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Uranium Mining Fundamentals


Uranium is a very important mineral in the world. It provides nuclear fuel that is used to generate electricity. It is also a mineral from which many other synthetic trans-uranium materials are manufactured. Despite the important use of uranium, it is a toxic metal that occurs naturally and has no biological properties. It occurs naturally in various materials like camotite, brannerite, also uranite. It is found in sands of monazite and phosphate rocks. For it to be made less toxic, when extracted it is purified to oxide also known as the yellow cake.

Due to the toxicity associated with mining uranium, it is advisable to implement best mining practices and operations that regulate the release of uranium harmful chemicals into the environment. The practices are also meant to not only protect the environment, but also the uranium miners, equipment suppliers, electricity generator personnel, and service producers. To make sure that best practices have been implemented in mining uranium, there are policies, ethical declarations, and principles put in place for uranium mining companies to adhere to. The principles to ensure sustainable mining are supported and affirmed by key and relevant international organizations, one of them being the International Atomic Agency.

They are also reinforced and approved by the global mining communities by use of useful national and international associations who cover the processing and extracting of uranium.

Australia is one of the largest uranium miners. The country implements the best mining technologies to minimize the negative effects that uranium can cause on the environment and its living things. To do so, it implements the uranium mining principles put in place. They adhere to sustainable development, implement practices that ensure safety, and a healthy and protected environment, assume social responsibility and comply with requirements, laws, and regulation principles particularly the Safety Standard Principles of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Managing hazardous materials is another policy that the country strictly adheres to. The radioactive and no-radioactive uranium residues, products, and waste materials are highly toxic and contaminate the environment. To minimize such risks, the mining firms should manage the contamination by taking actions to treat the hazardous materials as well as their sources.

Uranium operation practices in Australia involve the application of current and best practices. The nature of the mining solution should not compromise groundwater, the mining radiation should protect and be integrated into all mining facets, rehabilitation, and mining completion. The monitoring wells are situated effectively to contain mining solutions and to provide early warning in case of any dangers. The solid radiative residues are disposed of safely in a facility that ensures full management of the radiation. Therefore, Australia being a large producer of uranium, ensures sustainable mining by implementing the best technological mining practices and disposal techniques.


Uranium is a weighty metal mined underground that is used as sources of concerted energy. The mineral is mostly found between big rocks. However, exposure to chemical materials of the uranium is harmful to both humans, animals, and the environment. When inhaled it causes kidney damage to animals and humans and also damages the respiratory duct.

The current and leading practices of mining uranium are implemented to ensure that uranium compounds and waste products are not released into the atmosphere and environment to cause harm to the harm. They include monitoring wells and lined ponds, monitoring the discharge of uranium waste products to the environment and the environment receiving it, ensuring uranium wells and mines and mills comply with mining regularities, and protection of all waters and downstream. The different mining methods used in Australia include open pit operations, underground operations, in-Situ leash operations, dredging operations, and strip-mining operations. The mining method depends on how deep the uranium is in the rocks and the nature of the environment surrounding them. Despite the environmental and health risks associated with uranium compounds, there are other mining risks that people can be exposed to (Dinis and Fiúza, 2021). They include noise, UV exposure, whole-body vibration, thermal stress, Musculoskeletal disorders, falls, death, and chemical hazards. All these need to be kept in mind when mining uranium.

The aim and objective of this paper are to conduct a critical review of three scholarly articles talking about the current and leading practices for uranium operation in Australia and around the world. Learning the best practices of mining uranium will equip us with knowledge on how uranium is safely mined, safely transported, and safely disposed of to prevent the environment, animals, and people from being exposed to its radiation components. Also, the critical review will enlighten the principles regarding safe mining, use, and disposal of uranium products.

Results and Analysis

Uranium is mined in three major different ways. Open-pit mining is used to mine uranium deposits that are near the surface. It involves forming a large pit where stripping and removal of large overlying rock are done. Secondly, there is underground mining. It is used to mine uranium products that lay deep into the ground (Saydam, 2022). These need disturbance of small surfaces and the amount of material that is removed from it is less than that of open-pit mining. Thirdly, there is the In-Situ recovery mining method. A large proportion of uranium comes from this mining method. The process involves groundwater being oxygenated and circulated through a porous orebody. The water then dissolves uranium oxide, which is then pumped to the surface of the treatment plant to be treated and recovered.

