MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

Environmental Damage and Policy Issues in the Uranium & Gold Mining Districts of Chita Oblast in the Russian Far East
By: Paul Robinson, Research Director, Southwest Research and Information Center,
P. O. Box 4524, Albuquerque, NM 87106 USA
tel: 505-262-1862, fax: 505-262-1864,
e-mail: sricpaul@earthlink.net or PRobin414@aol.com

On Behalf of: Baikalwatch/Earth Island Institute,
300 Broadway, Suite 28, San Francisco, SF 94133-3312 USA
tel: 415-788-3666, fax: 415-788-7324

Distribution Date: November 8, 1996

A Report on Existing Problems at Baley and Krasnokamensk and Policy Needs in the Region


Executive Summary

Points of Contact for More Information

  1. Introduction
    1. Purpose for the Trip to Chita
    2. General Objectives
    3. Schedule of Activities
  2. Trip Report
    1. Baley
      1. Conditions and Environmental Concerns
        1. Community Radiation Exposure
        2. Environmental Management and Policy Development for Future Mining Ventures
      2. Initial Assessment and Opportunities for Future Actions
        1. Community Radiation Exposure
        2. Environmental Assessment and Policy Development
    2. Krasnokamensk
      1. Conditions
      2. Summary of Environmental Overview Presented by Senior Staff
      3. Key Environmental Problems
        1. Mine Waste Discharge Impacts
        2. Acidic Tailings Seepage
        3. Community Radon Exposure
        4. Rising Regional Water Table
      4. Initial Assessment and Opportunities for Future Actions
        1. Information Exchange
        2. Identification of Options for Pollution Control and Environmental Improvements
          1. Community Radiation Exposure
          2. Environmental Assessment and Policy Development for Future Mining
          3. Options for Addressing Identified Water Pollution Problems
            1. Tailings Seepage
            2. Rising Regional Water Table

Environmental Damage and Policy Issues in the Uranium and Gold Mining Districts of Chita Oblast in the Russian Far East: A Report on Existing Problems at Baley and Krasnokamensk and Policy Needs in the Region

By: Paul Robinson, Research Director
Southwest Research and Information Center
P. O. Box 4524
Albuquerque, NM 87106-4524 USA
tel: 505-262-1862/ fax: 505-262-1864
e-mail: sricpaul@earthlink.net or PRobin414@aol.com

Executive Summary      Return to Top

This report is the result of an October 1996 trip to Chita Oblast to identify and evaluate environmental problems at major regional mining districts. The trip was undertaken in response to an invitation provided by the Institute for Natural Resources (INR) in Chita, a branch of the East Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, followed a working trip by a delegation of environmental leaders from Chita to New Mexico uranium country in February 1996. With financial support from Baikal Watch, a joint Russian-American project of the Earth Island Institute and Baikal Center for Ecological and Citizen Initiatives, Paul Robinson - Research Director at Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA - was able to accept the invitation and visit Chita. The working schedule during this trip was very full, including lectures and seminars at the mining college and teachers college in Chita and at the public health school in the Baley, tours of the gold and thorium mines at Baley and the uranium mining and processing complex at Krasnokamensk and working meetings at all three places. The report summarizes information on environmental damage identified during the trip and options for both remediation of the contaminated sites and development of effective policy approaches for future mining.

Chita is a landlocked Oblast, or administrative region, in Russian Asia as large as the states of Washington and Oregon combined with a population of approximately 1,500,000. Chita is located east of Lake Baikal, north of Mongolia and 1500 kilometers inland from the Pacific Coast, and includes headwater streams feeding both Lake Baikal - the sacred sea of Siberia, and the Amur River- one of the ten longest rivers in the world. Home to the first precious metal mining in Siberia at Nerchinsk, Chita Oblast continues to be a major source of mineral wealth for Russia. Two major sources of this wealth are the Soviet-era gold and thorium production at Baley and a gigantic uranium complex at Krasnokamensk. The regional capital, the city of Chita, as well as Baley and Krasnokamensk were visited during the October 1996 trip. These areas are in the southeastern part of Chita Oblast, which has a less hostile climate, higher population density and more developed transportation network than most of Russian Asia. The city of Chita is the regional administrative capital and supply center with a population of approximately 350,000.

Chita Oblast is facing the first Post-Soviet wave of mining using foreign investment capital like much of Siberia and the Russian Far East, with Baley and Krasnokamensk among the largest and most developed of the internationally-funded mining operations in all of Northern Asia. Baley is the among the most southerly and accessible of the Siberia gold projects and Krasnokamensk currently produces uranium to meet supply contracts for French, Swedish and Spanish firms. Krasnokamensk has long been the largest uranium production site in the former Soviet Union. Both sites show the devastated landscape of a mine operated without a concept, much less a plan, for reclamation and pollution control.

