Environmental factors related to the development of a new uranium refinery

CIM Bulletin, Vol. 72, No. 806, 1979

J. P. JARRELL Project Engineer, D. B. CHAMBERS, General Manager of Nuclear Programs, James F. MacLaren Limited, Willowdale, Ontario

Environmental considerations are of increasing importance in determining the acceptability, schedule and cost of expansion of Canada's uranium processing industry. Environmental considerations must be addressed in the early stages of facility planning. This results in a dilemma, as the process data needed to predict physical environmental impacts are not yet available from process design activities. Hence, a business risk is incurred if plant design is carried forward to meet these requirements prior to project (or site) approval. On the other hand, project scheduling normally mitigates against leaving process design engineering until such time as project approval is obtained.This paper examines the experience gained in Eldorado Nuclear's proposed expansion of refining capacity as viewed by an environmental engineering consultant. The history of the project and the relationship to process design functions in the two-year period prior to the Port Granby environmental hearings are reviewed. During the Port Granby public hearing, there was a consensus that normal operation of the proposed refinery could be successfully integrated with the site's natural environmental constraints. Moreover, the radiological impact from plant operations was demonstrated to be inconsequential. However, concerns were raised relating to plant upset and accident situations. These concerns are summarized. Process data requirements identified during the environmental hearings are discussed.Finally, the concerns for on-site burial of radioactive waste are reviewed. These concerns focussed on long-term stability of the waste in the presence of groundwater transport, erosion and glaciers. The AECB's position on waste management with regard to this project is reviewed in light of the implications for design.
Keywords: Hydrometallurgy, Uranium metallurgy, Environmental control, Uranium refineries, Eldorado Nuclear Ltd., Radioactive waste, Waste disposal, Port Granby.