According to Ben Heard in his article on the “environmental impacts of Uranium mining in Australia”, he states that modern society cannot function without the attractive products that come from industries, despite the mining processes involving environmental impacts (Heard, 2017). Due to the latter fact, responsible mining processes have been implemented to recognise possible impacts, avert them, avoid, alleviate and manage them where mitigation is impossible. The latter is meant to cut across the entire life cycle of the mining process and throughout the closure. Mining requires careful administration, quality attention and inspection in Australia falls on the past, to-date and probable operations to be discovered in the future in pursuit of mining uranium. The literature concludes that the start of this consideration comes from the amalgamation and progression of a global movement of weapons and peace-keeping apprehensions with the inclusion of those who do test weapons in the pacific and Australia into mainstream environment objections to not only mining (Legislative, 2020). But also the succeeding use of uranium as a source of producing electricity in public power-generated infrastructures.

Uranium has always been rejected as a clean fuel by environmental movements despite its nuclear energy being used to displace over 2.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the successes that France has accomplished by using uranium technology to entirely displace the use of fossil fuel as a source of electricity.

According to Heard, one of the best practices of mining uranium is by ensuring human health and radiation hazard management (Heard, 2017). The environmental impacts of the extraction of uranium include the present impacts that occur in the mineral extraction sites to the unique chemical effects of uranium and its daughter products radioactivity. Despite the fact that the radioactive products are naturally produced, the mining process can be conducted in such a way that the materials are not made available to human exposure or the environment. The mining firms are advised to always have available nuclear medicine technology to counter the effects of radiation. Elevated radiation exposure has serious health consequences for human health (Hirth, et al., 2018). The letter fact has been documented in various scholarly articles over the year. Nonetheless, mining of uranium in Australia and across the world is undertaken without the raised-up radioactivity levels that are harmful to the environment and human health. The National Radiation Dose Register of Australia confirms one-half of the additional dose for professional airline pilots (Heard, 2017). Therefore, according to the article, it is evident that mining of uranium can be conducted under proper management of potential hazards.

Management of uranium mining impacts on the environment is another best practice that Australia practices. The country has a clear progression of environmental practices and outcomes that are evident. From the review of the four open-cut uranium mines; ranger, Narbalek, Mary Kathleen, and rum jungle, and complex underground operations, the have been improvements in managing the negative impacts of uranium mining. Further development is also observed in the in-situ recovery mines. The latter indicates that mining uranium in the present day is more sustainable and more health and environment friendly.

Some extraction impacts on the environment can be expected. However, their extent and the degree of impact are determined by the mining method and mining process. Some of the commonly expected environmental impacts include clearing of vegetation, land disturbance, water discharge, and chemical excretion. Tailing is considered to be most common in most mining. Tailing refers to a general term that denotes a mixture of crushed rocks and processing fluids from concentrators, mills, or wateriness. The production of the tailings is not exceptional or limited when it comes to mining uranium (International Atomic Energy Agency, Uranium 20202 Resources Production, and Demand, 2020). A large number of tailings are approximately 5-7 billion tonnes worldwide per year. Failure to properly manage them can lead to catastrophic outcomes (Hernandez-Santin, Erskine, and Bartolo, 2020). Acid rock drainage is considered to have the most serious long-term effect on the environment. Therefore, appropriate planning and management are needed.

According to Mr. Heard, mining and regulation practices have continued and will stay to advance. The Rum Jungle mine in Australia is the best example of mining that has undergone tremendous improvements concerning acid-rock drainage of metals. Knowledge of the environment has been a vital element in the continuous study and evolution of the practice. Due to these environmental researches, scientists have continued to provide additional transparencies on the environmental impacts that mining causes and the potential ways to minimize that. Therefore, the overall review of this article is that the ordinary and the method of mining and not the inanimate is the main distinctive characteristic between poor, acceptable, and good.

According to the article, there is a high possibility that contemporary mines will come into existence due to the continuous evolvement of mining processes. The latter is rather an observation and not an argument for contentment (Tabelin, 2022). Thus, with determination, the negative impacts associated with the mining processes of uranium can be completely managed and give chances for the increment of more satisfactory outcomes.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) supports the implementation of best practices when it comes to mining uranium. Peter Woods, in his article on “Best Practice in Environmental Management of Uranium Mining – IAEA Recommendations”, indicates that over the last two to three decades of uranium mining, the vitality of realizing and reducing the environmental impacts of mining has become more rampant and accepted (Woods, 2019). The IAEA has well-known standards put in place to support sustainable extraction and mining of uranium and thorium not only in Australia but also across the world. It is also very well known for the safety standards that it has put in place for protection against radiation. It also provides guidance concerning the uranium production cycle and acts as a provider and gathering of information on environmental, technological, geological, and regulatory aspects.