As recently as 1993, the Krasnokamensk uranium mines were reported to produce 32% of the total export value from Siberia from a maze of operations whose waste management shortcomings have lead to extensive water pollution. The visit to this site was conducted by senior financial and environmental officials from the operating company, Priargunsky Chemical Mining Union. Open and frank discussions with these senior technicians at the site provided an overview of several large-scale pollution problems. These included groundwater damage from a large and expanding plume of acidic tailings seepage and a contaminated streambed used for transport of untreated radioactive mine water, in addition to problems presented by housing areas with high indoor radon levels and hundreds of millions of tons of unreclaimed mine and mill waste piles.

Baley is a poor community which shows little visible benefit from past gold and thorium mining. In addition, it faces to a legacy of environmental and health damage linked to the open of tailings piles and mine waste dumps in the community which has been a major concern for residents and health professionals. These concerns have focused on a widespread indoor radiation exposure problem associated with use of thorium tailings in home construction and air and water quality problems resulting from the unreclaimed Soviet-era gold and thorium pits and waste piles.

The indoor radiation problem at Baley is well documented, including a series of overlaid maps by local scientists charting data on locate high indoor and outdoor radiation areas and compilations of public health data chronicling multi-generational disease patterns in local families in affected homes. Additional efforts are needed to provide solutions for these problems. Remediation of buildings and compensation to affected families is long overdue. Research to explore the links between local thorium production, radiation exposure data and documented health problems is needed. The view of gray, uncovered thorium tailings pile, with its sparse growth of sickly pine trees, and chemically-stained and eroding open pits from the town of Baley is a compelling image of the careless and exploitative practices of Soviet-era mining. The most powerful impression of the catastrophe facing the community came from a brief trip to the local hospital which was trying to cope with the human aspect of these pollution problems.

Baley is facing the legacy of damage at the same time that an international mining company is preparing to expand the existing gold mine as well as many new operations in, around and under residential areas within town boundaries. Recent exploration and development activity has identified more than $2.8 billion USD worth of gold ore in and around the existing mines in Baley. This rich deposit is the focus of plans for expanded gold production in the area, the source of a reported 450 tons of gold since Stalin's time. The mining company developing the Baley deposits, Armada Gold, is headed by Chairman Derek Fisher and Co-Chairman Robert Friedland and John Hopkins. Co-Chairman Friedland's financial interests have played a leading part in several recently built mines which have had major tailings spills, Summitville in the US and Omai in Guyana.

The identified environmental damage in the mining communities - high indoor radiation in 500 -1000 homes based on current data in the two towns, unreclaimed waste sites and growing areas of mine water contamination and acidic tailings seepage at Krasnokamensk, reflect a pattern of residential radiation exposure and water pollution observed in other large uranium producing areas world-wide including the Southwestern US, Eastern Germany, and South Africa. Long-term resolution of these problems of homes which high radiation levels and poor wastewater controls is made all the more difficult by the severe social and economic conditions in Russia. The legacy of poor environmental management and protection efforts during the Soviet period and the lack of financial resources and legal enforcement programs to support and direct clean-up effort in Post-Soviet Russia combine to allow continued use of high radiation homes and water pollution spreading at an alarming rate.

Krasnokamensk is the largest operating uranium mining site in the former Soviet Union and among the largest uranium complexes in the world. The operations produced 5,000,000 pounds of uranium in 1995, and at least 5,000,000 tons of waste rock and uranium mill tailings in the process. Uranium and waste production at this rate, or higher, has occurred for the past 30 years at a facilities which shows little effort to control water discharges or contain wastes until the past few years. This site has been a primary source of the low cost "FSU-uranium" (Former Soviet Union) which has been a focus of US congressional and world market attention since the end of the Soviet Union.

As a result of this uranium production without the environmental controls of a contemporary mining operation, the Krasnokamensk area suffers from extensive pollution problems related to the liquid waste streams generated by the mines and processing mills. Three major water resource problems were identified by Krasnokamensk technicians. The first large scale problem relates to a mine water discharge site called Bambakai where at least 10 kilometers of stream bed is contaminated from the release of 150 m(3)/hr of mine water with radiation levels of 170 microroentgen/hr for more than 17 years without treatment. A second problem is seepage from the enormous tailings ponds where massive volumes of acidic tailings leachate containing uranium decay products and associated heavy metals have leaked through holes in a liner. This seepage is reported to be currently spreading at a rate of 150 m/yr, down from a reported 350 m/yr. Krasnokamensk has generated 50,000,000 -75,000,000 tons or more of mill tailings - the highest radioactivity waste stream at a uranium production site - in the past 30 years. The third major problem identified is a widespread rise in the regional water table, apparently a consequence of excess water produced from the combination of mine dewatering, tailings liquids and infiltration from local reservoirs. The rising water table conditions threaten the stability of the large housing blocks in the community as well as the use of local lands for agricultural production.

