Reuters Environment NewsBy Frederic Niel
PARIS - France's national railway company, SNCF, said on Wednesday it was suspending nuclear waste shipments to a French reprocessing plant following a report that trains had been contaminated with radioactivity. An aide to Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said the premier had asked nuclear safety regulators for a full report by next week, and SNCF said it asked the nuclear safety board DSIN for advice on risks to staff before a meeting on Thursday of its safety committee.
"Pending DSIN's answer, SNCF, in agreement with the electric utility, Electricité de France (EDF), and the reprocessing firm, Cogema, has decided not to carry fresh shipments of irradiated fuel," it said in a statement.
SNCF also asked its own doctors to check there was no danger to its staff.
The La Hague reprocessing plant is a rallying point for anti-nuclear protesters who have often tried to stop convoys of nuclear waste getting in or out.
In comments published on Wednesday by the newspaper Liberation, Environment Minister Dominique Voynet, head of the Greens party, said containers and rail cars carrying nuclear waste from reactors in France, Germany and Switzerland had been contaminated.
"We do not yet have all the information needed to establish how serious the problem was," she said. But she added that first reports from DSIN indicated that many containers had been contaminated to levels that "far exceed norms".
The newspaper said traces of radioactive cobalt-60 and caesium-137 had been found at well above allowable levels on trains taking waste to La Hague, run by state company Cogema near the port of Cherbourg on the English Channel.
Cogema official Jean-Louis Ricaud told Reuters the company had found "hot spots" on about a third of last year's convoys to La Hague.
He said that this year, after a complaint to EDF, the contamination rate had fallen to about 15 percent of shipments.
The checks are performed at Valognes station, where containers are loaded onto trucks for the short journey to the plant.
Both EDF and the head of DSIN insisted there was no health risk.
"The norms have been exceeded, but they are very strict. There is no risk to health," said DSIN President Andre-Claude Lacoste.
"Our goal is to be completely open concerning these facts, which pose no risk to health," said EDF transport director Pierre Carlier.
Environmentalists are currently involved in a dispute with Cogema over whether radioactivity has seeped from the plant into the Channel.
Liberation's report came days after an independent French laboratory, CRII-RAD, said fallout from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster had caused dangerous radioactive contamination throughout the Alps.
The state-run Office of Protection against Ionising Rays (OPRI) said regular surveys had not produced any evidence of a health hazard from Chernobyl fallout.
Australian Gov't Press ReleaseCANBERRA - The Australian government on Wednesday said an environment assessment would be conducted on a possible alternative milling site for the proposed Jabiluka urnaium mine in the Northern Territory.
Energy Resources of Australia Ltd said the option of on-site milling had been put forward in recognition of some opposition from Aborigines to the processing of ore at the existing Ranger mine facilities nearby.
"The prefered milling option already has approval from the Commomwealth Government, as does the mine development," the company said.
Environment minister Robert Hill said in a statement that new assessment did not the affect approvals to operate either Jabiluka or Ranger given under the 1997 environmental impact study (EIS).
"There is no environmental impediment to these operations commencing subject to the strict environmental conditions specified," Hill said.
A public environment report (PER) was required for the on-site milling option, although Hill said information in the 1997 EIS should be sufficient to address a number of areas of the proposal and would not need to be re-examined in the PER.
ERA said it was preparing a PER for public comment and consideration by Hill.
Hill said it would then be released for public comment for four weeks, and a final decision on the alternative milling proposal would not be made until completion of the PER process.
The Jabiluka operation has recently been subject to anti-uranium demonstrations.
The Ottawa Citizen
SASKATOON -- Uranium mining giant Cameco Corp. announced yesterday it has signed a deal to buy additional stakes of uranium mining projects in Canada and the U.S. from a big German industrial group.
Cameco said it will buy Uranerz Exploration and Mining Ltd. of Saskatoon and Uranerz U.S.A. Inc. of Denver from their German parent, Uranerzbergbau GmbH, a company owned by a large German industrial group and that country's largest electrical utility.
The purchase price is $483 million in cash.
The deal gives Cameco an additional 33.33-per-cent interests in the Key Lake and Rabbit Lake uranium mines and a 27.9-per-cent interest in the McArthur River uranium project.
