Mapping the Full Life Cycle of Uranium Mining: Landmark Meeting in Lisbon

Mapping the Full Life Cycle of Uranium Mining: Landmark Meeting in Lisbon


The Cunha Baixa uranium mine site, Portugal,
under remediation by EDM

9 November 2012 | International experts from more than 30 IAEA Member States met in Lisbon, Portugal, and mapped the full life-cycle of uranium mining, from exploration to end of mine-life remediation and ‘future-proofing’ for eventual reopening. They also discussed using the United Nations Framework Classification for Fossil Energy and Mineral Reserves and Resources 2009 (UNFC-2009) for resource reporting.

This was a landmark event - it was the first time that such a comprehensive approach has been taken to uranium mining. It even included a review of techniques for characterising and quantifying minerals of interest remaining in closed tailings piles from former uranium mines.

"We had three days of presentations and dialogue, and a one-day tour to two Portugese mine sites, Urgeiriça and Cunha Baixa in northern Portugal which are under remediation", said Harikrishnan Tulsidas from the IAEA Division of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology (NEFW). "The meeting in particular highlighted the potential benefits to participating organizations from major advances in understanding of the two ‘bookends’ of the mine life-cycle" he added.

Participants represented a balanced cross-section of stakeholders including government policy-makers and regulators, the mining industry, utilities, academia, and environmental remediation and monitoring specialists.

First, a team from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) presented the objectives and current state of the UN resource classification and reporting framework. This was complemented by a detailed IAEA presentation as to how to apply UNFC-2009 to uranium resoures. Participants from different Member States then reported on their initial experiences with using UNFC-2009 for uranium and thorium projects, with a view to managing them in a financially, socially and environmentally responsible manner.

It was generally agreed that the capacity of UNFC-2009 to promote cross-communication with other sectors of both mineral and oil and gas industries has many advantages in taking an integrated approach to energy material development. The framework permits reporting of both mineral and hydrocarbon resources in a standardised, homogeneous way, bringing benefits of transparency and comparability for all stakeholders.

"It also provides significant help in mapping resource progression pathways, for example to add value to uranium and other resources by optimizing base production, new infill drilling and enhanced recovery", said David MacDonald, Chairman of the Expert Group on Resource Classification, the working group which is tasked to develop and maintain the Framework. It can even assist in extending project life.

UNFC-2009 can also facilitate transparent stakeholder communication by providing a powerful energy resource comparison tool for local communities, enabling them to make informed decisions about their energy resource options.

Secondly, a team from the Portuguese mine remediation company Empresa Desenvolvimento Mineiro (EDM) demonstrated in practice the current state of the art in closing, remediating, and also future-proofing uranium mines and associated tailings. The uranium mining case studies focused on the mines at Urgeiriça and Cunha Baixa.

Countries that are now entering uranium exploration and mining for the first time, will be encouraged to operate under UNFC-2009, planning for the full life-cycle from the outset.

"Closure and remediation of mines is increasingly managed as a holding intervention, not an end point. These activities are designed, where appropriate, to maintain future access to any remaining resources, while safeguarding local communities and the environment from any risks or hazards that may remain at the mine sites", commented Local Organizer Luís Martins.

The policy is so successful that a former gold mine closed this way is now about to reopen. Such forward-looking approaches can be supported more easily with UNFC-2009.

The event was held under the joint auspices of the IAEA, the UNECE and the Ibero-American Programme for Science, Technology and Development (CYTED) supported by the Government of Portugal through the Direcção Geral de Energia e Geologia and Empresa Desenvolvimento Mineiro (EDM) on 14–18 October 2012 in Lisbon, Portugal.

Background

The United Nations Framework Classification for Fossil Energy and Mineral Reserves and Resources 2009 (UNFC-2009) is a universally applicable scheme for classifying and evaluating energy and mineral reserves and resources. The principal objective of UNFC-2009 is to enhance international communication by providing a simple, user-friendly and uniform format for the reporting of energy reserves and resources, using market-based economic criteria. It has been developed to meet the needs of applications pertaining to international energy and mineral studies, government resource management functions, corporate business processes and financial reporting standards.

Contacts:

Mr. Jing Zhang, TCEU / Department of Technical Cooperation

Mr. H. Tulsidas, NEFW / Department of Nuclear Energy

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