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Nuclear energy for a greener world

Uranium issues

This Q & A is a practical tool to help people find information about rare earth elements and uranium in regards to the mining project on Kvanefjeld.

This Q & A is divided into the following 5 sections:
1) Facts on rare earth elements and uranium
2) Business case issues
3) Environmental issues
4) Social and economic issues
5) Uranium issues

5) Uranium issues

Q: What will the uranium be used for? Where does it go? Will it be used for weapons?
A: Uranium’s primary commercial use is to provide fuel for nuclear reactors, which generate electricity.  Another beneficial application of uranium is medicines. Radiation in medicine is used for diagnosis and therapy of various medical conditions, for instance cancers. The uranium from the Kvanefjeld mine will not be used for weapons, this being an essential component of any export licence negotiated between GME and the relevant Government and International authorities.Through the Euratom Treaty, the EU can ensure the safe and sustainable use of nuclear energy across Europe and help non-EU countries meet high standards of safety, security and non-proliferation.

Q: Will uranium mining affect the Greenlandic environment?
A: There are no specific environmental issues related to uranium mining and environmental controls are likely to be similar to other mining operations exploiting different minerals, in similar regions.

Q: How is radiation exposure managed?
A: Whilst the level of uranium in the Kvanefjeld area is low, especially compared to those operating in places like Canada, the security standards of the Kvanefjeld project are very strict.  A number of precautions are taken to protect the health of workers: Dust and radon emissions are controlled, so as to minimize exposure through inhalation. Strict hygiene standards are imposed on workers handling the drill cores, and respiratory protection is required when dealing with dusty conditions.

Q: We have concerns about the levels of radiation. Is it dangerous?
A: Everybody around the world is exposed to a certain amount of radiation, regardless of mining. Radiation exposure is already occurring in the area around the Narsaq Valley due to natural erosion effects over the years. Radiation exposure on the Kvanefjeld itself is low due to the low grades of uranium (well below international exposure guidelines). During operations exposure to radiation will be controlled by minimizing handling time, maximizing distance to radioactive materials, regular hand washing and wearing protective equipment – including gloves, safety glasses and coveralls.

Monitoring of our workforce during the exploration phase has shown that our drill teams have been exposed to radiation levels corresponding to around 1 mSv per year. In comparison an average Dane receives approximately 3 mSv per year from naturally occurring sources, especially radon.

The local population living in Narsaq should not receive any additional exposure to the current background radiation as a result of the exploration and mining activities.

Q: Will I be exposed to radiation when transporting the uranium oxide?
A: Every day radioactive materials are transferred from one location to another, throughout the world. The safety precautions adopted for transport of uranium oxide ensure that there will be virtually no possibility for exposure to uranium oxide dust. During routine transport, workers and the public can be exposed to very low levels of gamma, for instance truck drivers are exposed to approximately 0.001 mSv per hour from the container of uranium oxide. Compare this to the exposure from a typical x-ray (1.7 mSv) or a flight from Nuuk to Copenhagen (.02 mSv).

Q: What about nuclear waste and the environment?
A: Nuclear Power has a low impact on the environment. Nuclear wastes consist of small amounts of manageable materials that can be securely and safely stored in isolated facilities and which lose their hazard with time.
In the European Union for instance, radioactive waste is not only produced in those states that use nuclear for electricity generation, but also by many other applications, be it radiotherapies or industrial tests. It’s safe management is therefore a challenge for all Member States, irrespective of their stance on nuclear.

While low and medium level radioactive waste is increasingly being taken care of, there is not yet a single final repository for high-level radioactive waste and spent fuel. It is likely that the first repositories of this kind will be opened between 2020 and 2025 in several EU Member States.

Q: What about the thorium? Why can’t that be used?
A: Today, uranium is the only fuel supplied for nuclear power reactors. However, thorium can also be utilized as a fuel for CANDU reactors or in a reactor specially designed for this purpose. The use of thorium-based fuel cycles has been studied for about 40 years, but on a much smaller scale than uranium or uranium/plutonium cycles. Much development work is still required before the thorium fuel cycle can be commercialised. Up to recently only India has actively pursued a reactor designed for thorium. Recent international moves to bring India into the ambit of international trade might result in the country ceasing to persist with the thorium cycle, as it now has ready access to traded uranium and conventional reactor designs.

 

This Q & A is divided into the following 5 sections:
1) Facts on rare earth elements and uranium
2) Business case issues
3) Environmental issues
4) Social and economic issues
5) Uranium issues

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Use this link to download the full Q & A as a .pdf - all five sections in one file.