question why you are repeatedly subjecting yourself to such attitudes that “grate on your nerves in the first place.” Or do you wish to blame others for this as well?

        • EL says:

          Rod Adams wrote: “Is that the same Navajo tribe that is so committed to sustainable living that they host one of the dirtiest coal plants in the US”

          Opposition to Peabody coal leases and water withdrawals have been the source of a bitter half century long land dispute between Hopi and Navajo. It’s not the first time the government (or resource development interests) have pitted one group against another to get a more attractive deal for themselves. In this instance, below market royalties to Navajo for development of their own coal, exception from emissions controls by locating power plants on “domestic dependent” nations (with many local health impacts), and receiving an overgenerous price on water usage (resulting in loss of potable water and contamination of water sources in semi-arid region). The whole history is mired in bad deals, forceable relocations, illegality (lawyer for the Tribe was also representing Peabody coal), and bad outcomes … and both parities have been stuck in the courts ever since attempting to deal with the fallout. This is not a history that Navajo are fond of recounting or celebrating, and if a strong sense of community is a measure of success (this experiment was a dismal failure, and pitted Navajo against Navajo, and Navajo against Hopi in bitter generations long disputes).

          I found this interesting from Government Reform document: “Iverson claims that industry consultants told Navajo officials that nuclear power was “just around the corner” and soon coal would become “obsolete,” leaving the Navajo Nation’s window of opportunity on coal revenue returns short” (p. 30). Looks like they got to participate in the best of both possible development worlds: government negotiators and developers gearing up quickly up for a cold war and arms race with Russia, and the coal industry (hiring lawyers to play both sides) and looking to secure optimal royalty and water use agreements with BIA at the table acting as fiduciary for Native American land and resource interests. If Navajo have a “stubborn opposition to uranium mining” … some might say there is good reason for it.

  2. Andrew Jaremko says:

    Rod – thanks for this post (and all your others, too!) It’s worth looking at the mine on Google Maps just to see how small it is. Alberta’s coal mines, like the one at Genesee, aren’t nearly as tidy. Or productive.

    Josh – I agree with you about the impact. Even if it were the same impact per tonne of ore, it would be vastly smaller per petajoule (10^15 Joule) of energy content of the product. I’m tempted to make up a tee shirt saying “What part of a million times better don’t you understand?

  3. John T Tucker says:

    And this is the kinda thing that needs to be put out there more and people in industry shouldn’t be afraid to demand the cleanest and most advanced extraction techniques. Companies that cant provide it damage the chances of important technologies and should be forewarned they probably wont survive.

    Considering the energy harvested here for the footprint and Im sure there is still room for improvement and things that need to be addressed, there always is, but this, the work atmosphere at least, is wonderful mining and I dont feel the least bit bad about saying that.

    I would feel good about working there.

  4. Jason C says:

    It would be interesting to see some coal mines compared to this facility to get a sense of the difference. As mines go though, this did appear quite neat and clean.

  5. Lena Dahlin Klaar says:

    Isn’t it just wonderful that Areva miners in Canada can go canoing! But what about the miners in Nigeria? Down below you can see the local impact of Areva’s uranium mining in Nigeria. Uranium my friend is blowing in the wind and the local people can do absolutely nothing about it. Shame on Areva and their dirty business and their disregard for people in Nigeria. Nigeria is no longer a French colony and Areva needs to be reminded of this.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OBD2UEtryI

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