The transaction also includes at 57.69-per-cent interest in the Crow Butte uranium mine in Nebraska plus uranium and gold exploration properties in northern Saskatchewan, the United States and Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic in central Asia.
Cameco said the acquisition of the two German-owned companies will result in a 30-per-cent increase in the Canadian producer's uranium reserves, resources and production.
The transaction also brings the benefit of a more diversified customer base as a result of the portfolio of contracts that Cameco will assume, the company said in a release.
The deal is expected to close by late this summer, pending regulatory approvals.
"We are confident this acquisition represents an excellent investment of Cameco's financial resources," Cameco president Bernard Michel said in a release. "Cameco emerges with increased ownership in three premier uranium deposits, other significant assets and added flexibilities, all of which will play a critical role in the future development of our core business, uranium production."
With the purchase, Cameco will own 100 per cent of the Key Lake and Rabbit Lake uranium mines, formerly joint- venture properties in which the German group held a one-third interest and Cameco two-thirds.
The mines, located in northern Saskatchewan and operated by Cameco, produced a total of 26.1 million pounds of uranium last year.
The acquisition of the additional 27.92-per-cent interest in the McArthur River project brings Cameco's stake to nearly 84 per cent. The McArthur property now being developed in northern Saskatchewan is the world's largest high-grade uranium deposit, with about 417 million pounds in reserves, and is expected to begin production in the fall of 1999.
Cameco will also increase its stake in Crow Butte to 90 per cent, adding another 23 million pounds of uranium to its reserves.
The Ottawa Citizen
By Joanne Paulson,
Cogema Resources Inc. has been fined a total of $12,000 on two charges stemming from an accident at the McClean Lake uranium mine last summer.
Cogema entered guilty pleas in a Wollaston courtroom Wednesday. One charge was laid under the provincial Fisheries Act and one under spill control regulations.
The accident occurred in August 1997, when Cogema was killing fish in Sink Lake as part of an approved plan to turn the lake into a reservoir for treated mine effluent.
Most of the fish had already been taken out with nets. The rest were to be killed using rotenone, a chemical which causes fish to suffocate.
A university student employed as an environmental technologist turned a valve the wrong way, releasing the chemical into a spillway between Sink Lake and Vulture Lake.
The spill killed five northern pike and several thousand minnows in the delta area of Vulture Lake, according to Saskatchewan Environment and Resources Management (SERM).
Rotenone, a biological agent, ceases to be toxic to fish within about three days.
While SERM categorized the spill as "negligible," it was concerned the company did not follow operating procedures.
Cogema has since changed its operational procedures to prevent such errors in the future, senior vice-president Tim Gitzel said Wednesday.
The practice of using summer students has been stopped, environmental procedures are now documented, and employees have undergone training in the use of the valves.
John Schisler, director of the shield eco-region for SERM, said Cogema has addressed the issues that caused the incident.
"I certainly don't expect to see another."
By Chris Varcoe
The provincial and federal governments have given their approval to two new uranium mines in Saskatchewan's North which will produce almost 20 per cent of the world's total uranium by 2005.
Saskatchewan Environment Minister Lorne Scott announced Friday the province will give the green light to the Cigar Lake and Midwest uranium mines in northern Saskatchewan. "The projects as proposed . . . can be developed, operated and decommissioned in an environmentally acceptable manner," he said.
As part of the announcement, Scott said:
The new projects are expected to generate $2.4 billion in economic activity in Saskatchewan and create 500 full-time jobs.
The massive Cigar Lake deposit, located about 650 kilometres north of Saskatoon on the southwestern tip of Waterbury Lake, was discovered in 1981. The $410-million underground mine will tap into reserves of 353 million pounds of uranium, with an average grade of 13.6 per cent U3O8 (commonly called yellowcake). Production will begin in 2001 and the project has an estimated life of 39 years.
Cigar Lake Mining Corp. is owned by Cameco Corp. of Saskatoon (48.8 per cent), along with the French government's Cogema Resources Inc. ( 36 per cent), Idemitsu Uranium Exploration Canada Ltd. (13 per cent) and Korea Electric Power Corp. (two per cent).