The indoor radiation problem at Krasnokamensk involves even higher levels of radiation exposure than Baley but has less well documented public health information. The Chita communities face indoor radiation problems as severe and widespread as those observed in the major uranium districts of the US, eastern Germany and South Africa. Federally-funded programs have been a key element in the programs developed to address uranium waste problems in the US and Germany. The South African problem have only begun to be recognized and investigated in post-apartheid period.

Though this complex array of pollution problems is a focus of attention for Krasnokamensk administrators, the lack of financial resources and economic or environmental incentives for remediation have allowed the problems to go addressed or worsen. In addition to Russian institutional problems, international economic difficulties have dramatically affected the financial conditions of the Krasnokamensk operations. Priargunsky Chemical Mining Union has been caught in the web of financial losses associated with the bankruptcy of former world uranium trading leader Oren Benton and his array of companies. Krasnokamensk officials believe they are owned $600 million USD from unfulfilled contracts with Benton's Concord Oil Company. As the largest source of foreign exchange in post-Soviet Siberia, Krasnokamensk is as important to the future of Chita's economy as renewed Baley gold production, and suffers from at least as significant of a pollution problem from existing mine workings.

Chita regional authorities are planning to respond to the current problems and future development activity in several ways. Governmental policy seeking to prevent future environmental damage by instituting a review of proposed operations to insure that international standards and norms for responsible mining are applied to current and future mining. Local leaders are preparing to conduct a technical review of current mining operations to insure that new and enlarged mining activities address environmental impacts of the existing workings in future plans. The government of Chita Oblast and the local environmental leaders are developing these programs to implement recent regional legislation "Concerning environmental controls and needs for monitoring and oversight of economic activities of business using international capital". The objective of this law is to insure effective review and monitoring of current and future mining operations, and sets a high performance standard for future mineral development in the region.

Several areas of future cooperation were identified to build on the effective communication foundation established during this working trip. These include research and technical assistance to support:

  1. Development of environmental policies in Chita which assure that high-quality international performance levels apply to current and future mines.
  2. Evaluation of current mineral development designs and proposals.
  3. Identification and application of effective long-term remedies to the existing problems.

If successful, these approaches will allow US-based and other international environmental scientists to work cooperatively with Russian scientists and technicians in Chita to develop and implement strong and practical environmental management and development programs. This effort to establish effective measures to respond to current and future mineral impacts addresses a major environmental and development challenge facing Chita as a region and Russian Asia as a whole. This is a challenge of providing remedies to existing environmental damage while also insuring that international standards and norms for responsible resource development are applied at current and future operations.

Points of Contact for More Information:      Return to Top

In Russia
In Chita:
Dr. Leonid Zamana, Deputy Director
Dr. Tatiana Strizhova, Research Scientist
Dr. Irina Malchikova, Research Scientist
Institute of Natural Resources
P. O. Box 147
Butina, 26, Chita 672090, Russia
tel: 8-(302-22) 1-25-24 or 1-24-98
e-mail: chita@glas.apc.org
In Baley:
Valentina Dudareva, Founder
"Baley of Life"
Baley, Chita Oblast, Russia
tel: 8-(232) 5-16-46 or 5-13-83/ fax: 8-(302-22) 1-16-89
e-mail: chita@glas.apc.org

In Irkutsk:
Baikal Center for Ecological and Citizen Initiatives
Proletarskaya Street 7-19
664000 Russia
tel: 8-(3952) 3313
e-mail: irkutsk@glas.apc.org
In the US:
Gary Cook
Erika Rosenthal
Baikal Watch/Earth Island Institute
300 Broadway, Suite 28
San Francisco, CA 94133-3312 USA
tel: 415-788-3666/ fax: 415-788-7324
e-mail: baikalwatch@earthisland.org
Paul Robinson
Southwest Research and Information Center
P. O. Box 4524
Albuquerque, NM 87106-4524 USA
tel: 505-262-1862/ fax: 505-262-1864
e-mail: sricpaul@earthlink.net or PRobin414@aol.com

Environmental Damage and Policy Issues in the Uranium and Gold Mining Districts of Chita Oblast in the Russian Far East: A Report on Existing Problems at Baley and Krasnokamensk and Policy Needs in the Region

by: Paul Robinson
Southwest Research and Information Center
P. O. Box 4524
Albuquerque, NM 87106-4524 USA
tel: 505-262-1862/ fax: 505-262-1864
e-mail: sricpaul@earthlink.net or PRobin414@aol.com

November 8, 1996

  1. Introduction:

    1. Purpose for the Trip to Chita:

      This report is the result of an October 1996 trip to Chita Oblast to identify and address environmental problems related to mining, in response to an invitation provided by the Institute for Natural Resources (INR) in Chita a laboratory of the East Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The invitation followed a working trip by a delegation of and environmental leaders, including INR staff, from Chita to New Mexico uranium country in February 1996. INR is a research organization with scientists working in the a wide range of earth science and life science fields, including geology, hydrogeology, and biology related to regions of the Transbaikal including assessment of both environmentally damaged and natural areas.

