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.

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