How to Mine, Process, and Export Uranium Responsibly

Given the increased interest in uranium production among states, the United States today outlined the good practices in the processing of uranium ore concentrate.

In his remarks at IAEA Regional Seminar at Namibia today, Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs Ambassador Bonnie D. Jenkins said uranium ore concentrate is the key material for civilian nuclear energy production and for the growth of civilian nuclear energy worldwide and Namibia is a leading supplier of this material.

She says the seminar is particularly timely given the increased interest in uranium production among states, especially those in the African region.

The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after the dropping of the uraniumbased atomic bomb nicknamed ‘Little Boy’ (1945).

From the list of participants of the seminar, 22 countries and 15 commercial nuclear enterprises represented some of the largest uranium producing countries and nuclear companies in the world.

She notes that the International Atomic Energy Agency has organized the seminar is a testament to the Agency’s critical role on issues related to nuclear safety, safeguards, and security, and promoting the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Despite the terrible tragedy in Japan, Mr. Jenkins believes civilian nuclear power development will grow over the next decades given the demand for new energy sources in Africa, Asia, and across the globe.

She stresses that this trend underscores the important need for governments, regulators, and industry to come together to discuss the safety, safeguards, and security of nuclear material such as uranium ore concentrate.

“Clearly many countries around the world, including here in Africa, have extensive uranium reserves.” -Ms. Jenkins

According to Ms. Jenkins, in order to make the most of these commercial opportunities in an environmentally safe and secure manner, it is important for governments, nuclear regulators, and the commercial nuclear industry to have a common and agreed-to understanding of how to mine, process, and export uranium responsibly and in compliance with international norms, best practices, national laws and international obligations.

She says the commercial value of a drum of uranium ore concentrate is high.

However, she pointed out that while the intention of uranium production is to reap the economic benefits of this commodity, that same drum could be used maliciously to harm the environment, to carry-out terrorist activities, or to support a clandestine nuclear weapons program.

“These risks have the potential to damage the market and reduce the positive economic impact on producing countries that the safe and effective management of this material can bring.” -Ms. Jenkins

She cites that the seminar is a venue to agree among the states on some common best practices for managing and controlling this important strategic commodity at the government, regulatory, and nuclear industry levels.

The measures can make the future even more secure for the production and export of uranium ore concentrate and be more prosperous from its trade.

Ms. Jenkins urged the participants to use the forum to network and build contacts among regional counterparts and the outside experts here and use these relationships to share ideas and learn from each other.

While the United States is no longer one of the largest producers of this commodity, Ms. Jenkins looks forward to hearing and learning from the participants during the seminar so that they can help advance the good practices that are already in place in many of the countries.

By the early 1960s, the peaceful uses of nuclear energy were growing, and it was evident that the nuclear industry’s growth would be even greater in the future. Notwithstanding the creation in 1957 of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the development of IAEA safeguards, without a legally binding nonproliferation agreement there was a real danger that that the spread of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes could be accompanied by a rapid spread of nuclear weapons. In 1963, President Kennedy told news reporters that he worried that in the future as many as 25 states might possess nuclear weapons.

With strong support from the UN General Assembly the NPT was negotiated in the Eighteen Nation Disarmament Committee. The Treaty that opened for signature on July 1, 1968 created three mutually reinforcing pillars: nonproliferation, disarmament, and peaceful uses.

As predicted when the Treaty was negotiated, the peaceful uses of nuclear energy have grown substantially, bringing great benefits to humankind through power generation, and through research and applications in medicine, industry, and agriculture. The United States supports the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and remains the leading contributor to IAEA technical assistance.

Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn’t preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.