      The program for this return visit was developed by the planners and participants in the original meetings - including Tatiana Strizhova, a geographer and staff member of the Institute for Natural Resources in Chita; Valentina Dudareva, a pediatrician in Baley and founder of "Life for Baley", a non-governmental organization concerned about high radiation levels and childhood disease in that community; Gary Cook and Erika Rosenthal of the bi-national Baikalwatch program with its US offices at Earth Island Institute in San Francisco and the Baikal Center for Ecological and Citizen Initiatives in Irkutsk; and Paul Robinson.

      The October 2-13, 1996 trip to Chita was planned in order to provide current information on environmental management and policy aspects of mineral development, particularly uranium mining, at the level of expertise and detail provided to the Russian delegation to New Mexico.

      The invitation to visit and work in Chita was directed to Paul Robinson Research Director at Southwest Research and Information Center, who presented several seminars during the February visit to New Mexico. Robinson completed his Master Degree in Community and Regional Planning from University of New Mexico with a professional project on planning for reclamation of uranium mine and mill sites in the former East Germany, and has 21 years experience as an environmental analyst specializing in the assessment of mine reclamation technology and programs. He is also an adjunct professor at University of New Mexico, teaching environmental assessment methods in the Community and Regional Planning Program. He has experience in the review of environmental conditions and remediation technology at major uranium districts in the USA, Canada and eastern Germany as well as other metal mines, particularly in North America. This experience related to international approaches to mine waste management and environmental policy development provided a strong foundation for consideration of the environmental problems observed at Baley and Krasnokamensk and concepts for their remediation.

    2. General Objectives:

      In response to the invitation from the Institute of Natural Resources, Baikal Watch identified financial resources to support the trip and activity planning for the working visit was initiated. A program plan was developed which provided time to conduct:

      • A series of seminars on environmental aspects of mining to local educators and college-level students.
      • An initial assessment of the environmental impacts in existing mining areas and areas with high in home radiation problems.
      • An preliminary identification of opportunities to address environmental impact and resource development policy concerns on a regional level involving local scientists and decision-makers.

      An intensive series of activities were planned by the Russian hosts at INR and Chita Teachers College in order to meet the goals for the trip. A primary objective of the seminar series to provide information on management of pollution problems at major uranium and other hard rock mines in the US and other countries to future students educators and future leaders at the academic institutions in Chita. This objective was addressed through the four seminars provided at academic institutions and the working sessions with community leaders, mine administrators and INR scientists.

      A second major objective was development of a preliminary assessment of the severity of conditions and needs related to environmental damage related to mining in Chita. This evaluation included identification of technologies and programs which could provide effective site specific and regional solutions the existing conditions and problems. This objective included attention to the operating and remediation needs at existing sites, as well as policy development to address future mining activity on the horizon for Chita and other regions of vast, undeveloped Siberia and the Russian Far East.

      Fundamental to this objective was the establishment of frank and open communication with local business and governmental leaders and research scientists regarding ecological issues and concerns. The focus of the discussions at these working meetings was the severity of known environmental problems in the region and the range of mechanisms to address those concerns, in terms of site-specific remedies and environmental policy development options. The careful scheduling of the trips to key sites and working discussions with site senior administrators and scientists, as well as excellent translation and technical skills of the Russian participants in the site visits, was critical to attainment of these objectives. The briefing by scientists at INR and technicians at Krasnokamensk, who were so familiar with the sites and regional policy issues they face from their careers the region, was uniquely valuable due to the very limited availability of reliable data for scientific or regulatory analysis of the sites of concern.

    3. Schedule of Activities:

      These objectives lead to an agenda which included the following key events:

      • October 6, 1996 - In Chita - Two Seminars on Methods for Reclamation of Disturbed Landscape at Chita Teachers Training College; Introductory Meeting and Briefing on Baley Conditions, Institute of Natural Resources, of East Siberian Academy of Sciences; Train to Baley.
      • October 7, 1996 In Baley - Introductory Meeting with Dr. Valentina Dudareva; Seminar on Environmental and Public Health Impacts of Radon in Homes and Mines at Baley Public Health School; Tour of Baley gold and thorium mine and mill tailings sites; Tour of districts in Baley and Novotroitsk districts with high indoor radon concentrations; meeting with Local administrator and representative of Chita Oblast environmental authority: Train to Chita.
      • October 8, 1996 - In Chita - Seminar on Environmental Management and Reclamation Planning at Metal Mines and Mill Sites at Chita Mining College; Follow-up meeting and Briefing on Krasnokamensk conditions at Institute of Natural Resources; Train to Krasnokamensk.
      • October 9, 1996 - In Krasnokamensk - Meetings with Administrator and Chief Ecologist for Operating Company; Tour of open pit and waste rock piles, mine water discharge pipe, and areas of Octobrysky - a nearby town with homes with extremely high radon levels; Follow-up meeting discussing specific environmental concerns at Krasnokamensk; Train to Chita.
      • October 10, 1996 - In Chita - Final working meeting with Institute of Natural Resources to review initial impressions from site visits and prospects for future cooperation; Press Conference with Chita Regional Television reviewing perceptions of the people and places in the region, as well as the mine sites; Plane to Khabarovsk and connections to New Mexico.

