A new IAEA service for the promotion of best practices and safety in the uranium production cycle, the Uranium Production Site Appraisal Team (UPSAT), was first used to review the uranium production site of Caetité, State of Bahia, Brazil, in a two-week visit of the site that was completed on 5 February 2010.
The Indústrias Nucleares do Brasil (INB) had requested the IAEA to assemble a team to visit the uranium mining and milling plant at Caetité with the objective to receive an evaluation of its performance. This initiative clearly demonstrates INB´s interest for improving efficiency and safety.
The international team of experts identified good practices within the production system and gave advise on areas for future improvements, conveying its main conclusions to the INB´s President. The strengths identified include:
- The operations at Caetité are run in a clean and efficient manner with no evidence of adverse environmental impact outside the mining licence area; and
- The INB work force at the facility is well motivated, proud of their work and conscientious in their duties. The safety culture is well developed.
The UPSAT team also made recommendations to improve the overall performance of the operations, including:
- Within the mining production area some environmental impacts in ground water have been noted, probably in relation to above-ground disposal of mining residues and waste. These should be further studied to confirm that they are real and, if so, appropriate remedial actions implemented and appropriate adjustments made to the environmental monitoring programme; and
- INB should ensure that appropriate staff throughout the operations is given opportunities to view underground uranium mining in other countries as part of the preparation for the planned new developments.
Following the presentation of the team´s summary conclusions at the end of the mission, the President of INB commented that the mission has proven to be a worthwhile exercise and that INB personnel gained knowledge even just through discussions held during the on-site review process. He also suggested that other uranium mining companies seriously consider requesting UPSAT missions to review their operations.
Mission to Brazil
The major areas considered during the review of INB Caetité were: organization and management; general safety; mining and processing engineering; human resources development; waste management; radiation protection; monitoring systems; environmental impact assessment; decommissioning planning and environmental remediation planning.
The international team was made up of experts from four uranium producing countries: Australia, Canada, Czech Republic and France. The experts are either active in the global uranium industry or in national regulatory body.
The review was coordinated by an IAEA staff member representing the Division of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology and the division of Radiation Transport and Waste Safety. The basis for the review was a self-assessment report prepared by INB.
An UPSAT mission is a peer review of one or more phases of a uranium production cycle by a team of selected international experts having direct experience in the technical areas specific to that operation. Judgements of the performance are made with reference to the IAEA Safety Standards and best international practices on the basis of the collective expertise of the review team.
The review is a technical exchange of experience and work practices aimed at strengthening the programmes and procedures and their implementation at the subject facility. The benefit of such a review for the requesting Member State or organization is to obtain independent, international expert opinion and advice on proposed or ongoing resource development programmes and their implementation; on upgrading present and future safety programmes; and on regulatory matters. An UPSAT mission may also be useful in improving communication with the community.
The UPSAT service is intended to enhance overall safety and efficiency in uranium production wherever such activities take place or are planned to be developed. It is expected to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experience between team members and industry personnel.
The service has been launched in response to the upsurge in worldwide uranium production activity experienced in recent years.