The smaller Midwest Project, about 700 kilometres north of Saskatoon, has reserves of 34.3 million pounds of uranium, grading at 4.5 per cent. Production should begin in 2004 and last six years. A joint federal-provincial panel rejected the Midwest project in 1993 due to environmental concerns, saying the benefits were " insufficient to balance the perceived risks." The renewed project is 56 per cent owned by Cogema, along with Uranerz Exploration and Mining (20 per cent), Tenwest Uranium Ltd. ( 19.5 per cent) and OURD (Canada) Co. (4.5 per cent).
The new mines will help set up the uranium sector into the next century, said Tim Gitzel, Cogema's senior vice-president. "It's the future of the uranium industry in Saskatchewan," he said from Saskatoon. "I'm not sure people realize how big of an announcement this is today."
By James Parker
In giving the go-ahead to the Cigar Lake and Midwest uranium mines, the federal and provincial governments have also approved development of a potentially hazardous waste disposal site, says the Saskatchewan Environmental Society.
"The panel (which approved the projects) described the tailings facility as potentially one of the most dangerous facilities for the disposable of toxic waste in Canada," Peter Prebble, a spokesperson for the society, said Friday. "I concur with the panel. It will have long-lived radioactive material that will be active for thousands of years into the future. There will also be arsenic and nickel there."
Both Ottawa and the province approved the two mines Friday. The projects now must get regulatory approval.
Cigar Lake is the bigger mine of the two. Located about 660 kilometres north of Saskatoon, it will cost more than $400 million to build and involve remote controlled mining of extremely rich uranium ore. Cameco Corp. owns 49 per cent of the project and Cogema Resources holds a 36.3 per cent stake. Three other companies own much smaller shares.
Cogema owns a majority share in the $80-million Midwest mine, located 700 kilometres north of Saskatoon.
The uranium mined at Cigar Lake, Midwest and the McClean Lake will be milled at McClean Lake. Waste produced during the milling process will be stored in JEB tailings management facility at McClean Lake.
In its report on the Midwest mine, a joint federal-provincial environmental panel struck to review uranium projects in northern Saskatchewan said the JEB facility would be potentially among the most dangerous waste dumps in Canada. The panel called for perpetual monitoring of the site.
Prebble said any problems with tailings management at the site should be addressed in the licensing process. But he noted the two governments haven't indicated whether they agree perpetual monitoring should take place and how it would be carried out.
Prebble also had concern about Cogema's involvement in the two projects. The company, owned by the French government, has been criticized by both the panel and the Atomic Energy Control Board ( AECB) for its management of the Cluff Lake mine in northwest Saskatchewan and its attitude. In particular, the AECB has expressed concern about the radiation programs and tailings storage at Cluff Lake. The board recently gave Cogema a nine-month extension of its operating licence at the mine.
"I don't think Cogema's track record was good enough for the province to approve this," said Prebble. "What confidence can we have in this company?"
Prebble also said there are serious questions about Cogema's role in the production of nuclear weapons. The same agency which manages the company also produces nuclear weapons for the French government.
The Financial Post
by Peter Kuitenbrouwer
Tearing up a seven-year study that recommended a lengthy delay, the Saskatchewan and federal governments Friday approved plans to mine the world's largest known uranium deposit.
"I am confident that the conditions established by this approval will serve to protect the environment," Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Management Minister Lorne Scott told a news conference at the legislature in Regina.
The decision clears the way for two mines, Midwest and Cigar Lake, about 800 kilometres northwest of Regina. Cigar Lake, the larger of the two, is a joint project of Saskatoon-based Cameco Corp., which has a 48% interest, and French government-owned Cogema Resources Inc., with 36%.
But chemist Don Lee, head of the federal-provincial panel that recommended the delay, said: "I think what they're proposing to do is very dangerous. "They seem reluctant to do the research first," he said Friday.
The firms estimate the Cigar Lake body holds about 385 million pounds of the uranium compound known as yellowcake. "We're pretty happy. It's good news for us and good news for Saskatchewan," said Cogema senior vice-president Tim Gitzel.
