November 27, 2014

Mt. Polley failure raises uranium tailings safety concerns

Nuclear Safety Commission demands checks at seven pond operators

Reverberations from the Mt. Polley tailings pond breach in British Columbia continue to spread. Last August, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) asked licensees of uranium mines and mills with tailings facilities to review safety procedures.

In a letter dated August 14, Ramzi Jammal, the CNSC’s chief regulatory operations officer, asked seven operators to look into the causes of the Mt. Polley tailings breech and confirm that existing licensing conditions are being complied with and that measures are in place to mitigate breach accidents. The companies have a month to supply progress reports. The seven licensees targeted are: AREVA, Cameco, Rio Algom, Willet Green Miller, P.J. Bruggar and Associates, EWL Management and Denison Mines.

According to Mark Drolet, a CNSC spokesperson, the organization is unaware of any past uranium tailings breaches. “With the exception of the radiological content and specific measures to limit radiation exposure, production of uranium tailings and their long-term management [involves] similar processes and practices as those [in] other metal mines (i.e. gold, silver, copper),” said Drolet. “However dedicated uranium mines aren’t the only ones that produce radioactive materials. For example one large Australian copper mine (Olympic dam) is also currently producing uranium as a by-product.”

CNSC staff will also be conducting inspections of the above-ground tailings management facilities and are leaving the door open to address further issues as they arise.

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