Jobs. Taxes. Cost Myth

Modern uranium mining is safe and can protect the environment nearby, downstream

By KEVIN SCISSONS | Posted: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 9:00 am
Is modern uranium mining safe?
This is the fundamental question that I answered repeatedly and affirmatively recently as I toured Pittsylvania County and met with a variety of citizens and public officials.
Yes, uranium mining can be and has been done safely for decades in Canada, where I served as director of uranium mines and mills for the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
In fact, over the last few decades uranium mining and milling has been done safely in many places around the world including in the United States.
This trip was not my first contact with the issue of uranium mining. In the fall of 2011, I met with a delegation of Virginia legislators, farmers and other elected officials to share my 32 years of Canadian regulatory experience with them.
At the time, I was still in my official position with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, but soon after I retired I accepted an invitation to come to Virginia, and have been following this debate closely ever since.
On this recent trip, it was my pleasure to share with people in Pittsylvania County what we have learned in Canada and globally about the effective regulation of uranium mining — regulation that puts the health and safety of workers, the environment and the public first.
As I said many times while I was in Virginia, my perspective is one of a regulator. I am not an advocate for mining, but I am a passionate advocate for effective regulation that protects people and the environment.
It is within that context that I share the answers to questions most commonly asked by concerned Virginians:
Why did uranium mining cause so much concern in the past?
Unfortunately, the poor mining practices (uranium and other metals) of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s were undertaken with no regulatory controls or protection of people and the environment.
Those terrible impacts continued even into the early 1980’s when “the modern era” of uranium mining began.
Today, in Canada and around the world, the modern uranium mining industry is very different than it was in the 1960s; off-site impacts are no longer tolerated and have effectively been con-trolled for three decades.
There are many things that are much safer today than they were 20 or 30 years ago, from cars and airplanes to surgery and other medical treatments. That trend has been the same with every industrial activity, including uranium mining.
Can uranium be mined in a climate like Virginia?
Based on our experience in Canada and internationally, yes, a modern uranium mine here can be designed to operate safely in your climate.
The precise answer will come when regulations are set and an application made. Our experience and results in Canada provide a good indicator that engineers and regulators in Virginia can also achieve these successful results.
In Canada uranium is mined safely in a harsh and challenging climate that includes land surrounded by thousands of lakes, a high ground water table, extreme cold temperatures and a spring melt that gives us an entire winter’s worth of precipitation to deal with all at once.
Can one little mistake or human error cause a catastrophic event at the site, like a release off site of the uranium tailings?
No, modern uranium mines are designed with the likelihood of human error in mind and employ multiple levels of contingency measures, fail-safe systems, detection systems, secondary containment systems, and controls to guard against them.
Though mistakes and human errors do occur, and valves or pipes might rupture, all those kinds of risks are addressed and controls put in place to minimize the impact and ensure the safety of workers, the public and the surrounding environment.
Is there a threat to our water supply either nearby or downstream as far away as Virginia Beach?
Based on my recent site visit of the Coles Hill area I feel very confident saying “no” to this question.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission operates much like the Canadian Nu-clear Safety Commission and they govern the milling process and the safe storage of the tailings.
Both agencies have very similar standards and requirements.
I foresee no circumstance under which any proposal would get approved by regulators that isn’t a safe, modern facility with below-grade tailings management, a multi-layered containment system, with seepage detection and groundwater monitoring.
In fact, it is difficult to imagine an operator proposing anything less in today’s world where the consequences and cost of environmental damage is so high and the technology and processes to avoid it so readily available.
These modern mining operations I refer to have a track record of success.
With the assistance of local community members, routine testing of the water, wildlife and vegetation surrounding our sites consistently shows that mining activities have not harmed the environment near these sites or anywhere downstream.
If you protect those closest to the site, you will by extension protect anyone farther away.
To go even further, peer-reviewed studies have shown that over the last 30 years, modern uranium mines and mills in Canada have had no adverse impacts on the health of local populations.
Our robust air monitoring programs show that there are no harmful off-site releases of radiation.
We have recorded no increased cancer rates or any other health problems in our uranium mining communities.
To learn more about the Canadian experience and read the studies, please go to the government website:
Will the workers be safe?
Yes. Today, uranium workers are exposed, on average, to less than 10 percent of our regulatory limit for radiation exposure.
In fact, most workers at the site will be exposed to more natural radiation from the earth, radon in their homes and medical procedures than they will receive working at the mine site.
In terms of worker general safety, our modern uranium mine workers have among the lowest workplace injuries of any other industrial industry in Canada.
Why is there so much fear about uranium mining?
The atmosphere in Canada about uranium mining in the 1980s was similar in some ways to what I’ve seen in Virginia.
It was only over many years of good strong regulatory control and the positive results it achieved that the public began to understand the truth about the safety and reliability of modern practices.
With persistent presentation of the facts, engagement with concerned people, peer-reviewed scientific reports, and monitoring results, we were able to establish an ongoing effective dialogue with concerned citizens, including our First Nations people who all wanted the truth.
As a result, for the last number of years the people of Saskatchewan gave a positive feedback rating of 80 percent in their support of our modern uranium mining operations.
We have enjoyed economic opportunity and environ-mental stewardship at the same time.
Our success in Canada has demonstrated to an international audience the benefits of a strong regulatory infrastructure to license and assure compliance of a modern uranium mining facility.
Kevin Scissons, now retired, is the former director of the Uranium Mines and Mills Division of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
Scissons has also served as a consultant to the International Atomic Energy Agency on drafting international model regulations for uranium mining and milling and developing and delivering a training course for uranium mine regulators, plus other international consultations concerning regulatory approaches to health, safety and the environment.




