Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Uranium Mining and Nuclear Power

With all the debate on nuclear energy and whether it is good for climate change, etc. The problem is that the discuss is too narrowly focused. What is usually neglected is nuclear waste and other related issues.

What is almost never reported is the effects of uranium mining. Of course natural uranium is radioactive. Further is an alpha emitter, which means that if the uranium either gets into the water supply or is released as a dust it can do serious damage to people internally (This is the same concern as for depleted uranium shells). Of even more concern are the decay products of uranium - thorium, radium, etc. For every ton of uranium fuel there are 13,000 tons of tailings left, these contain most of the decay products. In addition, to being in the surroundings and the soil, the contaminants leach into the groundwater. [For more details on hazardous of nuclear industry see this presentation]

Highlighting this problem is a recent report on concerning uranium mining in Niger. Niger is fourth largest exporter of uranium. It is also ranked by the UN as the poorest country in the world. Many of the people living near the mines have complained about health problems. In addition the country appears to be getting no benefit from the mines. The mining company is European owned and so most of the profit is leaving the country.

Another example is in India. India has only one uranium mine, but does not export any uranium - using all of it being used in their own reactors (and nuclear bombs). A few years ago I heard a BBC report from the mining area. Serious health problems were occurring, yet very little was being done to help the local people. Environmental and health and safety practices were very poor, but the government refused to interfer siting "national security" issues. In addition information about the area was difficult to get.

The endpoint is that while we are looking and seeing no carbon dioxide coming out the front side of the nuclear power plants; we are not looking at what is coming out the backend.

Friday, December 14, 2007


Here I am going to put some updates to previous blogs (with links).

Navy Sonar - In my blog about using "national security" as an excuse for avoiding environmental or other laws, I mentioned the lawsuit against the US Navy to prevent them testing a new type of sonar ("active sonar"). Well, recently the appeals court ruled for the Navy, removing a lower court injunction against the test. Interesting is this line in the court's opinion "We are currently engaged in war, in two countries.". But Afganistan is landlocked and the people were fighting in Iraq have no submarines. Sounds like Navy misinformation has won out.

Climate Change and Human Rights - About six months ago I wrote a very short point about the Inuit in Alaska related to human rights violations:

An interesting twist to the global warming debate. But a very valid point. The Inuit in Alaska has filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights claiming the US government's inaction on global warming in violating their human rights.
The UN and some Pacific Island countries have also recently made statements equating human rights and global warming.

Sustainability - My last post was entitled "Is Sustainable Development Dead?". Some more examples:
Lao Dams - Laos has a couple of large dam projects. Here is a report on one of them. It says the expansion of Theun-Hinboun dam would cause "serious flooding, ruin fisheries, and displace thousands of people". Yet the fact is all most all of the electricity produced at these dams is not for Laos, but sold to neighboring countries.

Water Wastage in Delhi - With all the economic growth of India, it cannot even manage the domestic water supply in its capital. Interesting quote "There is no water shortage in Delhi, just inefficient management of water resources".

Water and Sanitation - The same article as the previous example points out that we will probably miss the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by one-half the number of people without basic sanitation and access to safe drinking water.

Biofuels - In two blogs I discussed the problems with biofuel. Another problem, shown recently by the Agronomy Society of America, is that with increased demand for biofuels some have identified corn residue as a source. However, this residue is vital for being used to replace soil organic matter and reducing soil erosion.