Abandoned uranium mine, AREVA, bushfires, Cameco, Crow Butte hearing, Crow Butte Uranium mine, dangers of nuclear, environment, evacuation, Firefighters, Forest Fires, forestry workers, In Situ Leach, in situ leach uranium mining, ISL, ISR, MacArthur Lake Uranium Mine, nuclear energy chain, nuclear fuel chain, Rabbit Lake Uranium Mine, radioactive releases, Risks of Nuclear Energy, Saskatchewan, uranium mining, wildfires, wildland fires
Wildfires and uranium mining make a bad mix, as do all parts of the nuclear energy chain. Cameco’s Crow Butte In Situ Leach (ISL) Mine in Nebraska had to be evacuated in 2012, as did personnel from their Rabbit Lake, Saskatchewan operation in 2012, and the MacArthur Lake Mine in 2002, due to wildfires. Shipments of uranium were stopped, a few weeks ago, from Cameco-Areva’s Saskatchewan uranium mines due to wildfires.
Evaporation Pond Crow Butte ISL Uranium Mine
Crow Butte ISL (ISR) Uranium Mine in Nebraska “ordering an evacuation of the mine site due to threatening wildfire to the east of the mine… The wildfires did not enter the licensed area and as a result there were no releases to the environment.” http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1226/ML12268A060.pdf This implies that if the wildfires had entered the licensed area then there could have been radioactive releases to the environment. So too does evacuation of the site. Did anyone stay on site to protect it from fire?
2012: “July, personnel evacuated from the Rabbit Lake operation in northern Saskatchewan due to forest fire activity.” http://www.wise-uranium.org/uissr12.html
Cameco’s “Rabbit Lake is the second largest uranium milling facility in the western world, and is the longest operating uranium production facility in Saskatchewan.”
In 2002 “McArthur River mine threatened by forest fire: On June 26, 2002, a forest fire came into close proximity of the McArthur River uranium mine site. The mine’s airport was shut down, and 110 employees were evacuated to Key Lake. Approximately 60 people stayed on site to keep the plant operating and to fight the fire. On June 27, 2002, the fire had been progressing towards the site, but it slowed down in its progress.” (CNSC meeting transcript, June 27, 2002 PDF, p. 19-20) http://www.wise-uranium.org/umopcdn.html
“The McArthur River Uranium Mine, in northern Saskatchewan, Canada, is the world’s largest high-grade uranium deposit“. It is 70% owned by Cameco and 30% by Areva: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McArthur_River_uranium_mine
A few weeks ago: “Sask. uranium giant Cameco suspends shipments because of fires CEO Tim Gitzel says one in 10 people displaced works for Cameco” CBC News Posted: Jul 09, 2015 8:46 AM CT Last Updated: Jul 09, 2015 8:46 AM CT http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/sask-uranium-giant-cameco-suspends-shipments-because-of-fires-1.3144686
“Mining giants Cameco and Areva have had to stop shipping uranium from their northern operations as highways and airstrips are periodically closed by smoke and flame.” From “Officials say mining sector in Saskatchewan being affected by wildfires/ Mines suspending operations as fires rage through province” July 16, 2015 by The Canadian Press http://nuclear-news.net/2015/07/11/uranium-shipments-suspended-by-cameco-areva-due-to-saskatchewan-fires/
“‘Unprecedented’ wildfires force out 13,000 Sask. evacuees Biggest ever exodus of its kind in Saskatchewan, Red Cross says” CBC News Posted: Jul 06, 2015 7:56 AM CT Last Updated: Jul 07, 2015 8:04 AM CT This was the situation at the La Ronge airport on the weekend. (Prince Albert Fire Department/Twitter)” https://mobile.twitter.com/pafirefighters
(These cases are given as examples. There are most probably more cases of wildfires impacting operating uranium mines than these.)
Old Uranium Mines are also a Risk
From a US government web site:
“Abandoned uranium mines exist on both BLM and Forest Service lands and interagency Wildland Firefighters maybe required to fight fires in these areas. General knowledge and understanding of potential radiation exposure on these sites is necessary for the fire community to make valid risk assessments during fire activities…
Most uranium ore is mined in either open pit or underground mines1. In the early years of the atomic era, up until the 1960’s, uranium was predominantly mined in open pit mines from ore deposits located near the surface. The uranium content of the ore is often between only 0.1% and 0.2%, and consequently, large amounts of ore have to be mined to get at the uranium. High walls, exposed radioactive lignite beds and mine spoils were left exposed after the open pit mining activity was done, and open pit mining operations produced great amounts of waste rock (tailings) from overburden. These tailing piles often contain elevated concentrations of “Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material” (NORM) in comparison to normal rock… The risks of not fighting the fire because of some potential radiation NORM exposure may be much higher than fighting the fire. The economic and environmental benefits warrant action. Fighting wildland fires in or around uranium mine areas should be limited to operational purposes and it is advised that sleeping and eating areas be located away from these sites…. Wildland firefighters should not be classified as radiation workers and therefore are not covered by the occupational dose limit. A prudent conservative standard to apply to the firefighting community would be the use of the 100 mrem/yr allowable for the general public, in conjunction with the 2 mrem/hr as the maximum exposure rate.” http://www.nifc.gov/PUBLICATIONS/redbook/doc/RadiationDocument.pdf (100 mrem is 1 mSv and, according to the US government’s BEIR report, over a lifetime leads to around a 1% or higher excess risk of a life-shortening cancer (1,000 per 100,000).
Canadian Wildland Fire Information System
(Maps showing current and historic status).
Hearing soon on Cameco’s Crow Butte Mine: “These contentions generally challenge the adequacy of (1) the evaluation and protection of historical and cultural resources on the site, and (2) the agency’s analysis of the project’s impacts on surface water, groundwater, and the ecosystem of the surrounding area…
The hearing will commence on Monday, August 24, 2015, at 9:30 a.m., MDT and continue daily through Friday, August 28, 2014 at 6:00 p.m., MDT, unless the parties conclude their cases earlier. The evidentiary hearing will take place at the: Crawford Community Center, 1005 1st Street, Crawford, Nebraska 69339.”
“Crow Butte Resources, Inc. (North Trend Expansion Project); Notice of Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Reconstitution A Notice by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on 04/21/2015”
USDA image: “Elk Bath” – A wildfire in the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana, United States Date 6 August 2000, taken by John McColgan, employed as a fire behavior analyst at the Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture” https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Deerfire_high_res_edit.jpg