mining may be applicable for a single uranium ore deposit. Mining creates several categories of waste, including overburden (the rock that is removed prior to ore recovery that is not processed because of low or negligible recoverable uranium), and wastewater. Mined ore must be transported to a processing facility, usually by truck or conveyor.
Processing: Processing refers to all the steps that follow mining and end with the production of yellowcake, the uranium oxide product (U3O8) that is the raw material used for nuclear fuel fabrication. Processing (sometimes referred to as milling) includes ore crushing, grinding, leaching, and uranium recovery from the leached solution. Leaching uses either acidic (usually sulfuric acid) or basic (e.g., sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate) solutions. Separation of the uranium from the leached solution—to obtain yellowcake that can be shipped—requires solution purification, precipitation, dewatering, drying, and packaging. During processing, several waste streams are created. These include tailings (the solid materials that remain after leaching) and excess process water.
Reclamation: Reclamation refers to the activities that occur after mining has been completed for a particular area, and includes actions to prepare the mining site and processing facility for eventual reuse for other purposes after the license to mine and process uranium is terminated. Reclamation may include demolition of buildings and other facilities, decontamination and cleanup, and on-site and/or off-site waste disposal.
Long-term stewardship: For mines and processing facilities on federal and state land, the government retains ownership throughout the operation, leasing or permitting use of the land for mineral extraction and processing. After reclamation and other closure/postclosure requirements are met, the government may enforce institutional controls or other restrictions to ensure maintenance and long-term protection of the environment and public health. For operations on private land, state and federal regulations define requirements for the operator or permittee for closure, reclamation, and postclosure protection. After mining and processing have stopped and the site has been reclaimed, a large volume of low-activity tailings usually remains. In that case, long-term stewardship may include operation and maintenance of water treatment systems or other cleanup technologies. Signage and barriers to keep people from being exposed to remaining environmental hazards may be required. Uranium processing facility tailings impoundments require management in perpetuity, with ownership of the area of the impoundment transferred to the state or federal government.
The National Research Council appointed a committee with broad expertise (Appendix B), encompassing the diverse uranium mining and processing, worker and public health, environmental protection, and regulatory aspects included in the statement of task. The committee met seven times, in Washington, D.C.,