Radon emission exceeds standard at Tailings Cell 2 of White Mesa mill

The 2012 Annual Compliance Report external link for the emission of radon from the White Mesa Mill tailings impoundments reported that the radon flux for the 66-acre [27 ha] Cell 2 exceeded the standard in 2012. The Cell 2 emission of radon is 1.59 times the 20 pico Curie per square meter per second (pCi/m2/sec) [0.74 Bq/m2/sec] requirement for a tailings impoundment that exceeds 40 acres. Energy Fuels Resources Inc. (EFR) concluded that the increase in radon-222 flux from Cell 2 was caused by dewatering, and was unavoidable. In 2011 and 2012 EFR adopted an acclelerated dewatering program, based on the Ground Water Discharge Permit requirements. Cell 2 must also be dewatered to settle the tailings before the placement of the final radon barrier. The mill is required to have reclamation milestones for the placement of the interim cover, dewatering, and placement of the final radon barrier, but does not.
Due to the exceedance from Cell 2, EFR will be required to measure and report the radon flux on a monthly basis, starting April 2013.
The radon emissions will continue to increase during the dewatering process, which will take several years. EFR estimates that the radon emission levels will reach equilibrium, due to the depth of the tailings. Placement of additional fill will reduce the radon emissions. EFR estimates that the addition 1 foot to the interim cover reduce the average flux to within the standard, based on the estimated flux over the next year. EFR has proposed test plots with 1 foot of fill to determine if it will bring the emissions below the standard. If the tests are successful, the propose to add 1 foot of fill to the existing cover, to be completed by mid-2014.
They suggest this, even though they estimate that it will take 2 feet of fill to to reduce surface radon flux to below 20 pCi/m2
/sec, regardless of the depth of dewatered tails. (Uranium Watch June 8, 2013)

Greed is Uranium mining purpose, not protecting the workers:
More worker health and safety violations at La Sal mines: The January 2011 Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) inspections resulted in 5 worker health and safety violations at the Pandora Mine for Reliance Resources LLC and 6 violations at the Beaver Shaft for Denison Mines (USA) Corp. All MSHA violations were associated with the failure of the mine operators to properly protect the workers from exposure to radon daughters (short lived, highly radioactive particulates from the decay of radon) in the mines.
Both Denison Mines and Reliance Resources were cited for exposure of workers to air with concentrations of radon daughters exceeding 1.0 working level (WL) in active workings and for the failure of workers to wear respirators in areas where the radon daughters exceed 1.0 WL. Reliance Resources was also cited for improper ventilation, not posting inactive workings where radon daughter concentrations are about 1.0 WL, and failure to calculate and record complete individual exposures in active working areas with radon daughter concentrations are more than .03 WL. This followed an inspection of December 20 when Denison was fined $6,000 for exposure of workers to radon daughters above the acceptable level, improper ventilation, and failure to calculate and document worker exposure to radon daughters, or progeny.
At the beginning of December, Denison was citied for 12 other violations, some for the same violations that Reliance Resources was cited for after Hunter Diehl was killed at the Pandora Mine 2010. Denison failed to correct hazardous conditions associated with scaling and support and failed to have a competent person examine each working place at least once each shift for conditions that may adversely affect safety or health.

