Coal mining ruining China uranium deposits

Nov. 21, 2012 at 12:52 PM
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BEIJING, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- The mining of coal near untapped uranium deposits in northern China is ruining the value of the nuclear fuel, experts say.

State geologists said there could be tens of thousands of tons of uranium in the basins of Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia but those reserves are buried in thick belts of coal, says a report in The South China Morning Post.

A 2006 paper published by Liu Chiyang of Shaanxi's Northwest University says that nearly all the uranium and coal deposits in north China had formed at the same time.

Song Xuebin, former head of a state-run China National Nuclear Corporation factory that produces uranium fuel, filed a complaint with the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference about the encroaching mining activities.

The coal mining "will soon bring huge destruction to uranium resources," Song stated in his complaint.

When the discovery of the uranium reserves was announced earlier this month, the Ministry of Land and Resources said it would ensure sufficient resources to develop the country's nuclear power sector and to reduce its dependence on foreign supplies.

Under a new nuclear power plan announced by the Chinese government last month, China is expected to have 40 million kilowatts of installed nuclear capacity by 2015 -- three times the current level -- which would consume at least 7,500 tons of uranium annually.

The plan also lifted a moratorium on the construction of new nuclear projects, imposed after Japan's March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Around 95 percent of China's uranium imports are from Kazakhstan, Namibia, Australia and Uzbekistan.

In his complaint, Song also warned that the destruction of the uranium resources from the coal mining will also cause the environment to suffer from radioactive pollution.

"The problem is that if we leave those deposits there, they will soon be destroyed by coal mining," Professor Gu Zhongmao, of the China Institute of Atomic Energy and a top adviser to the China National Nuclear Corp., was quoted as saying by the Post.

"It is not unlikely that the bulk of Chinese uranium reserves end up in the furnaces of coal-fired power plants instead of in nuclear reactors.

"When that happens, the enormous amount of radioactive ash becomes a threat to everyone's safety," Gu said.

Yin Lianqing, environment professor at North China Electric Power University, who monitored radiation levels in areas near coal-fired plants in some Chinese cities said that exposure in some locations was "hundreds of times higher than what you would expect near a nuclear power plant."

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