Thursday, May 11, 2006

Letter Regarding Uranium Mining at Nor Getik

By The Greens Union of Armenia May, 2006 With this letter, we would like to express our deep concern regarding Global Gold Corporation’s plan (see website http://www.globalgoldcorp.com/) to mine uranium, copper and other metals at Nor Getik, 18 km away from Lake Sevan (within the watershed of the lake), and to transport the raw material to the City of Hrazdan for the extraction of the uranium and other metals. Among the consequences of the proposed plan will be that Yerevan city will be squeezed between two threats of possible environmental catastrophes – from the west there is the Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) together with its storage of radioactive waste and from the north-east, there will be Hrazdan city with its storage of the uranium processing waste (although classified as “low level radioactive” waste, nevertheless it represents a grave environmental health hazard). The processing of uranium, in particular, will produce radioactive dust and wastewater. The later will be dumped into the River Hrazdan, which provides large amounts of irrigation water. Thus, through dust and water, the fields and inhabited lands along the River Hrazdan will become contaminated with radioactive elements. In addition, during disasters, which occur frequently in this region, such as earthquakes, landslides, flooding, possible bombardment during wartime, the waste materials stored in both Hrazdan and at NPP present a significant threat to the survival of the people of Armenia, and also may become targets of terrorist attacks. The mining of uranium will begin its destruction at Nor Getik by contaminating the waters and the beautiful valley of the River Getik - a paradise, where many refugees from Azerbaijan have found shelter. The River Getik flows into the River Aghestev, which means that all the contaminants will also flow into the River Aghestev, which passes through the center of the town of Ijevan. It is obvious that all the villages in the valley of the River Getik will be abandoned (no one wants to breath radioactive dust or irrigate their fields with radioactive water). Then follows the contamination of the River Hrazdan and the destruction of the town of Hrazdan, known as a resort town – many sanatoriums and health spas, children’s and students’ homes are located there. The Soviets had paid a special attention to this area allocating funding to limit industrial pollution in Hrazdan. Note that the River Hrazdan flows out of Lake Sevan, then passes through many towns, such as Hrazdan, Charentsavan, Abovian, Yerevan, Masis, Ararat, and through many villages, and finally flows into the River Arax. The water of Hrazdan River feeds the irrigation networks of Ararat valley and of all the lands along the river. Thus, contamination of the water of Hrazdan river is unacceptable. Before the raw material reaches Hrazdan city via rail transport, it will be stored in a storage area, right on the shore of Lake Sevan, because the rail line is built along the shoreline, just as the main road. This means that even if the raw material is transported via trucks, and not stored on the shore, the trucks still have to drive on a road, which runs along the shore. This represents a direct threat of contamination for the water of Lake Sevan in case of a rail or a truck accident. Finally, we would like to demand from the Government of Armenia not only public transparency and accounting regarding the activities of various mining companies in Armenia, but also a way, a mechanism, by which the Armenian public can participate in the decision-making process regarding the ownership and the exploitation of Armenia’s natural resources. At the moment, our government seems to be buckling under great external pressures, however, we believe that if the public (the population) is allowed to be informed and to participate in important decisions (for example, regarding the issue of ownership of strategic objects, such as Armenia’s hydropower stations), then the general will of the public will resist these external pressures and save our nation’s treasures (i.e., water and land) from usurpation and excessive exploitation. Also, without any doubt, if given a choice, the public will chose development of alternative sources of energy, such as wind, hydropower and solar (all of which are abundant in Armenia), instead of promoting the interests of the nuclear industry by proposing a new expensive nuclear power plant for a small earthquake-prone impoverished country. Information on contamination caused by uranium mining and extraction: Waste rock is produced during open pit mining when overburden is removed, and during underground mining when driving tunnels through non-ore zones. Piles of so-called waste rock often contain elevated concentrations of radioisotopes compared to normal rock. Other waste piles consist of ore with too low a grade for processing. All these piles threaten people and the environment due to their release of radon gas and seepage water containing radioactive and toxic materials. In addition, to keep water out of the mine during operation, large amounts of contaminated water are pumped out and released to rivers and lakes. When the pumps are shut down after closure of the mine, there is a risk of groundwater contamination from the rising water level. Ore mined in open pit or underground mines is crushed and leached in a uranium mill. A uranium mill is a chemical plant designed to extract uranium from ore. In most cases, sulfuric acid is used as the leaching agent, but alkaline leaching is also used. The leaching agent not only extracts uranium from the ore, but also several other constituents like molybdenum, vanadium, selenium, iron, lead and arsenic, thus, the uranium must be separated out of the leaching solution. The final product produced from the mill, commonly referred to as "yellow cake" (U3O8 with impurities), is packed and shipped in casks. In the end, large amounts of radioactively contaminated scrap are produced, which have to be disposed in a safe manner. Uranium mill tailings are normally disposed of (dumped) as a sludge in special ponds or piles, where they are abandoned. The amount of sludge produced is nearly the same as that of the ore milled. At a grade of 0.1% uranium, 99.9% of the material is left over as scrap/tailing. Apart from the portion of the uranium removed, the sludge contains all the constituents of the ore. Because long lived decay products such as thorium-230 and radium-226 are not removed, the sludge contains 85% of the initial radioactivity of the ore. Due to technical limitations, all of the uranium present in the ore cannot be extracted. Therefore, the sludge also contains 5% to 10% of the uranium initially present in the ore.In addition, the sludge contains heavy metals and other contaminants such as arsenic, as well as chemical reagents used during the milling process. Moreover, the constituents inside the tailings pile are in a geochemical disequilibrium that results in various reactions causing additional hazards to the environment. For example, in dry areas, salts containing contaminants can migrate to the surface of the pile, where they are subject to erosion. If the ore contains the mineral pyrite (FeS2), then sulfuric acid forms inside the deposit when accessed by precipitation and oxygen. This acid causes a continuous automatic leaching of contaminants. After hundreds of thousands of years, the radioactivity of the tailings and thus its radon emanation will have decreased so that it is only limited by the residual uranium contents. (end) The Greens Union of Armenia Dr. Hagop Sanasarian, president Mamikoniants St. 47-13, Yerevan, Armenia E-mail: armgreen@ipia.sci.am Telephone: (374-10) 257-634 US contact: Dr. Anne Shirinian, 732-462-9089

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