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IAEA Meeting Focuses on Fixing Uranium Legacies, Learning for Future

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US Department of Energy's Don Metzler (with vest) guides UMREG meeting participants at the historic Moab uranium tailings pile in Utah. (Photo: P. Woods/IAEA)

Some of the first uranium mining and milling operations resulted in the creation of several legacy sites around the globe, often the cause of ongoing or potential environmental pollution. Whilst good progress has been made remediating these historic sites, major remediation projects are still underway and more are required. Some of the modern generation of mines are nearing the end of their active lives and will move into rehabilitation over the next few years. It is essential to learn from the mistakes of the past and of the experience gained in remediation, and to make use of the techniques now available to progressively and effectively close modern mines to achieve sustainable outcomes.

An informal series of meetings launched in the mid-1990s to share data and experiences led to the creation of the Uranium Mining and Remediation Exchange Group (UMREG). This year, the fifth annual IAEA UMREG Technical Meeting was held in Grand Junction, Colorado, from 26 to 29 September. The three days of technical presentations were complemented by a full-day field trip to the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action project in Utah to see a major modern remediation project in action.

"With 26 technical talks involving over 40 participants from 13 of the IAEA's Member States, the meeting was diverse and we had very positive feedback from participants," said Peter Woods, from the IAEA's Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology Section. "This shows the wide interest in the remediation of former uranium mining and milling sites, and applying lessons for sustainable remediation of current mines."

The local host, Don Metzler of the US Department of Energy, had attended similar IAEA technical meetings held in Europe. "Being the host for one of these meetings, which I feel benefits our project as much as any of the others discussed, has been on my bucket list for many years," he said. "I'm glad we were able to show other parts of the world the important work that we're doing to take care of our legacy waste."

The remediation of legacy sites is an important part of the improvement in acceptability of today's uranium mining and milling industry worldwide. Meetings like that of UMREG's provide an excellent opportunity to learn from the past for a better future of the first step in the nuclear energy cycle.

This series of UMREG meetings has been supported by extrabudgetary contributions from Japan under the IAEA Peaceful Uses Initiative.

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