Section 10Initial certification requirements
Section 20Examination requirements
Section 30Reciprocity requirements
Section 40Renewal requirements
Section 50Underground foreman
Section 60Surface foreman
Section 70Surface foreman, open pit (not applicable to drilling and blasting activities)
Section 75Cement plant examiner
Section 80Surface blaster
Section 90Underground mining blaster
Section 100Mineral mining electrician (electrical repairman)
Section 110Mine inspector
Section 120General mineral miner


4VAC25-35-10. Initial certification requirements
 Applicants shall fulfill the requirements of 4VAC25-35-10 and accumulate the required years of experience within five years of taking the examination or start the process over including payment of fee.
4VAC25-35-20. Examination requirements.
A. All applicants for certification shall take a written examination except candidates for the general mineral miner certification and electrical certification applicants who hold a journeyman card

Statutory Authority

§ 45.1-161.292:19 of the Code of Virginia

4VAC25-35-30. Reciprocity requirements.

Reciprocity shall be available for certified persons in other states as provided for in § 45.1-161.292:24 of the Code of Virginia. Applicants for reciprocity must submit proof of current certification, examination grades, and documentation of equivalent work experience for review and approval by the department.

4VAC25-35-50. Underground foreman.
A. Applicants for certification as an underground foreman shall possess five years mining experience at an underground mineral mine or equivalent work experience approved by DMM.
B. Applicants may be given three years credit for a surface foreman certificate or bachelor's degree in mining engineering, mining technology, civil engineering or geology, or two years credit for an associate's degree in mining technology or civil technology.
C. Applicants shall possess a valid first aid certificate which represents completion of an approved first aid course.
Statutory Authority
§ 45.1-161.292:19 of the Code of Virginia

4VAC25-35-90. Underground mining blaster.
A. Underground mining blaster applicants shall possess two years of work experience in an underground mine with at least one year handling and using explosives underground or possess equivalent work experience approved by DMM.
B. Applicants shall possess a valid MSHA 5000-23 form showing training in first aid.
Statutory Authority
§ 45.1-161.292:19 of the Code of Virginia.
4VAC25-35-100. Mineral mining electrician (electrical repairman).
A. Applicants for certification as a mineral mining electrician shall possess work experience as demonstrated by a valid journeyman electrical certification issued by the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation, Tradesmen Section or as approved by DMM as equivalent to that required for a journeyman certification.
B. Applicants shall submit documentation of training as required by 30 CFR Part 46 or 30 CFR Part 48 or provide evidence of their knowledge of safe working practices on the mine site as approved by DMM.
Statutory Authority
§ 45.1-161.292:19 of the Code of Virginia
4VAC25-35-120. General mineral miner.
A. As set forth in § 45.1-161.292:28 of the Code of Virginia, miners commencing work after January 1, 1997, shall have a general mineral miner certification. For the purposes of these regulations, "commencing work" means after employment but before beginning job duties. Persons excluded from the general mineral miner certification are those involved in delivery, office work, maintenance, service and construction work, other than the extraction and processing of minerals, who are contracted by the mine operator. Hazard training as required by 30 CFR Part 46 or 30 CFR Part 48 shall be provided to these persons.
B. Applicants shall complete certification training in first aid and mineral mining regulations and law which is conducted by a training instructor approved by DMM, a certified MSHA instructor, or a certified mine foreman. Training shall include the following topics, subtopics and practical applications:
1. First aid training shall convey a knowledge of first aid practices including identification of trauma symptoms, recognition and treatment of external and internal bleeding, shock, fractures, and exposure to extreme heat or cold. Training shall include a demonstration of skills or passing a written examination, as evidenced by the instructor certification submitted in a form acceptable to the division.
2. Law and regulation training shall convey highlights of the mineral mine safety laws of Virginia and the safety and health regulations of Virginia. Specifically, information shall be provided on miner responsibilities and accountability, certification requirements, violations, penalties, appeals and reporting violations to DMM. Training shall include a demonstration of skills or passing a written examination, as evidenced by the instructor certification submitted in a form acceptable to the division.
C. The trainer will certify to the department that the training and demonstrations required by § 45.1-161.292:28 B of the Code of Virginia and this section have occurred.
D. Applicants who hold a valid first aid card or certificate as noted in 4VAC25-35-10 shall be considered to have met the first aid requirements.
Statutory Authority
§ 45.1-161.292:19 of the Code of Virginia

30 CFR § 57.5038
Annual exposure limits.
No person shall be permitted to receive an exposure in excess of 4 WLM in any calendar year


MSHA's Occupational Illness and Injury Prevention Program

Health Topic

"Radon Daughter Measurement"

Your Health Comes First!

