No risk from uranium, thorium at mine near Alice: chairman

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

Radioactive uranium and thorium to be stored near the proposed Nolans Bore rare earth mine 135 kms north of Alice Springs will present no danger to the public, says Arafura Resources chairman, Ian Kowalick.
He says the materials are at the site (pictured) already, they will simply be stored in a different form, and would have been returned to the mine even if the separation from the rare earth had been done at Whyalla.
Mr Kowalick says the precise volume of the radioactive material would depend on the volume processed.
“It is actually low level radiation in both the uranium and the thorium.
“We are not beneficiating the uranium and the thorium to much higher levels.
“It inevitably happens, if you dig up rare earths – and you can’t have windmills and electric cars without rare earths – it is always associated with uranium and thorium.
“The original plan was to return these to the Nolans Bore site and that’s still the case with the new proposal except the processing will happen at the site.
“But this is a very low level waste.
“I always make the example if you sit on the steps in Parliament House in Adelaide you get a much higher level of radiation from the granite than you will from our tailings.”
What is the halflife of the material?
“Uranium and thorium have a reasonably long half life, but the material is coming from the site originally, so it’s not changing the net level of radiation and changing the half-life there. The material is there and this is just changing the physical from of it.”
Is it coming from deep below the ground or is it coming from the surface?
“This is a mine which is essentially quarried quite close to the surface.
“We’re not digging a big hole,” says Mr Kowalick.
The materials “will be separated out and put in a form that can be safely stored.”
Are there similar storage sites elsewhere in Australia?
“There is lots of radioactive material stored in Australia, from processing activities.
“The circumstances are not unusual. The technology to store these low level radioactive materials is quite well known. It is certainly much lower in radioactivity than industrial waste from X-rays and things like this.”

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5 Comments (starting with the most recent)

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  1. Russell Guy
    Posted April 23, 2013 at 10:26 am

    Mr Tollner, Minister for Business, claimed on ABC TV NT last night that “winning” the Arafura Resources (AR) Nolan’s Bore Rare Earth mine “back” from SA was a “coup” and that NT Labor had “driven” them interstate”, but the AR press release clearly states that AR “did not have a project” unless they were able to achieve cost reduction, conceding that the SA Government were disappointed, but understanding.
    As with the BDR, Mr Tollner prefers to stage manage the facts to score political points.
    This has been a hallmark of the CLP NT Government performance to date and is not in the public interest, but, ironically, transparent.
    As Bob Taylor points out, managing the water resource in the Artesian Basin aquifers is in the public interest.
    One would hope that the NTG will be transparent in relation to the development of the AR Nolan’s Bore project, particularly in relation to water and environmental issues, because this site is actually in someone’s backyard, contrary to many who believe that it is out of site and therefore out of mind. This would be in the national interest as well as the CLP.
    Paul Cleary’s ‘Mine Field: The Dark Side of Australia’s Resources Rush’ (pub. Black Inc: Victoria. 2012) is required reading in relation to mining projects slated for development in the resource-rich regions of the Commonwealth Federation.
    The coal-seam gas industry, the open-cut coal mines like Xstrata’s Wandoan mine, 350ks north-west of Brisbane, which is forecast at a 40 year operational life, “consuming 300 sq kms of farmland, including grazing and cropping land”, bring out the nature of the mining industry-led resource rush and puts a question mark over the development of regional communities, most of whom host coastal dwelling, FIFO workers.
    And yet, we are told on the same ABC news bulletin that Australians face a decade of deficit because we have been “living beyond our means,” while the proposed mining tax, resisted by the mining industry is claimed as responsible for the deficit.
    Mr Tollner has claimed that the BDR “was expensive”, but how he arrived at this ($2.5m was allocated by the Feds for the ID technology) as opposed to a start-up figure of $100m for secure mandatory rehab centres is not explained, perhaps because he is confident that mining royalties will pay for it.

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  2. Posted April 23, 2013 at 9:46 am

    G’day Brendan. My understanding of the radiation levels of the thorium waste stream from this project comes from the Notice of Intent they supplied when applying for environmental assessment.
    You really need to pick one story and stick to it. By arguing both that the radioactive waste is harmless, and that renewable advocates are hiding a toxic secret, your rant becomes internally inconsistent: illogical.
    Yes, rare earths, which do have applications in some renewable and energy efficient technologies, are commonly found in radioactive sands. But the levels are usually much lower than at a uranium mine, and this project is uncommon in being co-located with such a large volume of highly radioactive thorium.
    As I described, their processing plant would concentrate that large, long-lived radioactive waste stream to more than 20 times its natural levels. I agree with your inference that this represents a serious environmental management challenge for the project – personally I doubt they can do it responsibly.
    The fact remains, the most dangerous product of this project is the uranium. But that’s really a very small component, and the project would certainly still be viable if they didn’t produce yellowcake.

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  3. Brendan
    Posted April 22, 2013 at 11:12 pm

    So there you have it. The dirty little secret of the anti nuclear fanatics promoting their expensive intermittent unreliable renewables! If you want a windmill, you need to mine Neodymium for the magnets, each one must create a minimum of 1.3 tonnes of “radioactive waste” which they then whinge and moan about, despite it being harmless.
    If you want solar panels, you need to mine Cerium, which also always occurs with thorium therefore must also create “radioactive waste”, which they then do their deceitful little song dance about.
    The real story is, the Greens party and its supporters like to engage in this hypocrisy, hiding their dirty little secrets, so long as they can dump their highly toxic waste, heavy metals and greenhouse gas production from solar panels out of sight, in someone else’s back yard, continue to pursue their hidden agenda receive support from their alliance with the fossil fuel industry.
    Then they let windbags like Larry loose to fantasize about radiation levels he obviously has no material knowledge of, while ignoring the fact that every beach in suburban Perth, and every beach from Sydney to Brisbane, is just as radioactive from the exact same thorium.

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  4. Bob Taylor
    Posted April 22, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    Interesting to read that private enterprise is out there exploring and proving new aquifers and water resources.
    It would appear that the government is not in a financial position to undertake such exploratory drilling for water or are they? It will also be interesting to see how or what the government will regulate, maybe it will or has already, allowed this company to self-regulate the use of all this new water resource.
    Any data, baseline research or mapping on the new aquifer and geology in and around the aquifer will need to be placed in the public domain. Does the discovery and use of a new water resource come under the Mining Act or the Water Act? Is water mined or is it allocated as per the Alice Springs Allocation Plan?
    During the course of their mining and processing activities the mining company must take every possible precaution necessary to prevent any pollution or contamination of this previously unknown water resource. To ensure this the government must be the regulator and monitor their mining, processing and water extraction activities. “Radioactive uranium and thorium will present no danger to the public”, but will it present a danger to the environment? No risk?
    At the end of this mine’s life or maybe during the life of the mine, existing and / or additional horticultural and other food producing enterprises could be enhanced or started up to capitalise on this new water resource. Perhaps the mining company could assist financially in any new start-ups.
    Does the Northern Territory have a “win win” situation or a potential environmental disaster with this development?

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  5. Posted April 22, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    No risk?
    this project includes a small but commercial quantity of uranium: once its made into fukushima fuel (or bomb fuel) the risk is huge.
    As for the thorium, it will be concentrated more than 20x natural levels before they’re ready to dump it back on site.
    Managing radiation in the environment is a real challenge, and I don’t trust anyone willing to downplay the stakes.

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