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Asian Experts Discuss Responsible Uranium Production, Reduction of Waste

Participants of an IAEA workshop on sustainable mining visit a mineral processing facility at the BATAN Centre, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. (Photo BATAN/Indonesia)

Uranium mining in Asia is on the rise as a number of countries in the region are showing interest in nuclear power. More than 25 experts discussed the socio-economic outlook of radioactive and associated minerals production in Asia at a workshop in Yogyakarta, Indonesia last month.

The meeting was part of a new, four-year IAEA project aimed at the sustainable extraction of radioactive and associated materials such as uranium, thorium and rare-earth elements in the region.

“Our challenges are threefold,” said Djarot Wisnubroto, Chairman of the Indonesian National Nuclear Energy Agency (BATAN). “Do we have sufficient uranium for sustaining the power programme? Are we ready with the infrastructure to support nuclear power generation? Do we have a solution for the waste generated?”

These challenges need to be addressed before the actual mining process starts, he added.

Mining of radioactive minerals needs technological excellence and also broad stakeholder acceptance, participants said. This requires mining with the least possible environmental impact, including a substantial reduction of waste generated compared to conventional techniques.

Less waste, more sustainable development

Many countries in the region have developed the capacity for exploration, mining and processing of uranium and thorium, said Syahril Syahril, who is in charge of the project at the IAEA. “What is required now is to nudge many of these projects to full scale commercialization, particularly emphasizing on adding value to products and reducing waste as much as possible.”

Extracting byproducts of uranium from the ore including small quantities of gold, copper, silver, rare-earths and tin helps increase revenues and at the same time reduce waste. This requires close collaboration among mine operators.

Such reduction of waste is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in September 2015 at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit. SDG 12 on “responsible consumption and production” specifically sets a target for countries to “substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse.”

It is important that mining and extraction projects apply international good practices in health, safety and environmental management. “It is encouraging that the Member States in the region are geared up to address these challenges, and we expect to see a visible impact of the project over the next one to two years,” Syahril said. Participants discussed developing and strengthening regional co-operation frameworks and the development of Centres of Excellence in mining and mineral processing.

“The objective of the IAEA project is to establish a strong linkage and make a clear contribution to the attainment of relevant sustainability goals,” said Liu Xiaodong, a professor at the East China University of Technology. “Each participating Member State should take advantage of this project to develop the necessary, international standards and competency, such as adopting the United Nations Framework Classification, an international best practice for assessment of sustainability of mineral projects and implement the guidelines as outlined for uranium and thorium projects.”

Last update: 26 July 2017

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