Published on December 17, 2007
Slide1: Impacts of Uranium Industry in the Czech Republic text by Jan Beránek photos by Václav Vašků Fotografická výstava a fakta Stráž pod Ralskem Slide2: The main hazards of uranium result from the fact of its natural radioactive decay. During this decay, it not only releases radiation, but also creates a whole series of other radioactive elements and isotopes, before finally forming a stable atom of lead. Concerning health impacts, the most important component is radioactive isotope of radon, Rn-222. Unlike all other daughter products, radon is gaseous and gets concentrated on the particles of dust. Thus, it can be easily breathed and inside lungs decay into other elements. Four consequent radioactive decays occur in less than one hour, thus intensively irradiating lung tissue from the close proximity. The result is increased risk of developing lung cancer. Slide3: As long as uranium ore is located deep in the underground, most of radon gas gets decayed before it can effectively reach ground through rock fractures. But when mined out and milled, the situation is exactly opposite. Basically all radon released goes directly to air, and wind distributes it dozens of kilometers away. Dolní Rožínka Slide4: Radioactivity is invisible. Uranium ore, piles of waste rock and tailing ponds contain cocktail of radioactive elements: isotopes of polonium, radium, radon, bismuth, thorium and lead. These atoms are long term source of alpha, beta as well as gamma ionizing radiation that can damage living cells and induce a numbers of illnesses, including cancer. Mydlovary Slide5: Large piles of ore and rock around uranium mines represent a massive source of radioactive gas radon. Uranium industry in the Czech Republic left behind over forty large piles of uranium rock, in total volume of 43 million m3. Dolní Rožínka Slide6: Level of radiation in neighborhood of waste rock and ore piles exceeds several times natural background, and for citizens living in the region represent a risk of increased incidence of lung cancer. Příbram Slide7: Because radon emitted from the uranium rock represents primarily risk for miners working in enclosed shafts, underground mines are equipped with large ventilation that pumps contaminated air to the surface. This, on the other hand, increases radon concentrations above ground. Studies have even indicated contamination of agricultural products planted near uranium mines Dolní Rožínka Slide8: In the region of Příbram, uranium ore was mined between 1948 and 1991. Thousands of political prisoners and miners who worked here in hazardous conditions paid by their health and lives, many dying prematurely on lung cancer. Epidemiological studies indicate 7-fold increase of cancer risk among these people compared to normal population. Příbram Slide9: Because uranium ore contains a mixture of many different elements, the rock piles are also a place where many chemical reactions occur. Especially rain water is causing reactive environment. Sometimes even aggressive acidic solutions are spontaneously created (if the rock contains pyrite), speeding up the washing-out of radioactive and toxic chemicals into surface or underground water. Stráž pod Ralskem Slide10: The surroundings of deep uranium mine „Hamr 1“ near Stráž pod Ralskem were seriously contaminated. Radiation spread to about 7 000 hectares of watershed of Ploučnice river, level of radiation is up to to 30-fold higher than normal levels. Stráž pod Ralskem Slide11: Uranium ore usually contains only 0,1 % of uranium. Therefore, it needs to be processed to extract uranium oxide U3O8 – so called yellow cake, which is final and tradable product. Ore is milled into fine sand and then gets dissolved in aggressive chemicals, most usually in sulphuric acid. Thus, another hazard is created in the form of liquid radioactive and toxic waste. Dolní Rožínka Slide12: Liquid and sludge waste from uranium ore processing is being dumped into artificial ponds, so called tailing ponds. Two tailing ponds in Dolní Rožínka contain 10 million m3 of radioactive sludge and occupy the space of 90 hectares. This is aerial view on the larger one, "K1„ pond. Dolní Rožínka Slide13: Aerial view on the smaller tailing pond „K2“ in Dolní Rožínka. Besides seepage of waste into ground and water, a specific risk of tailing ponds is the failure of its wall. This may happen due to improper operation, heavy rainfall or an earthquake. A number of these accidents happened in the past, contaminating valleys and rivers. Dolní Rožínka Slide14: The largest tailing dam accident ever happened in Church Rock, USA. In 1979, over 1 000 tons of sediments and 370 000 m3 of contaminated water escaped and contaminated 110 km of river Rio Puerco. Most recent dam failure in uranium industry happened in France, 2004, at uranium conversion plant Comurhex Malvési. Here, 30 000 m3 of sediments escaped. Mydlovary Slide15: Radioactive sludge and tailings are both toxic and radioactive hazardous waste. Water erosion can carry the contaminants into rivers or underground water reservoirs. Mydlovary Slide16: Operators of Czech uranium tailing dams are often trying to secure additional incomes by importing and dumping yet other hazardous wastes there. In Dolní Rožínka, DIAMO company dumps poisonous galvanic wastes into tailing ponds. In Mydlovary, ashes from coal plants and old tires are stored in existing uranium tailing ponds. This results in accumulation of additional dangerous materials in the uranium processing sites. Mydlovary Slide17: Tailing dams need to have a water layer atop of the stored sludge, that prevents dust and radon from escaping to the air. Another dangerous situation may therefore occur if the water layer is not kept properly, such as can be seen on this picture. If surface of tailings dries up, then wind erosion can spread contamination far away. Příbram Slide18: Uranium mining leaves behind even another category of radioactive waste. Contaminated machinery and mining tools. Contaminated with uranium dust, they remain ever-lasting source of radiation. This is because half-life of U-238 is 4.5 billion years. Dolní Rožínka Slide19: Uranium is dangerous not only because of radioactivity, but is also toxic chemically. Experiments on rats proved that even small doses of uranium lead to problems with memory, develops nervosa and phobias, and extends the time of sleep. Uranium also decreases effectiveness of some medicines. Dolní Rožínka Slide20: Czech Republic experienced also perhaps the most drastic method of uranium mining, referred to as „in situ leaching“. Uranium ore is not mined out, but sulphuric acid is pumped directly to the ground through thousands of drills. During decades, this site in Stráž pod Ralskem was pumped with over 4 million tons of sulphuric acid, 320 000 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals. Today they present a timing bomb threatening to enter water reservoirs. Stráž pod Ralskem Slide21: Rehabilitation of sites affected by uranium industries in the Czech Republic is still a long term and very costly task. The state agreed a clean-up plans until year 2050, and the budget exceeds 1.85 billion Euros. The myth of cheap and clean nuclear power simply vanishes. Mydlovary Slide22: These photographs were taken in June and July 2006 by Václav Vašků, as a part of joint project developed by Jan Beránek between Greenpeace CEE and WISE Czech Republic. Photos cover four sites where uranium industry was located in the Czech Republic: Dolní Rožínka, Mydlovary, Stráž pod Ralskem and Příbram. Václav Vašků is a freelance professional photographer. In 2005, he was awarded a second prize of Czech Press Photo for his documentary series from Chernobyl. For photographs in better resolution or additional information contact Jan Beránek at email [email protected] or skype address janberanek. Stráž pod Ralskem Slide23: www.stopuranu.sk versus Tournigan Slide24: www.stopuranu.sk versus Tournigan Slide25: www.stopuranu.sk versus Tournigan Slide26: www.stopuranu.sk versus Tournigan Slide27: www.stopuranu.sk versus Tournigan Slide28: versus Tournigan www.greenpeace.sk Join our campaign!