The joint panel said the province should approve the mines only after Cogema tested how much arsenic would leach from tailings the firm plans to dump in a mined-out pit. Lee said that [ such a study ] would take at least two years. "I'm not very confident in the disposal facility," Lee said. "Either in the engineering or the management."
Ottawa and Regina nixed the delay with Friday's decision, although Saskatchewan said the companies must study ways to improve environmental protection in the mining process. The final go-ahead for the mines still requires an okay from the Atomic Energy Control Board.
"The government does not agree with the panel's condition that experiments be conducted to determine the long-term acceptability of the tailings management facility before starting to deposit the tailings," said a release from the office of Ralph Goodale, federal natural resources minister. Goodale's spokesman David MacInnis said: "We believe that the companies have shown that they have the expertise to construct and operate it and AECB has the authority to shut things down if there are any concerns."
The decision caps a high-voltage struggle over the mine plans that's sizzled in Saskatchewan for seven years. Pushing the deal is France, which counts on nuclear power for most of its electricity needs, and Cameco, the world's largest publicly traded uranium miner. On the other side stand researchers, northern Saskatchewan's Dene Nation and AECB, all of which have questioned Cogema's environmental record.
Recently, AECB nixed licence applications at Cogema's 20-year-old Cluff Lake mine due to rising radium levels, overflowing tailings ponds and the company's failure to write an acceptable plan to protect miners from radiation. Cameco does not have any stake in Cluff Lake.
In the fall of 1996, exhausted by five years of battling Cogema, two of five members walked off the joint panel reviewing the Midwest and Cigar Lake mines. "Cogema is interested in short-term profits, not the long-term interests of the North," said one of those who quit, Dr. Annalee Yassee, head of the environmental health unit at the University of Manitoba.
In its final report last November, the panel said it had a "lack of confidence in [ Cogema's ] managerial and scientific competence" and pointed out the firm's "obvious dismissive attitude toward the regulators."
Cameco stock (CCO/TSE) fell 25 cents to $43.25 on Friday.
Cameco Press Release
Cameco Corporation today confirmed the Saskatchewan and Canadian governments have agreed that the Cigar Lake uranium project can advance to the next stage of the regulatory approval process.
The governments' decisions follow a report submitted November 13, 1997 by a joint federal-provincial panel which recommended conditional approval of the project.
"The Cigar Lake project has passed one more milestone on the road to production," said Bernard Michel, Cameco's chair, president and chief executive officer. "We expect production to begin in 2001 subject to the timely receipt of appropriate licences from the regulators."
Cameco holds a 48.75% interest in the project which is operated by the Cigar Lake Mining Corporation (CLMC), a joint venture formed by the owners in 1985 to develop the project. According to an agreement among the joint venture participants, Cameco would assume operating responsibility of the Cigar Lake mine following favorable decisions by the two governments.
Plans are to mill Cigar Lake ore 80 kilometres northeast at the McClean Lake site, which is now being developed by the McClean Lake joint venture and operated by Cogema Resources Inc. Cigar Lake tailings would be deposited in a mined-out pit at the McClean Lake site.
The federal and provincial governments generally support the panel's recommendations in their reports.
In granting ministerial approval for the project to proceed, the provincial government indicated the Cigar Lake project could be developed, operated and decommissioned in an environmentally acceptable manner.
The federal government is satisfied with the non-entry mining methods which are described as well developed and achievable by current industry standards. In addition they indicated many of the technical issues such as the placement of waste rock will be dealt with through the Atomic Energy Control Board licensing process.
Although the provincial and federal governments supported the panel's recommendations, they both differed with the panel on the condition related to the approval of the tailings facility at the McClean Lake site. The federal government is requiring ongoing laboratory studies, field investigations and modelling studies while the tailings are being deposited rather than a preliminary assessment of the performance of the facility based solely on theoretical modelling as the panel suggested. The provincial government also requires detailed monitoring, analysis and reporting on the performance of the tailings facility after it is in operation.
In addition, provincial government approval requires Cameco and Cogema, as the operators, to report on all construction, operation and environmental activities to ensure northern communities are informed as well as conduct research and evaluate options for improving environmental protection in: waste rock disposal, reduction of liquid effluent volumes and contaminant concentrations, reduction of process chemicals and recycling of mill effluent, and reduction of mine water inflows. They have also requested a study identifying acceptable locations to deposit waste rock including the two options previously outlined in the environmental impact statement.
