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Remediation activities in Member States

Activities in support of developing Member States embarking on uranium exploration, development and production projects

20/20 Vision for the Future

In his Background Report for the Commission of Eminent Persons, the IAEA's Director General mentioned the use of nuclear power and other nuclear applications for meeting basic human needs is projected to expand significantly in the 2020 timeframe.

Future trends indicate a growing world economy, a continuing rise in population, and increasing concern over the world’s limited carbon based energy supplies. As concerns over the earth’s natural resources and climate change intensify, there is significant pressure for countries to reduce their dependence on fossil fuel based energy.

The rising demand for low carbon emitting energy supplies to fuel sustainable development is likely to lead to substantial growth in the use of nuclear power as a source of environmentally friendly energy over the coming decades. Recent projections forecast significant growth in the use of nuclear power, with many countries seriously considering introducing it for the first time and others expanding their existing capabilities.

Much of the future growth is expected to take place in the developing world and in particular Member States that are new to the activities associated with the Nuclear Fuel Cycle. Fig. 1 on the right depicts the histroigal growth in global nuclear power capacity (blue) plus estimates of future growth according to the IAEA's low projection (dark green) and high projection (light green).

Uranium Exploration, Development and Production in Developing Member States

The projected expansion in nuclear power plants will require a significant increase in the world’s uranium production capacity and reserves. As a result worldwide exploration activities have expanded significantly since 2000 and involve several hundred companies operating in dozens of developing countries in Asia, Africa and South America. These exploration activities include the search for new deposits and reserves as well as the possible exploitation of abandoned mines and tailings from earlier operations during the Cold War era.

This sudden resurgence of activity presents significant challenges to many developing Member States due to their lack of regulatory framework and infrastructure (e.g. legislation, regulations, standards, trained personnel, equipment and funds) to ensure the safe development and operation of new uranium projects from exploration through to closure. A key element promoted by the Agency to achieve “sustainable best practice” is the concept of lifecycle planning for safety at an early stage of a uranium mining project.

Roundtable Meeting on the Upsurge of the Uranium Mining and Production Industry during the 2008 General Conference

The meeting which was organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in cooperation with the Australian Permanent Mission to the IAEA identified and discussed key safety and environmental issues associated with the recent upsurge in the Uranium Mining and Production Industry.

A key area requiring Agency support is the lack of an adequate regulatory structure in many developing countries that are currently involved in the exploitation of uranium for the first time. Another important issue is the impact of legacy issues arising from poor past practice which continue to have significant negative human health and environmental impacts in a number of former uranium producing countries in Central Asia, South America and Africa. In addition it was recognised that there is a critical global shortage of skilled personnel in the industry and on the regulatory side.

The Supporting Role and Activities of the Division of Radiation, Transport and Waste Safety (NSRW)

Assisting Member States

The Division supports and assists Member States through the following activities:

  • The development of guidance and publications
  • The development of training courses and the provision of training in conjunction with the Technical Cooperation Department
  • Expert Missions, Scientific Visits and Fellowships
  • Conferences, Workshops and Technical Meetings
  • Joint initiatives with other stakeholders

 

Developing Partnerships

The Division is actively pursuing cooperative approaches and partnerships with a variety of other organizations and stakeholders such as the World Nuclear Association (WNA), the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Recent initiatives during the past year have been focused on uranium legacy and remediation issues in Central Asia.

Promoting Sustainable Global Best Practice

A recent Agency initiative has been launched by the Division in conjunction with the industry through the WNA publication on Sustainable Global Best Practice in the uranium industry. This publication is complimented by a major industry initiative on the development of a Global Stewardship Programme for the Uranium Industry by the Uranium Stewardship Working Group of the WNA. The aim of the project is to promote consistent global “best practice” and social responsibility in the worldwide uranium production industry.

Supporting Regional Technical Cooperation Projects in Developing Member States

The Agency has also adopted regional as well as national approaches during the 2009-2011 cycle to assist Member States in addressing common problems in remediation and developing regulatory control and monitoring systems in Africa, Asia and South America. The Division provides technical assistance on these projects and their associated training courses and workshops. Key regional projects include:

  • Regional Africa Project 2007029 - Strengthening Regional Capabilities for Uranium Mining, Milling and Regulation of Related Activities
  • Regional Latin American Project 2008018- Regional Upgrading of Uranium Exploration, Exploitation and Yellowcake Production Techniques, taking Environmental Problems into Account
  • Regional Project RER3010 Supporting Preparation for Remediation of Uranium Production Legacy Sites.

UPSAT (Uranium Production Site Assessment Team)

Another important initiative by the Division to assist the developing Member States is the resurrection of the UPSAT peer review programme. The programme is intended to provide a mechanism for the transfer of “best practice” principles from experienced operators to smaller less experienced operators in developing Member States.

 

Conferences

Central Asia is an area with numerous legacy issues related to abandoned uranium mining and production operations and their associated residues. In some cases these legacy issues pose a variety of serious environmental impacts within a weakly developed national regulatory framework. An International Conference organised by the IAEA on the “Remediation of Land Contaminated by Radioactive Material” was held in Astana, Kazakhstan in May of 2009. The venue was selected with the purpose of focusing attention on these issues in Central Asia and drawing together countries with similar legacy issues. The main objective of the conference was to facilitate international co-operation within the region, and to promote the application of international standards and best practices.

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| Last update: Tuesday, 09 December, 2014.