Even the utmost grade deposits have less than 1% uranium. So vast amounts of ore have to be processed to obtain useful quantities of the uranium. The leftover ‘waste’ rock is known tailings. In the course of processing it is crushed to a well powder, which is nearly as radioactive as the uranium itself. It is perilous for more than 250,000 years, which might as well be eternally. These tailings need to be secluded from the environment to avoid a cancer epidemic, and there are previously more than 50 million tonnes of uranium tailings on Australian soil.
As uranium emanates radiation; it transforms itself into a novel element, which in turn emanates radiation and decays, and so on through 14 steps until it ultimately – after hundreds of thousands of years – becomes a stable type of non-radioactive lead. One of the elements along the way is radon, a radioactive gas which can travel for hundreds of kilometres prior to decaying. Mine workers and others who breathe in this gas risk mounting lung cancer and other kinds of lung disease
Uranium mining pollutes the air, water and earth with radioactive chemicals and heavy metals which can never be well cleaned up. In addition to the radiation hazard, mining is also related with poisonous process chemicals, heavy metals and the use of vast quantities of water. In the short term, uranium mine sites ruin the ecology of the local region; in the long term, they pose a risk to a much wider area.
The health risks of uranium mining are by now fairly well known, although still belligerently disputed by the mining industry. Collectively, uranium miners suffer the maximum radiation doses of all workers in the nuclear fuel chain. The major problems are inhalation of dust and radon gas, which leave alpha radiation emitters lodged in the body where they can do the majority harm. As the pollution from the mines spread away from the minesite, local people are also out in the open to contamination. While uranium mining is most usually allied with cancer, low level radiation is also mixed up in birth fault, high infant mortality and chronic lung, eye, skin and reproductive illnesses.
There is a vast amount of high level nuclear waste still being spewed out by reactors round the world and there is nowhere safe to put it. Pangea Resources actually has a plan to bring many of this waste into Australia. Nuclear power stations create this waste as fraction of normal operations; but there are also risks of reactor accidents; the explosion at Chernobyl in 1986 killed a lot of people, spread nuclear pollution right around the planet and forced the enduring evacuation of the surrounding area.
While the mining companies do not like to confess it, nuclear power is a military technology designed to make plutonium for nuclear weapons. Thousands of these weapons are still on hairtrigger alert ten further than ten years after the Cold War, and they are spreading gradually to new countries.
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