To provide public health, the mining site designs and quality of construction should ensure maximum protection. Lined ponds, wells, environment receiving a discharge, and downstream should be continuously monitored to ensure that ware waters and water users are protected. The latter is also meant to ensure that the mill and mining facilities are 100 percent compliant with the IAEA policies.

Air, ground, and quality of water should also be maintained by managing deep good injections, liquid effluents, and groundwater. The mining process should also ensure limited surface disturbance through decommissioning and reclamation plans (Erskine, et al., 2019). Today, uranium miners receive 2.5 mrem per year as compared to those exposed to normal background radiation who receive 1.8 mrem (Scissons, 2019). According to a study done in 2010, modern miners of uranium are likely to receive more haphazard exposure to uranium radiations from the natural environment and their homes than from occupational exposure.

Peter Woods 2019 goes ahead to identify the current situations in uranium mining. According to him, mining of the commodity is highly regulated in Australia, unlike in other parts of the world, mainly in developing countries (Woods, 2019). Practicing safe and environmentally friendly production of uranium is not only beneficial to the world but also to consumers and producers too. The latter is because mining uranium has a legacy of causing health and environmental issues that are difficult to be reversed (International Atomic Energy Agency, BEST PRACTICE IN ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT OF URANIUM MINING, 2017). To prevent this from happening, today’s leading practices in mill sites and uranium sites as well as in other nuclear facilities are operated under independent agencies that have obligation to report to the head of parliament or state. The latter has resulted in improvements in modern uranium mining sites. The successful companies have come up with strategies to reduce or completely deal with the negative effects on the environment and communities associated with mining and processing uranium.

There are a number of challenges that are associated with mining uranium. These are experienced not only in Australia but also by the rest of the world. They include radiation protection of the public and the environment, ensuring safety and health of workers, preventing contamination of both underground and surface water, management of waste rock, and management and treatment of tailings (Mudd, 2022). To deal with these challenges, mining uranium in Australia is conducted under a code of practice and safety guide. It protects against radiation and radioactive waste during the mining process. To ensure that radiation exposure is managed and minimized, the radiation protection international commission established standards that should be adhered to protect mining workers. To begin with, the mining body should justify. The justification should highlight the net benefits that the society, those exposed, and the environment will receive. Secondly, it should follow the optimization principle. The latter dictates that risks and radiation doses be maintained low as possible while considering both economic and social factors. Another principle is the limitation. Exposure of a person should be subject to risks and dose limits while considering the social and economic factors.

To ensure proper handling of uranium, the following steps should be followed.

  • Education and training programs should be implemented
  • Exposure to mining workers should be regulated and limited such that when one is exposed to radiation, he or she is not allowed to work in the mines for a certain duration of time.
  • Dust should be monitored and controlled. The latter can be achieved by the use of sophisticated ventilation and detection systems. In an extremely remote area where the ore is of high grade, techniques to remotely handle the situation should be employed.
  • Radiation detection equipment should be used to detect the extent to which workers have been exposed to uranium radiation materials. The latter will help determine when to give the workers a break from being exposed to more than the recommended radiation substance.
  • There should be routine monitoring of surface, air, and water contamination
  • Also, high levels of personal hygiene should be strictly imposed on the people handling the uranium oxide concentrate.

According to Woods, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) is known to come up with Australia’s national framework to protect the environment and the public against radiation exposure (Woods, 2019). These regulations are implemented through license conditions and jurisdiction legislation. The provides the pivotal background which contains protection fundamentals against lonising radiation. (Legislative, 2020) It also has various codes that relate to the mining of uranium and the associated processes. These regulatory codes include a code for practice and a safety guide for protection against radiation and radioactive waste management in mineral processing. The radiation protection series is a safety guide to ensure that the naturally occurring radioactive materials are contained.

Other RPS codes are a safety guide for predisposing and managing radioactive waste, a guide for classifying radioactive waste, a guide for assessing, monitoring and evaluating, and recording occupational radiation doses administered to workers, a guide for safe transportation of radioactive materials, a guide to protection of the environment against harmful impacts of radiation, and code for protection of radiation against exposure situations (Erskine et al., 2019).

