Tuesday, April 25, 2006

20 years on...

Geez, has it been twenty years already?

Tomorrow marks the twentieth anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. The single event that turned the world against nuclear energy. Only now when the cost of oil is skyrocketing are people again considering the construction of new nuclear power facilities (Iran and North Korea notwithstanding). I still remember seeing the tragic images on TV of the people suffering radiation sickness and the desolation of the nearby towns after the mass evacuations. Over the years, if I saw a documentary or magazine article (usually National Geographic) on Chernobyl I would make sure I watched/read the stories with great interest.

The cause of the accident at Chernobyl has never really been pinned down and continues to be a point of contention in Russia and Ukraine, one side puts blame on the plant operators and the other places blame on the reactor design. That said, two senior staff were gaoled for a number of years for ordering a safety drill on the night of the accident with an inexperienced crew without any senior staff or scientists present. Regardless of where the blame lies for the accident, many lessons were learned from the accident 20 years ago and todays nuclear industry is better because of Chernobyl.

My personal feeling is that nuclear power is where we should be going until fusion research starts to bear fruit (all estimates still point to at least 10-15 years). Sure we may upset some greenies and worry-warts in the process of going nuclear, but when a coal fired power stations releases more radioactive content into our atmosphere per year than a nuclear power plant produces in the generation of power, nuclear is the way to go.

If people are worried about having a nuclear power plant close to major populated areas, with the vast expanses of nothingness in Australia, I'm sure a suitable site could be found that would keep everyone happy. Why not put a reactor near the worlds biggest uranium mine at Olympic Dam in South Australia? If they are already dealing with radioactive content, why not keep it localised? Solves the problem of transporting the dangerous goods too. And with Olympic Dam being right in the middle of a geologically stable area, you could even store the spent fuel in some really deep holes not far from the mine and reactor. Even more localisation of resources.

All we need now is the West Australian Government to pull their heads out of their arses, tell the coal mining unions to fuck off and allow uranium mining in WA. For example, the Yeeleerie deposit in WA:
The Yeelirrie deposit is between Wiluna and Leinster, WA, about 500 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie and close to the Goldfields gas pipeline. It is also close to the existing infrastructure serving WMC nickel mines at Mount Keith and Leinster.

Western Mining Corporation (WMC) discovered the shallow and extensive deposit in 1972. It is reputedly the world's largest sedimentary deposit of its kind. In August 1978 Urangesellschaft Australia Pty Ltd bought for A $3 million a 10% interest in the deposit, but this was reacquired by WMC in October 1993. At the same time Esso was brought into the project and given 15% equity in return for a commitment to fund 80% of the Stage I feasibility study and pilot plant, then costed at A $21 million. Esso withdrew in May 1982 for commercial reasons and the share reverted to WMC.

The deposit extends over 9 kilometres, is up to 1.5 kilometres wide, up to 7 metres thick and lies mostly at a depth of 5.5 metres below the surface. It comprises a mineral resource of 35 million tonnes with an average grade of 0.15%, containing 52 000 tonnes of uranium oxide, which could readily support a low-cost mining operation producing a proposed 2500 tonnes per year of uranium concentrate with 1000 tonnes per year of vanadium oxide by-product.

An Environmental Impact Statement was produced in 1978 and resulted in environmental approval from both state and Commonwealth governments. In the twelve years to 1983 WMC and its partners (then including Esso) spent a total of $35 million preparing to develop Yeelirrie as an open cut mine, including building and operating the pilot metallurgical plant at Kalgoorlie. A $320 million project was envisaged and sales contracts were being planned. However, the 1983 federal election and implementation of the ALP "three mines policy" meant that permission to negotiate sales contracts was withdrawn in March 1983. Plans were then abandoned, and WMC's attention focussed on developing Olympic Dam.

A new state Labor government was elected in 2002 with an ideological anti-uranium stance. Pursuant to this, the 1978 state mining agreement for Yeelirrie was revoked in March 2004. However, WMC Resources retains the mining tenements and will await future opportunities after undertaking rehabilitation of the site by the end of 2004.

Nuclear power is a fairly emotive subject and I'm sure to get some sort of comment on this. Please keep it nice...

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