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Discussion Topic 1, Changes in the uranium industry

2010 May 24

Changes in uranium industry technologies (such as the current use of the In-Situ Leaching (ISL) recovery process as the primary technology for extracting uranium) and their potential environmental impacts.

While 40 CFR Part 192 standards are applicable to any type of uranium or thorium extraction facility licensed by the NRC or its Agreement States, EPA originally wrote its current standards for conventional mills and mill tailings impoundments. Since publication of EPA’s original 40 CFR Part 192 regulations, ISL has become the principal means of uranium recovery in the United States. EPA is reviewing these standards to determine if the requirements are appropriate for ISL recovery, heap leaching, and co-mineral development technologies.

EPA is also evaluating the current standards because of the difference in the management of conventional and ISL facilities after their active lives. Conventional uranium mills and mill tailings impoundments are reclaimed, licensed, and maintained by the Department of Energy (DOE) in perpetuity. ISL recovery, heap-leach, and co-mineral development facilities are released for public and private use after they have been reclaimed.

In addition, we are looking to learn more about the operational history of current and previously licensed facilities.

We invite you to provide your thoughts on this topic.

Available Documents

The Library page provides recent EPA technical reports (2008) that describe activities and methods of uranium mining and milling, the wastes generated, potential human and environmental impacts, and reclamation methods, as well as regulatory and statutory background information. It also provides earlier EPA reports on uranium mining (1983, 1985, 1995), supporting background information documents, environmental regulatory impact documents for the original rule, and later updates of the regulation.

The NRC has published a final generic environmental impact statement for ISL facilities, which can be downloaded at:
ISL milling. Exit EPA Disclaimer

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Phil Egidi permalink
    September 23, 2010

    The need for vanadium will likely help conventional milling still be viable at times. The extra income from selling vanadium (which may occur at four to five times the amount of uranium in some ores) gives conventional milling a continued role from an economic standpoint. The environmental issues at conventional mills that are not at in-stu sites however, are significant and should be evaluated. For example, a conventional mill will be associated with mines, ore transport and storage, crushing, fine ore storage, and of course, tailings that will remain for ever. In-situ does not have any of those to deal with.

  2. bcourter permalink*
    October 25, 2010

    Your comment is appreciated. We understand that uranium can be associated with a wide variety of other valuable metals, all of which can add to the economic value of the ore which is processed at a mill. Under the provisions of UMTRCA in Section 206, EPA is charged with developing standards for “…protecting the public health, safety, and the environment from radiological and nonradiological hazards associated with the processing and with the possession, transfer, and disposal of byproduct material, …, at sites at which ores are processed primarily for their source material content or which are used for the disposal of such byproduct material.”

    While the scope of these standards cannot address the conventional mines, they do focus on all the activities associated with the conventional mills. In our review, we are determining if any hazards for practices at conventional mills need to be addressed further than they are in the current rule. Any additional thoughts on this matter would be helpful. The hazards associated with ISL/ISRs and heap leaching are also being examined in our review, as we state on this website.

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