Radon is a radioactive gas associated with uranium mining and with several other underground mining industries. Radon daughters are fine solid particles which result from the radioactive decay of radon gas, and are hazardous because of the alpha radiation, or alpha particles, which they emit. When radon daughters are breathed and deposited in the lungs, the alpha radiation can harm sensitive lung tissue, and may cause lung cancer after years of exposure. The hazard of breathing air contaminated with radon daughters is especially serious because both radon gas and radon daughters are invisible and odorless. Beta and gamma radiation are also associated with the radioactive decay of radon gas, but ordinarily are not present in sufficient quantities to cause harm.

Radon gas diffuses into the mine atmosphere through rock and ground water. When rock such as uranium-bearing rock is broken, the surface area is greatly increased and emission of radon gas increases also. Agitation of ground water in underground mines can be a significant source of radon gas and the associated radon daughters.

Radon daughter particles have a tendency to attach themselvesto airborne particles such as dust, smoke, and water mist. These particles are fine enough to reach the deepest parts of the lungs when inhaled, and the alpha radiation emitted can do much damage.

For this reason, smoking is discouraged where radon gas is present. Regulations prohibit smoking in areas of a mine where monitoring of radon daughters is required.

The most effective control measure for radon gas and radon daughters is dilution and removal by means of ventilation. By quickly removing radon gas from work areas by ventilation, there will be less generation of radon daughters in the workplace. Primary air used for such ventilation should be as contaminant-free as possible of radon daughters. Special design practices are required for effectiveness to be assured.

Sampling for radon daughters involves the use of personal sampling pumps and special filters, through which air is drawn at a known rate. Radon daughters are collected on the filter, and the filter is evaluated by measurement of alpha radiation with a radiation counting device.

The use of personal respiratory protection against radon daughters must be limited to temporary situations where engineering controls have not been developed, or for maintenance and investigative work. For exposures up to 10 working levels (WL), proper filter-type respirators are available. Where concentrations of radon daughters exceed 10 WL, supplied-air respirators of other devices for protection against radon gas as well as radon daughters are required.
If you have any questions about this or any other occupational health matter, feel free to ask us. Our job is protecting your health.


Mine Safety and Health Administration
Metal and Nonmetal Health Division
1100 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, Virginia 22209-3939

Phone: (202) 693-9630

Subpart B: Underground Uranium Mines  Subpart B protects the public and the environment from the radon-222 emissions to the ambient air from underground uranium mines. It sets a limit on the emission of radon-222 that ensures that no member of the public in any year receives an effective dose equivalent of more than 10 mrem/year.    there any legal limits for radiation exposure?: Another way to help put a radiological emergency into perspective is to be aware of the radiation exposure limits for people who work with and around radioactive materials full time, as shown in the following table:
Worker CategoryLegal Limit
18-year old male5 rem/year
Pregnant woman500 millirem (mrem) during pregnancy

Radiation Source Dose (millirems)
Chest x-ray10
Cosmic rays31 (annually)
Human body39 (annually)
Household radon200 annually
Cross-country airplane flight5

Uranium hits seven-year low

Ana Komnenic | June 12, 2013


The Uranium spot price fell Tuesday to US$39.75 U3O8, plunging below $40.00 for the first time since March 2006.
The long-term price remains unchanged at US$57.00.
The worst performer in the past week was Crosshair Energy Corp (NYSEMKT:CXZ), which announced last week that it will delist on the NYSE.

Uranium mines to stay closed:  ‘‘Economically, it seemed to be more feasible to me to do a reclamation plan

Posted: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 4:00 am
MONTROSE — A Colorado lawmaker plans to close his four idle uranium mines and return the sites to premining conditions.
Three of the mines are close to the Dolores River at Slick Rock. The fourth overlooks Paradox Valley in Montrose County.
The move by Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, comes as state regulators are requiring active and inactive mines to submit detailed environmental protection plans or shut down and submit cleanup plans.
‘‘Economically, it seemed to be more feasible to me to do a reclamation plan. It was strictly a matter of economics,’’ Coram said.
The mines have seldom operated since the early 1980s. Coram's company, Gold Eagle Mining Inc., bought them in 1998.

