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HAZMAT – Australia – Australia
A burst tank at the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu National Park has released what traditional owners say is up to a million litres of acidic radioactive slurry, in what they describe as one of the biggest nuclear accidents in Australian history. The site could be closed for up to two months as mine operators seek to contain it, said Justin O'Brien, chief executive of the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC), which represents the traditional Mirarr people of the area.
At 1am on Saturday morning a hole was discovered in the side of a leach tank, with staff evacuated before it collapsed. "This is up to a million litres of radiological material in the form of an acid exploding from a drum, bending a crane, twisting metal all around it, pouring down into stormwater drains, with 20 or so people ordered to evacuate," said Mr O'Brien. It is the third security breach at the site in just over a month. Mine operator Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) is seeking to mine at the site for a project called Ranger 3 Deeps but has agreed to do so only with the consent of the traditional owners.
The Australian government has suspended processing operations at a uranium mine following a leak of more than 26,000 gallons of acid-laced radioactive material. The leak followed the failure of a leach tank Saturday at the Ranger Uranium Mine in the Northern Territory, operated by Energy Resources Australia, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto. The mine is located within the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, known for its Aboriginal cultural sites. "I have told ERA today that they cannot resume processing at Ranger until the company demonstrates the integrity of the processing plant to the satisfaction of the regulatory authorities," Ian Macfarlane, Australia's industry minister, said in a statement Monday. Macfarlane said the Office of the Supervising Scientist, part of the federal Department of Environment, is investigating the spill. In its first statement Saturday regarding the spill, ERA said it had ceased operations at the site and "was continuing to monitor the incident," adding that it maintains its production forecast for 2013, between 2,800 tons to 3,200 tons. In a subsequent statement, the company said Ranger Mine's containment management systems had fully captured the slurry material that escaped. "These systems are in place to separate processing areas from Kakadu National Park."
...Is there a war going on between enterprises of the uranium mining industry?
...Maybe we could use smaller barrels in larger quantity than just one big giant container next time?
That way when a hole forms, only a tiny bit spills out compared to what just happened.
I know it seems really silly, but actually this small measure would have mitigated a vast proportion of the scale of this "accident"...
Radioactive Waste and Uranium Mines
Uranium Mining and Processing Wastes are a special category of (normally) low level wastes, which are of major concern because of the volumes of radiating materials concentrated in usually a small area, thus creating an overall hazard. While uranium is mined around the world, some of the biggest producers are low-income countries. Indeed, of the ten largest producers of uranium, seven are in areas where industrial safety standards do not always correspond to the best industrial practices: Kazakhstan, Russia, Niger, Namibia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine and China2.
Typically uranium concentrations can be as low as 0.1 to 0.2% in mined ore, meaning that well over 99% of what is mined is rejected after processing. Once mined, ore must be milled to produce useful uranium concentrate. Milling is the process of grinding the ore and adding chemicals, usually sulfuric acid, to extract the uranium it contains. During milling, other constituents of the ore are released as well, including toxics like arsenic and lead. The byproduct of milling is a toxic sludge of tailings.
Because of the low concentration of uranium in ore, nearly as much sludge is produced as ore is mined. This leftover sludge contains a high amount of radioactivity – as much as 85% of the initial radioactivity of the ore. The tailings contain low-grade radioactivity but can be dangerous because of the very large quantities that are stored in rather small areas. Additionally, ground or surface water that is pumped away from the site during mining operations can also contain low levels of radiation and therefore contaminate local rivers and lakes.
238U(uranium) radiates alpha-particles and decays (by way of thorium-234 and protactinium-234) into uranium-234.