  2. Trip Report:

    1. Baley:

      1. Conditions and Environmental Concerns:

        Baley has a long history as a mining community, providing housing for workers either sentenced to mining or relocated by government plans and services to major gold operations beginning in 1928, and thorium mining during the 1950's and 1960's. Baley is the main town in a 15-20 kilometer long valley surrounded by forested and rocky mountains rising 500-1000 meters about the valley floor. The Unda river, an upper fork of the Shilka River and tributary to the Amur River, flows east-west through the valley, the central portion of which is a maze of open pit mines, waste rock dumps and dredge workings. The population of Baley is approximately of 23,000, with settlements on both sides of the river whose housing areas are very closely interspersed among the pits, piles and industrial equipment of the gold and thorium mines.

        Living conditions in Baley are very severe as residents face all the challenges of survival in Russian society in the mid-1990's, in addition to the extreme health damage across several generations documented in the community. This human health damage, and associated but less well documented water resource and soil damage, is a legacy of intense high grade extraction of minerals - gold and thorium - with no apparent effort to manage contaminants in wastes or waste waters.

        The inequity and injustice of these practices is very striking in this community, built to mine more than 450 tons of gold and an undisclosed amount of thorium but in no way the beneficiary of this Soviet treasure trove. Baley is a community and region kept poor by the government which exploited it for minerals, and which cannot effectively address the clear and present health danger its residents face daily.

        The extent of radioactive contamination in Baley and surrounding communities has been careful documented by local doctors and public health specialists, using equipment supplied through the efforts of the bi-national Baikal Watch and its associated organizations, including the local "Baley for Life". Supplementing this exposure data is documentation of the multi-generational pattern of severe health effects - documented by the East Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences in 1995. These research efforts were initiated by "Baley for Life" and implemented by careful efforts of volunteer and consulting scientists in the Transbaikal region. This research - supported with highly detailed local base maps and overlays shown radiation levels in homes, soil, air and water and substantial survey data - is an excellent foundation for initiation of remediation and repair efforts, as well as future public health and epidemiological research.

        Working meetings were held in Baley with Dr. Valentina Dudareva of "Baley for Life", Mr. L. Khodyrev, head of administration for the town of Baley, and Mr. V. Senotrusov, a representative of the Chita Oblast administration. Mr. Senotrusov, a geophysicist, conducted a very informative tour of the gold and thorium mine sites in the area. Dr. Dudareva provided detailed information on the radiation and health problems in the community, as well as a tour of several of the buildings with high radiation levels and the children's ward of the regional hospital.

        1. Community Radiation Exposure:

          The severity of health risks at Baley is comparable with the significant radon contamination in homes and communities observed at other major uranium mining districts around the world, most notably the USA, eastern Germany and South Africa. The health literature confirming the links between radon and health include studies of many uranium mining populations, as well as other mining districts and mineralized areas with high levels of naturally occurring radiation sources. The severity of the health effects found in these initial surveys and the risks indicated for children living in the homes is a basis for the major interest in this community from concerned Russian and international organizations. Many aspects of the radioactive material problems at Baley have yet to be clarified, as the local thorium mines and other geologic sources of radiation may be producing a different mix of radiation sources than those produced by normal natural uranium decay.

          The Baley community survey documents hundreds of homes with radiation levels as much as 10-20 times the amount which would indicate repair actions were needed under the international standards acknowledged by the Russian investigators. Radiation emission rates were reported to reach 2800-3000 Bq/m(3), versus a Russian indicator standard of 200 Bq/m(3) - a comparative US standard, the USEPA action level for indoor radon is 4 pCi/l, or approximately 150 Bq/m(3). The indoor radon action levels for US homes and schools were adopted in response to the use of radioactive uranium mill tailings sand in construction and soil fill for homes and schools in the western US; recognized in the 1970's as one of the first direct community health risks from the process of uranium mining. This recognition resulted in the repair or replacement of more than 5,000 buildings in the uranium producing communities in the southwest US.

          As with other areas of Asian Russia, many of the current residents of Baley, or their parents, are in Siberia because they were ordered to go, either as punishment or to meet Soviet-era plans and directives. The communities built for these populations, as shown at Baley and Krasnokamensk, including placement of housing areas right next to mine workings, providing for increased residential exposure to airborne or waterborne pollutants released from the mine. waste dumps or processing plants.

