Friday, August 6, 2010

Uranium pros, cons debated at UW forum / Forest fires burn near Sask. uranium mines

Uranium pros, cons debated at UW forum

By STEVE MCMANAMEN, News-Record Writer
Published: Thursday, August 5, 2010 12:26 PM MDT

Wyoming has been dealt another energy industry face card with uranium deposits around the state, but how that uranium card is played along with coal, wind, oil and gas will determine its lasting impacts on Wyoming.

That seemed to be the main consensus, if not the only consensus, at a University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources day-long forum Wednesday on the future of uranium production in Wyoming. The forum was well attended by uranium mining experts, top state regulators, environmental groups and state politicians with keen interest in the economic and environmental impact that more than a dozen potential uranium mines could have on Wyoming.

The Wyoming Legislature tasked the School of Energy Resources with developing a research program for uranium recovery and environmental impacts. The forum was part of the school’s effort to explore the benefits and risks of uranium mining and help the public learn more about it.

Industry representatives who spoke at the forum said the economic impacts of uranium mining could be significant for the state for decades.

Environmentalists said impacts to the environment from in-situ uranium mines could be significant for generations. In-situ uranium mining is a practice in which water and oxidizing chemicals are pumped down into sandstone with uranium deposits to leach uranium out of the rock, which is then pulled to the surface.

Those economic benefits could come at a significant environmental cost, according to Eric Molvar, a wildlife biologist with the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. He and other environmental group representatives were a minority during the forum, but made their concerns known.

Ground water impacts from in-situ uranium mining continue to be a main concern. They worry that water containing leached uranium and other chemicals will migrate beyond in-situ uranium mine sites and into potential drinking water aquifers. Many of the mines are proposed in areas where many oil and gas wells have been drilled in the past, Molvar said. Some of those wells are old and may not have been plugged properly, allowing the contaminated water to escape.

The wildlife disturbance of the mines also was a concern, especially in sage grouse core areas of the state, where several mines are proposed.

“While these facilities are relatively compact, the loss of habitat function is likely to be 100 percent for any sensitive species,” Molvar said.

Molvar, along with Steve Jones, an attorney with the Wyoming Outdoor Council, asked if the risk of having sage grouse added to the endangered species list and impacting all of Wyoming’s energy and agriculture industries is worth the economic benefit of uranium mining.

Forest fires burn near Sask. uranium mines

The StarPhoenix August 5, 2010

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is monitoring a forest fire burning less than two kilometres from uranium milling and mining operations in northern Saskatchewan.

A large forest fire called the Park fire is burning in the Rabbit Lake and West Collins Bay area. It spans about 1,000 hectares.

The fires are in the area of Cameco Corp.'s Rabbit Lake and Areva Resources Inc.'s McClean Lake operations.

"Neither mine is in any immediate threat at this time," said Kim Connors, director of forest fire operations at the Provincial Fire Centre.

Crews have done preventative work with heavy equipment to protect the mines. There are also about a dozen firefighters monitoring the fire, said Connors.

Should the fire burn closer, he said the mines would be protected by a sprinkler system and firefighters could carry out back-burning operations, which are controlled burns to remove flammable materials from the path of the fire.

The CNSC regulates uranium mines and mills in Canada, and ensures safety precautions are taken to protect workers, the public and the environment.

There are now 530 fires burning in the province, 67 more than at this time last year and 55 higher than the 10-year average for Aug. 4.

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