• Significant potential environmental risks are associated with extreme natural events and failures in management practices. Extreme natural events (e.g., hurricanes, earthquakes, intense rainfall events, drought) have the potential to lead to the release of contaminants if facilities are not designed and constructed to withstand such events, or fail to perform as designed.
• Models and comprehensive site characterization are important for estimating the potential environmental effects associated with a specific uranium mine and processing facility. A thorough site characterization, supplemented by air quality and hydrologi-cal modeling, is essential for estimating the potential environmental impacts of uranium mining and processing under site-specific conditions and mitigation practices.
This chapter presents a discussion of impacts of uranium mining and processing operations on air quality, soil, surface water and groundwater, and biota. Much is already known about the environmental impacts of mining, both on-site and off-site, and that body of information provides a basis for this chapter. However, the primary emphasis of the chapter is on the unique impacts caused by uranium mining, processing, and waste management. The committee sought out data from currently operating uranium mining sites, where available, although detailed publicly available environmental effects analyses were limited. As discussed in Chapter 4, the operating practices used in uranium mining and processing have evolved over recent decades, and by definition, there are no retrospective examinations of the environmental impacts of the most current practices. For this reason, this chapter provides a review of the accumulated evidence from prior studies of mining and processing at comparable sites around the world—especially data from several relatively recent decommissionings of uranium mines and processing facilities in Canada. The chapter includes analyses of impacts on surface water, groundwater, soil, and air and the ecological effects of these impacts.
Exposure pathways refer to the specific ways in which animals, plants, and people come in contact with environmental agents. In the case of uranium mining, processing, reclamation, and waste handling, exposure pathways to living organisms, including people, may exist for chemical and radiological materials via inhalation, ingestion, absorption through the skin, and gamma radiation