The uranium mining legislation is mainly focused on Mining approvals, Uranium exports, Radiation licenses, Radiation protection, Reporting obligations, Environment, and Health and safety of miners. It also deals with closure, global environment and health effects of accelerating background radiation, and safety and health of people from immediate vicinity who could have been exposed to and affected by radioactivity from dust, waste, or air among others.

According to the article, the uranium mining legislation of Australia has a regulatory framework that governs uranium mining in the country (Raval, 2020). The regulatory framework is very complex and varies between territory, state, and commonwealth jurisdictions. One of the regulatory acts is the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998. The act protects the health of the environment and humans from harmful radiation effects (International Atomic Energy Agency, Uranium 20202 Resources Production, and Demand, 2020). Uranium and its bi-products transportation are regulated through this act, hence minimizing radiation effects. Another Act is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Act of 1987. Its major objective is to ensure nuclear materials that are within Australia’s jurisdiction are secure. According to the legislation, one should have a permit and approval from safeguards of Australia to possess nuclear materials.

Additionally, the Atomic Energy Act of 1953 requires uranium miners to notify the minister upon discovery of thorium or uranium. The ministers have the power to acquire information on the substances. Another conservation act is the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999 (EPBC). This Act dictates that the commonwealth be involved in uranium mining actions and processes. The latter is because the mining activities have the potential to significantly impact certain environmental aspects. Therefore, according to Woods, uranium mining legislation, Acts, and sustainable development bodies are put in place to ensure that the process of mining uranium is less harmful to the environment and human health.

Uranium has been the world’s most important mineral for producing energy for the last 60 years (WORLD NUCLEAR ASSOCIATION, 2022). The material is mined and then concentrates on many other metals. While the material is mostly used to generate electricity, a small percentage of it is used to produce isotopes, and others are used in marine propulsion. The largest producer of uranium in the year 2021 was Canada, followed by Kazakhstan (Cameco) and Namibia.

The largest producing of uranium in the year 2021


Mining processes of uranium in conventional mines involve crushing the ore, liberating the mineral particles, and then leaching the materials in tanks containing sulphuric acid, which then dissolves the uranium oxides. The solution then undergoes a processing process to recover the uranium from the gold tailings. Other times the mining process involves the use of a physical beneficiation process that concentrates the ore and increases the head grade before it is taken to be chemically treated.

Most of the ore contained in barren rocks or other materials are minerals that remain undissolved after the leaching process. after the tailings have been separated, uranium is then recovered by filtering the remaining solution. The following is the mill chemistry mining process;

Mill chemistry mining process


The modern mining industry of uranium was born in the middle of the 20th century during the rapid social and industrial change and in the atmosphere of concern about the production of nuclear weapons. The need to mine uranium outweighed the need to protect the environment and the workers against the harmful uranium non-radioactive and radioactive substances (International Atomic Energy Agency, 2017). However, during the last quarter of the 20th century, the world realized that the careless mining of uranium has been exposing not only the environment but also the living things in it to hazardous health effects. It then began to take care of the total environment. Legislation and operation procedures were developed to ensure environmental protection. The Uranium industry became very much involved in the change and environmental standards were put in place to minimize the adverse impacts of uranium on workers, the environment, and the people surrounding it.

Protection of the environment and living things in it could only be assured by putting some measures into place. The development of uranium mining and production facilities contributed greatly to practicing sustainable mining. In addition to the modern best mining facilities, guiding principles have also been implemented. Environmentally, economically and socially acceptable society can only be achieved by following the basic guiding principles of sustainable development. These principles are put in place to help develop uranium facilities.

One of the principles is the sustainable development principle. According to this principle, humanity has the ability to sustainable development by ensuring that they meet the needs of the present generations without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own need. This definition was given by the Brundtland Report and it is meant to issue a warning to the present generation (International Atomic Energy Agency, 2017). According to Brundtland, the present generation should use natural resources sparingly bearing in mind that the present generation will need to depend on the same resources. It dictates industries balance social, environmental, and economic requirements within the management of good governance. According to this principle, the mining of uranium should not be exclusively focused on the economic impacts, but also on the social and environmental impacts as well.

The second principle is the ALARA principle, also known as the “AS LOW AS REASONABLY ACHIEVABLE” principle. It protects workers against exposure to harmful uranium radiation (Legislative, 2020). The radiation exposure needs to be kept as low as possible while taking both economic and social factors into account. In addition, this principle dictates the allowable exposure of radioactive and non-radioactive substances to the environment, animals, and individuals to be minimized regardless of the benefits that the whole society reaps from it.