          The combination of indoor radiation problems already found in the Baley and Krasnokamensk areas indicates that 500-1000 homes or more suffer from radiation exposures far above international action levels. While local plans call for action in both cases, resources are not available to provide a prompt response and either protect or compensate affected families. This large scale problem reflects a pattern at major uranium districts world-wide. Significant examples include some of the most extensive uranium districts in the world, with residential radiation exposure problems are as poorly addressed as in Chita include:

          • Southeastern Germany - where tailings and waste rock were used in construction in densely populated areas and dozens of communities in mining districts.
          • South Africa - where new housing areas, primarily black townships, were constructed near tailings facilities and in wetlands and floodplains contaminated by tailings-generated seepage.

          The mining districts of southeastern Chita, including Baley and other reported high indoor radiation areas such as Krasnokamensk and Nerchinsk, are among the first population exposures to these world-wide problems identified in Russia. Effective national and international attention to the severity of the exposure to local populations can help accelerate the response to Baley risks, set a positive standard for the elimination of the radiation exposure problem, and compensation for involuntary radiation exposure and resulting health damage.

        2. Environmental Assessment and Policy Development for Future Mining Ventures:

          The image of Baley as case for the world to address as part of the human health legacy of Stalin and Khrushchev's environmentally unconscious mining is strongly colored by economic interest in the gold deposits of the valley by non-Russian entrepreneurs. The old gold workings are currently the focus of one of the first wave of major non-Russian efforts to mine in the former Soviet Union. The existing and proposed mine working are scattered among the neighborhoods of Baley and near the inactive thorium mill site and waste dumps.

          The Baley Gold Project includes direct interests in various licenses in the Baley district held by Armada Gold Company, a company traded on the Alberta Stock Exchange. The company is headed by President Derek Fisher and Co-Chairman Robert Friedland and John Hopkins, and has announced reserves in the Baley area at more than 8,000,000 ounces (250 tons, worth $2.8 billion USD at $350/oz, as of September 1996). This operation is forecast as part of the first wave of full-scale gold operations in Siberia and the Russian Far East in the mining press.

          It may well be one of the very first of the new gold mines to produce at significant levels as a function of three key factors. First, the site benefits from its location as one of the most southerly and most accessible of the leading Asian Russia gold projects. Second, the mining company has invested in extensive advanced planning as shown in the currently available, western-style feasibility study. Third, site-specific mining economics are likely to be positive, due the clearly visible and substantial reserves of poorly processed tailings and shallow ore readily available with little or no stripping requirement and relatively short-haulage routes. If the operation proceeds rapidly, and projects involving Mr. Friedland's interests are well know for an extremely aggressive construction and start-up schedules - sometimes excessively aggressive from an environmental performance or indigenous community involvement perspective, as experience at both Summitville, Colorado, USA; Omai, Guyana; and Voisey's Bay in Innu country of Labrador in Canada has shown - this operation could be one of the first publicly debated major gold projects in the vast undeveloped areas of northern Asia.

          The currently available feasibility study for the project - by major western mining consultants Davy International and Golder Associates - identifies options for management of more than 500 million tons of waste rock and 90 million tons of tailings from gold within a five kilometer radius of the center of Baley, much of it within town boundaries. A September 1996 Armada Gold press statement describe these holdings as "developed or partially developed" properties which "can be rapidly moved into production" involving remining of old workings as well as new extensions of old deposits. Initial forecasts of a 400,000 ounces of gold per year production rate would generate $140,000,000 USD per year of gold and result in the generation of 8,000,000 tons, or more, of process tailings and similar amounts of waste rock. Even at this initial production rate, the new Baley Gold workings will soon dwarf the existing mine in scale and value, assuming an economic deposit is indeed in place and the current plans are realistic.

          As a pioneer in post-Soviet era mining, the new Baley gold operations will be among the first cases to test the ability of western-funded mining ventures to apply the full level of environmental protection comparable to international standards or norms to Russia or Siberia. This level of performance would include: pollution prevention in design; reclamation and restoration of inactive or environmentally damaged mine areas; and equitable sharing of mineral income with local authorities the vast region of Siberia. This concept of effective application of international standards is a explicit goal of the Chita regional authorities, and the focus of substantial discussions, with INR scientists in Chita and local and regional governmental leaders in Baley, centered on methods to apply models from North American and European standards of environmental and economic performance to Chita's new mines. The visibly advanced state of mineral development at Baley - where previous operations have "stockpiled" large volume of tailings and previous mining has already stripped substantial overburden off of recently identified reserves - provides a very strong impetus for Baley and Chita authorities to seek prompt means to establish an effective governmental policy approach and conduct a thorough review of Armada Gold's feasibility studies and mine plan.

          Local and regional administrative authorities are as concerned about the environmental design and performance qualities of the proposed new mining ventures as they are about remedies to existing radiation exposures. They are seeking to assure that the future operations meet the best available international standards, or norms, in terms of environmental technology, the prevention of environmental impacts and distribution of economic benefits.