"We continue to be confident that Cameco and Cogema can comply with all these requirements," said Michel.
During construction, an average of 400 employees and contractors will be employed on the Cigar Lake project including mine development and expansion of the McClean Lake mill to accommodate the Cigar Lake ore.
Cigar Lake is one of the largest, high-grade uranium orebodies in the world. Mineable reserves are estimated at more than 350 million pounds with an average grade of 14% U3O8. At full production, the site is expected to produce 18 million pounds annually.
The Cigar Lake project, located 660 kilometres north of Saskatoon, is owned by:
The Canadian Atomic Energy Control Board has denied the two year license renewal requested by Cogema for its Cluff Lake uranium mine in northern Saskatchewan. Instead, AECB approved an extension to the current license (expiring March 31, 1998) for another nine months, subject to several conditions.
This decision reflects a number of deficiencies identified by AECB at the Cluff Lake site:
OTTAWA - The Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB) today announced the licensing decisions taken following its meeting of March 24, 1998....
The Board approved a nine-month extension to the operating licence for the Cluff Lake uranium mine, in northern Saskatchewan.
At the January 1998 Board meeting, AECB staff had recommended a renewal of the licence for a 13-month term, but this recommendation was changed in the staff's March 1998 report to the Board, following the receipt of the information concerning a recently detected increase in radium levels in Snake Lake, which is next to the facility's tailings management area.
A condition has been included in the licence requiring Cogema to investigate the cause of the increase, and to assess the impact of the increased radium levels on the environment. The company is also required to develop any necessary mitigative measures and a schedule for their implementation, and to report this information to the Board by June 30, 1998.
A number of other licence conditions were also added to address other AECB questions about the safe operation of the facility.
One of these conditions requires Cogema to supply information that demonstrates that the current radiation protection program for underground miners complies with the principle of keeping radiation exposures as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA). At the March 24 Board meeting, AECB staff recommended a three-month extension to its original recommendation of requiring this information by April 1, 1998. While Cogema has been addressing this issue, the extension will allow the company additional time to complete its studies, determine the effectiveness of proposed measures to reduce worker exposures, and identify those measures which will be implemented. If this required information is not submitted and approved by June 30, 1998, the condition would prevent any further underground mining activities at the site until the company's program is approved.
The Board also noted that the company had not submitted an acceptable revision to its Code of Practice that better reflects existing underground conditions and expectations regarding radiation protection. Since August 1997, Cogema has not been allowed to undertake any new mine development until an approved Code of Practice is in place. An approved Code of Practice is a requirement of the AECB's Uranium and Thorium Mining Regulations.
Another condition restricts the placement of mill tailings in the tailings management area to specific authorized limits.
Cogema has previously indicated that it plans to submit a proposal for additional tailings capacity at the site. Guidelines have been prepared for the required Environmental Impact Statement to be submitted by Cogema. The proposal will then undergo both a federal and a provincial environmental assessment. During the assessment process, activities in the tailings management area will be limited to those that are authorized by this extended licence. Any modification will need prior approval of the Board.
Finally, Cogema must appear before the Board at its October 1, 1998, meeting to report on its progress in dealing with the AECB's questions related to radiation protection, tailings management, and general project management."
Saskatoon Star-PhoenixBy James Parker
Canada's nuclear regulator has issued a scathing assessment of Cogema Resource's management of the Cluff Lake uranium mine and given the company an ultimatum: shape up or stop mining by April 1.
Officials with the Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB) made the demand in a report on Cogema's application for renewal of its operating licence at Cluff Lake, located 900 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.
In an unusual move, board officials have recommended the company receive a conditional 13-month operating licence instead of a two-year permit. The current licence expires at the end of March.
The AECB has demanded Cogema improve radiation protection for employees at the underground mine by April 1 or it will restrict access to the area. The board has also placed a limit on the amount of waste which can be placed in Cluff Lake's tailings management facility, which is nearly full.
Cogema, which is owned by the French government and wants to develop two other mines in northern Saskatchewan, says it is working hard to address the board's concerns.