The third principle is the precautionary principle. The concept of the precautionary principle requires effective environmental management to prevent, anticipate and correct the causal agents of environmental degradation. The lack of full scientifically proven impacts of mining activities should a reason enough to postpone the activity (International Atomic Energy Agency, 2017). A project should be conducted under the application of the best guiding principles that ensure that the four cornerstones for sustainable development are implemented. the key environmental aspects of the latter include; promoting responsible stewardship of the environment and natural resources with the inclusion of past damage remediation, minimizing environmental damage and waste products across the entire supply chain, practicing prudence where there are uncertain or unknown impacts, and operating within the limits of ecology to provide protection to the natural capital.

The precautionary principle environmental aspect key objective is to focus on extending sustainable development to the social aspect. To ensure the social aspect is well maintained, costs and benefits of development should be fairly distributed to all living members, fundamental human rights should be ultimately respected and reinforced. The latter can be made more effective by involving political and civil liberties, economic and social freedoms, cultural autonomy, and personal security (International Atomic Energy Agency, 2017). Additionally, improvements should be sustained over time by making sure that the present depletion of natural resources does deprive future generations of the luxury of eating the fruits of nature.


The current and leading uranium practices preferred in Australia and around the world are practices that protect the environmental aspect, the social aspect, and the economic aspect. With Australia being one of the major manufacturers of Uranium, it has implemented the best uranium mining practices. These include in-situ mining practices and underground and open-ground mining. All these are conducted in a manner to reduce the release of radioactive and non-radioactive materials into the environment.

To ensure sustainable mining of uranium in the country, various agencies and nuclear energy bodies have come up with Acts and codes of conduct to govern uranium mining bodies. Also, sustainability principles have been developed and implemented. Therefore, the future generation is protected and will have the luxury of enjoying natural resources since these sustainability principles ensure that natural materials are not completely depleted.


Dinis, M. D., & Fiúza, A. (2021). Mitigation of uranium mining impacts—A review on groundwater remediation technologies. Geosciences, 6(3), 45-63. Retrieved from

Erskine, P. D., Bartolo, R., McKenna, P., & Humphrey, C. (2019). Using reference sites to guide ecological engineering and restoration of an internationally significant uranium mine in the Northern Territory, Australia. Ecological Engineering, 22(5), 45-76. Retrieved from

Heard, B. (2017). Environmental impacts of uranium mining in Australia: History, progress, and current practice. A policy paper commissioned by the Minerals Council of Australia, 4(2), 12-28. Retrieved from

Hernandez-Santin, L., Erskine, P. D., & Bartolo, R. E. (2020). A review of revegetation at mine sites in the Alligator Rivers Region, Northern Territory, and the development of a state and transition model for ecological restoration at Ranger uranium mine. Journal of Cleaner Production, 5(3), 12-54. Retrieved from v

Hirth, G. A., Grzechnik, M., Tinker, R., & Larsson, C. M. (2018). Australia’s proactive approach to radiation protection of the environment: How integrated is it with radiation protection of humans? Annals of the ICRP, 66(43), 47-59. Retrieved from


International Atomic Energy Agency. (2020). Uranium 20202 Resources Production and Demand. A Joint Report by the Nuclear Energy Agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency, 4-362.

Legislative, C. (2020). Uranium Mining and Nuclear Facilities (Prohibitions) Repeal Bill 2019 (No. INIS-AU–0105). Legislative Council. Standing Committee on State Development., 24(7), 3-7. Retrieved from

Mudd, G. M. (2022). Acid In Situ Leach uranium mining—1. USA and Australia. In Tailings and Mine Waste 2000, 33(5), 23-54. Retrieved from

Raval, D. S. (2020). Environmental impacts of Uranium Mining. Sustainable development principles, 2-45.

Saydam, P. S. (2022). Overviews of uranium mining globally &Australia. UNSW SYDNEY, 3-50.

Scissons, K. H. (2019). Best Practises: The Top Twelve Issues For Mining Uranium. 1-25.

Tabelin, D. C. (2022). Introduction to Uranium Mining. Waste Management, Transportation and Disposal, 2-45.

Woods, P. (2019). Best Practice in Environmental Management of Uranium Mining – IAEA Recommendations. Good Practices in Uranium Mining: Conference paper, 7(3), 34-89. Retrieved from

WORLD NUCLEAR ASSOCIATION. (2022, 6 5). Uranium Mining Overview. Retrieved from WORLD NUCLEAR ASSOCIATION:


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