      2. Initial Assessment and Opportunities for Future Action:

        Chita as a whole, and Baley and Krasnokamensk in particular, is on the frontlines of two economic and environmental struggles in post-Soviet Russia. These are: 1) the need to assure high standards of performance for western investments in resource development and 2) the need to address the environmental and health legacy of past regimes. Baley and Krasnokamensk provide opportunities to address the legacy and damage from past practices within the framework of an environmental policy for future mineral developments. This framework could include the integration of on-site remediation of environmental damage and long-term containment of existing hazards into the design, review and approval process for future resource development projects.

        A wide range of opportunities are available to address the human and environmental health problems in Baley and Krasnokamensk, as well as other areas in Chita and Asian Russia suffering environmental damage resulting from mining. Similarly, the pace of current development provides a clear opportunity to develop policy which effectively applies international environmental standards to proposed new mining operations, a goal strongly expressed by the community representatives and leaders met in Baley and Chita.

        This set of conditions makes Baley a leading case, for better or worse, among the major environmental and economic challenges facing Chita, Asian Russia and indeed, all of the former Soviet Union. On the one hand, addressing the legacy of the past, including sources of both psychological terror and health damage, is an important focus of any existing local initiative, with a impressive database documenting their case. On the other, Baley as a community, and Chita and the Russian Far East as a region, are facing major new economic development activity for which local and regional policy, administrative and regulatory programs, and infrastructure are neither place or tested. Developments of the scale of Baley and Krasnokamensk are so immense as to generate widespread, long-term impacts on the natural, as well as social and political environment, even if well managed. They are certainly developments would be providing community impact assistance funds and administrative fees to offset the cost of regulatory review were they located in many North American or Western European countries. Initiating these pre-planning and oversight funding aspects of an environmental control policy is especially important for governmental and community representatives which lack the resources to insure that mines are held to high international standards of environmental design and financial accountability and address the needs and interests in affected areas.

        1. Community Radiation Exposure:

          One of the initial objectives of the trip was to assist in the understanding and response to the problems identified by "Baley for Life", as presented by Dr. Dudareva in New Mexico in February 1996 and described in their published material. To provide the communication and exchange opportunities similar to the workshops in Albuquerque, the trip to Baley included a formal lecture and slide show at the Baley Public Health College. Working meetings in the town, at the administration building, provided a forum for the exchange of current technical information on uranium mining methods and health effects and policy aspects of radon. The audience for these programs in Baley were "Baley for Life" leaders along with approximately 100 students and instructors at the local public health training school.

          With respect to responses to the radiation problem, the trip provided an opportunity to identify technological approaches and policy options in the context of range of problems in uranium mining communities worldwide. These efforts were designed to assist directly in the attainment of the goals of the community leaders. Those goals are to reduce or eliminate the health risks which they and their neighbors face and to address the health problems they have found among their neighbors. "Baley for Life" efforts to gather and compile a thorough database on the problem are impressive and demonstrate the severity of the problem. This data presents a powerful impression of the distribution of radioactive material in the soil, air, water and homes in the community, but would be more valuable if summarized and described beyond the data mapping phase.

          The information gathered by "Baley for Life" demonstrating the extent of the indoor radiation problems in Baley certainly appears to be strong enough to indicate the need for an intensified response to current exposures in higher risk homes, as a preventative public health practice. These problems can be compared in detail to other uranium producing regions in Chita, Russia or Siberia as a whole. Intensive new uranium mining activities in Mongolia, Chita's southern neighbor, provides addition basis for a northern Asia focus for organizations addressing radiation problems and nuclear issues.

          Key to an increase in the intensity of the Russian Federation and international response to the community radiation problems is demonstration of the severity of the conditions in the context of other affected communities world wide. While, the level of detail in the community-based research effort is very impressive, additional work is necessary to compile it into readable and actionable conclusions and recommendations. A review of this data and its conclusions can both:

          • Focus future public health and community-based solutions.
          • Communicate the severity of the problem to national or international institutions with resources to respond to the problem including both repair and compensation interests.

          Development of a database and analysis which details the conditions in Baley, Krasnokamensk and other regional sites, would show the severity of the combined problems in the major known uranium and thorium districts in Russia. Models from other countries can also be considered to provide protective measure and compensation for damages, as a basis for specific solutions to the regional problems. These international models and approaches can be explored at the same time that additional investigations occur to follow-up and summarize existing data.

          In addition to the development of conclusions and action recommendations from the wealth of current data, several key technical and scientific questions about the source and nature of the radiation hazardous appear to deserve attention. Most notable is clearer determination of the nature of the radiation hazard from the thorium-rich minerals found in the local soil and rock and use in construction material in Baley. The thorium mined at Baley is likely to have a different set of decay products than the uranium minerals (which typically contain a mix of uranium isotopes called "natural uranium" - or "u-nat" - a mixture of the isotopes uranium-235, uranium-234 and uranium-238 commonly found in nature) mined at US, German and South Africa sites. As a result, the sources of radiation exposure would be different isotopes for a thorium-based radiation source than uranium-based source, and the relationship between exposure and health effect would be different as well.