"Unless they satisfy board staff that their radiation protection programs are working, all mining will be shut down by April 1," Tom Viglasky, director of AECB's uranium facilities division, said Wednesday.
"The situation is really bad. They don't have enough qualified staff. They have not followed through on commitments they made to us. They haven't pushed the programs they were supposed to push. They've been sliding and hoping they could get away with whatever they were doing. Enough is enough."
It isn't the first time Cogema has been publicly chastised for its performance. Last year, the company was accused of misleading the board during presentations on a proposed waste disposal site at McClean Lake in northeast Saskatchewan. And a joint federal-provincial environmental panel on uranium projects recently accused Cogema of having a dismissive attitude toward regulators and questioned the company's technical competence.
The Cluff Lake mine, which employs 520 people, has been operating since 1980. According to the AECB, the mine produced nearly two million kilograms of uranium in 1996 and preliminary production data indicates a similar output in 1997. Uranium ore is taken from two underground mines.
A key concern outlined in the assessment of the mine operation, presented Jan. 22 to AECB's directors, is an increase in radiation exposure caused by inadequate protection in the mine and poor air quality control.
In 1996, Cogema assured board staff it would hire a competent mine ventilation engineer to deal with immediate concerns, evaluate opportunities to reduce gamma radiation exposure and make changes to mining procedures.
"Other than hiring a junior ventilation engineer, none of these commitments have been fulfilled," the report says.
The AECB says Cogema has attempted to control radiation exposure by rotating workers out of higher radiation areas instead of focusing on engineering or job-related control measures.
Cogema is not violating federal radiation protection guidelines. But based on recent exposure data, the company would not be in compliance with radiation dose limits specified in the proposed Nuclear Safety and Control Act, the report says.
The document recommends Cogema conduct a comprehensive study of dose reduction measures, begin radiation protection training courses for supervisors and implement integrated safety and training programs. It also suggests the company take a hard look at its management structure.
"The Cogema organization is highly 'compartmentalised' with the result that very few people have an integrated perception of the company's goals," says the report.
"Decision-making authority is centralized at a very high level in the organization. In addition, there is considerable confusion with regard to the role of the engineering, safety, training, quality assurance departments within the organization."
Tim Gitzel, senior vice-president with Cogema, said the company takes the AECB criticisms very seriously. He said problems have developed at Cogema because the company has grown rapidly in the last few years, tripling in size through mergers and acquisitions.
"We've taken some steps to deal with the situation. But these issues will take time to be addressed. I don't think he (Viglasky) has taken into account the changes we've made."
Gitzel said the changes start at the top, with last year's appointment of Arnaud de Bourayne as president. He said the company is also in the process of hiring a vice-president responsible for environment, health and safety and a manager of radiation protection. And it has hired more radiation protection staff at the mine.
In a recent presentation to the board, Bourayne acknowledged Cogema did not have enough staff working in radiation protection at the mine or in its head office. He also said a high turnover among miners made training difficult.
Bourayne told the board the company has improved radiation monitoring at the mine. The company has also changed management at the mine by having all staff report to the general manager.
As for tailings management, Cogema believes it can operate its present site until 2000 with some modifications. It is preparing an environmental impact statement of a long-term tailings management plan.
Cogema will give the board an update on its reorganization next month. So far, Viglasky says he isn't overly impressed by the changes.
"They've reorganized on paper but they don't have any staff. There's nobody filling the vice-president of environment or manager of radiation protection positions. These are very serious omissions."
Peter Prebble, a researcher with the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, applauded the AECB report. He said the deficiencies detailed at Cluff Lake raise questions about Cogema's ability to develop other uranium projects.
The company controls the proposed Midwest project and has a large ownership stake in the Cigar Lake mine, both of which have received conditional approval from the joint environmental panel.
"This emphasizes why the other applications should not be approved (by the federal and provincial government) until these issues are addressed," said Prebble.
John Case, local union president at Cluff Lake, said workers at the mine don't feel their safety has been compromised. However, he said there is frustration with the uranium industry's regulatory structure and some of the AECB's demands.
"We've tried hard to please both the federal and provincial governments. It's a hard thing to do."