Remediation of Czech mining legacy gets funding boost

12 January 2015

The Czech government plans to invest CZK4.5 billion ($188 million) over the next two years on remediation work to address the Cold War legacy of uranium mining in Stráž pod Ralskem.

The total cost of the work is estimated to be about CZK50 billion ($2.09 billion) and is expected to take until 2037 to complete.

According to Prague Post, Czech industry and trade minister Jan Mládek told local reporters the government is not considering resumption of uranium mining in that area. The Cabinet is considering mining activity in Brzkov in southern Moravia, but any decision on this will be left to the government formed after the next parliamentary election, he reportedly said. The land reclamation process began in 1996 and has cost around CZK20 billion ($836 million) to date, according to the news agency.

Czech uranium mining, which once provided over 2500 tonnes of uranium (tU) per year, declined rapidly from 1990 following the collapse of the Communist government. A total of 110,427 tU was produced 1946-2008. By 1994, Czech production had fallen to 600 tU/yr, and through the last decade production has declined steadily to 228 tU in 2012.

The last underground mine – the Rožná deposit in the Dolní Rožínka locality 50 km northwest of Brno – operated by state-controlled Diamo, was due to close in 2003, but was extended due to rising uranium prices. In 2014 the mine was substantially depleted and the government said it was likely to close in 2017. Diamo has completed a feasibility study on reopening the 1980s Brzkov mine near Jihlava which is said to contain 3000-4000 tU some 300 m deep. Diamo said it would take 6-7 years to properly commission the mine.

Closure of Rozna will reduce production to a few tonnes per year from the former in-situ leach (ISL) mining operation at Hamr-Stráž pod Ralskemi in northern Bohemia, where the major groundwater rehabilitation project is under way following 32 years of mining. In 2009 Diamo proposed recommencing uranium mining at Straz pod Ralskem.

In 2007, Australian company Uran Ltd made an offer to participate in the Rozna mine, but this was rejected in favour of local plans. Diamo confirmed it would explore expanding the mine below the current 1200 m depth and, should it be successful in defining further reserves, Uran Limited would be offered potential participation. Uran also applied for four uranium exploration permits at locations near Rozna and two near Stráž pod Ralskem, but these applications were unsuccessful due to political opposition. The company has since abandoned uranium.

In its 2014 report Managing Environmental and Health Impacts of Uranium Mining, the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency wrote that practices used during the Cold War for ISL in the Czech Republic resulted in severe impacts on important groundwater resources. "These practices were the result of little or no consideration of potential environmental impacts and no prior experience with ISL technology, the lack of requirements for remediation after mining and the need to comply with demands for large production for sales to the Soviet Union," according to the report. "These impacts could have been reduced by investing in research, establishing remediation requirements and exercising greater care in the implementation of the technology."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News