Rössing Uranium fights on for survival INFORMANTE  BY FLORIS STEENKAMP   12 JUNE 2013   Rio Tinto Rössing Uranium incurred an operational loss of N$474 million in 2012, some N$10 million more than the losses the mine made in 2011
Uranium mines globally continues to operate in adverse economic conditions…… Since Japan and many other nations started to shy away from nuclear power generation as the future of clean energy, uranium market prices plummeted by more than 36%.
Uranium Study:

Final Report Commonwealth of Virginia
Department of Health. Department of Environmental Quality. Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy

Date: October, 2012

MSHA mine worker safety regulations 30 CFR 57.5037

NRC does not regulate radiological exposure for uranium mine workers, though it does regulate and enforce protective standards for occupational exposures for uranium mill workers via the requirements in 10 CFR 20. However, there are inconsistencies between how occupational radiation exposure is regulated between MSHA and NRC

statutory point for consideration is a recommendation that DMME adopt by reference to the existing VDH standards, which already incorporate the 10 CFR 20 standards that are applicable to uranium milling

VDH, DMME should harmonize the worker safety standards for mining with the NRC mill regulations, by requiring summation of doses for radon progeny, direct radiation, and inhalation of radionuclides in airborne particulate matter, and by limiting the total effective dose equivalent to 5 rem per year.

Also in cooperation with the VDH, DMME should develop regulations that would limit radon decay product exposure to underground miners to 1 working level month (WLM) per year in accordance with NIOSH recommendations (NIOSH, 1987)

Utah staffing levels were extracted from the organization chart of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality Division of Radiation Control (

The DRH has estimated that an additional 2.5 full-time employees (FTE) and $155,000 annually would be necessary if the mining moratorium were lifted. If Virginia were to become an Agreement State for uranium, an estimated 8 FTEs and additional annual budget of $1,000,000 would be required.

This increase is expected whether or not Virginia were to become an Agreement State for uranium, and would include the following.

 VDH ODW has estimated it would need an additional 0.5 FTE and $40,000 of additional annual funding.

 VDH OEpi has estimated it would need an additional 4 FTEs and $ 405,000 annual funding for epidemiologists, health educators and data managers.

 VDH OEHS has estimated it would need an additional 6 FTEs, and approximately $1.9M annual funding for additional annual sampling and analyses of private water wells, assuming that VDH would bear the costs of sampling and analyses.

Final Report for the Business Attitude Survey Regarding Uranium Mining in Pittsylvania County, VA
The findings of the VCU study are consistent with those of the Business Attitude Survey in the following areas:

More than seven out of ten (72.5%) of the respondents were familiar with the ban on uranium mining, which is consistent with business leaders’ awareness (60.9%).

Just over half (53%) of the respondents would not allow uranium mining in the Danville City/Pittsylvania County area, consistent with business leaders’ opinion (50.3%).

Just over half respondents in this study recognize the economic benefits of uranium mining for the area (54%), which is consistent with the average business leaders’ impression.

Sixty-three percent say it would pose a health risk for the residents of Danville City/Pittsylvania County, and negatively impact cattle, dairy, and crop prices, which is consisted with the concerns of the average respondent from the business leader survey.

Overall, business leaders had the same concerns and opinions as Virginia residents overall, and were aware of both the pros and cons of mining and milling in the Commonwealth.

5.4 Conclusions
Overall, there was no clear consensus for or against lifting the ban on uranium mining by Virginia business leaders. Slightly more than one half were against lifting the ban, with four out of ten being in favor of lifting the ban. Overall, regardless of business location, size, or type; business leaders would benefit from more accessible information on the topic that is seen as unbiased and presents both the pros and cons of mining. Open communication and easy to access education is key to moving forward. The need for clear, unbiased and accessible information provided a common thread through all the studies included in this report. In addition, all efforts to move forward should include a balanced approach between business growth and environmental protection.

2012 Domestic Uranium Production Report

Total employment in the U.S. uranium production industry was 1,196 person-years in 2012, an increase of less than one percent from the 2011 total. Exploration employment was 161 person-years, a 23 percent decrease compared with 2011. Milling and processing employment was 394 person-years in 2012, and decreased 6 percent from 2011. Uranium mining employment was 462 person-years, the same as in 2011, while reclamation employment increased 75 percent to 179 person-years from 2011 to 2012. Uranium production industry employment for 2012 was in 11 States: Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

Table 6. Employment in the U.S. uranium production industry by category, 2003-2012

person-years Year Exploration Mining Milling Processing Reclamation Total
2003 W W W W 117 321
2004 18 108 W W 121 420
2005 79 149 142 154 124 648
2006 188 121 W W 155 755
2007 375 378 107 216 155 1,231
2008 457 558 W W 154 1,563
2009 175 441 W W 162 1,096
2010 211 400 W W 125 1,073
2011 208 462 W W 102 1,191
2012 161 462 W W 179 1,196
W = Data withheld to avoid disclosure of individual company data.
Note: Totals may not equal sum of components because of independent rounding.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration: Form EIA-851A, "Domestic Uranium Production Report" (2003-2012).