          Other thorium mining or thorium-rich areas, such as the Kerala coast of India, many be particularly important to compare to the Baley situation. Though thorium and uranium processing and regulation are often handled in the same manner and natural uranium may have been associated with the local thorium or gold deposits, determination of the relationship between actual pollutants and health risks of concern is essential to a solution to Baley's problem. Certainly the patterns of health effects identified in Baley are different than the pattern of health effects developed for workplaces or communities with high radon exposure in other parts of the world.

          To design specific containment systems for the local radiation problems, additional waste information on the sources of the health hazards in Baley is needed including the extent of thorium, or thorium-decay series contamination in the area, as well as the occurrence of uranium-decay series isotopes and hazardous metals or process chemicals from gold production. The combination of extensive gold operations with thorium production at Baley may present environmental conditions with parallels to the South African pattern where extensive gold production is associated with uranium production.

          Public health investigations related to health effects from thorium-related radiation sources and comparison of the patterns of disease and birth defects for those materials to the patterns in the community would be particularly valuable, particularly if the radiation source is not uranium-derived radon-222 and its decay products. Identification of other potential pollutants in Baley from gold ore or processing emissions, or industrial or household chemicals, would also be valuable to include in the Baley evaluation, in recognition of the wide variety of illnesses and birth defects found in the community. Investigations can include evaluation of the effectiveness of past remedies in Baley and other sites, and comparisons of health patterns and contaminant levels at other high radiation exposure areas of Chita and Russia as a whole.

          Sources for comparison of radiation levels and health effects are available for affected communities in the US and Eastern Germany among others, where government agencies and non-governmental organizations have been active for many years. Available models for community and governmental actions from US sources include:

          • A federal indoor radiation awareness and action campaign.
          • Radiation damage repair and replacement programs such as the US efforts with the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978.
          • Radiation victims compensation programs, such as the US Radiation Victims Compensation Act of 1990.

          Repair and replacement solutions for affected homes have been well developed in the US, where more than 5,000 homes and 16 schools were treated for high radon levels through a Department of Energy program. Similarly, the USEPA campaign to generate public awareness on radon in homes nationwide, presents many effective actions for communities. These solutions range from low-cost options like increased air movement in homes to physical removal of irradiated materials and compensation for loss of property value. Substantial material on each of these programs was left with the Institute of Natural Resources in Chita on the USA and German approaches to uranium waste sites and irradiated homes.

        2. Environmental Assessment and Policy Development for Future Mining:

          A major goal of this trip to Chita was to provide information on mine waste management including current regulatory and reclamation concepts, based on the need for such information expressed by Russian visitors to New Mexico. Feasibility studies on the proposed gold mining at Baley are available, and the operating plans are being offered by well-identified financial and technical organizations with a long - though mixed- history of performance. Review of those plans are an important first stage for application of concepts of: pollution prevention technology, reclamation of new workings including consideration of reclamation or closure of old workings, long-term financial assurance, local economic impact assistance program and other environmentally responsible measures being applied where Baley Gold's owners and designers work around the world.

          Baley was established as a mining community, and Chita Oblast has the longest history of precious metal mining in Siberia. The excellent prospects for renewed mining in Baley - which is much less isolated than most of Russian Asian - has potential to set positive environmental standards for the many mining and other industrial scale developments coming to the region. The Chita regional government recognizes this relationship in its recent legislation "concerning environmental controls and needs for monitoring and oversight of economic activities of business using international capital." Similarly local authorities and INR technical staff are actively pursuing the development of measures for the Chita regional authorities to insure the application of international norms and standards to reclamation of lands disturbed in mining regions of Chita Oblast.

          Baley Gold provides a uniquely opportune project for an innovative approach to responsible resource development plan, and provide a plan in which economic needs for mining investors and local needs to repair inactive workings and prevent long-term environmental harm are both addressed. Such an approach could incorporate effective repair of inactive and abandoned sites - analogous to an "abandoned mine land fund" in the US framework - as the sites of concern in the community include the Khrushchev-area thorium workings and the new gold workings would remine some of the same land used to produce gold under Stalinist conditions. The potential for this concept of treatment of inactive and abandoned sites in the new mine plan is recognized in the Baley Gold feasibility study, which includes options which fully cover existing thorium tailings sites and addresses design of the severely degraded Unda River floodplain during and after mining.

          Following a tour of key locations at the local mine sites, Baley and Chita governmental representatives requested assistance in the review and analysis of the Baley Gold proposal, and the development of Chita Oblast's approach to "effective environmental controls at a the level of international norms". These reviews may be able to proceed on a parallel schedules, as the review of the Baley Gold plan serves as primary test case or working model for the regional program. As the Krasnokamensk operations are also a business activity with major international investment as well as unpaid western debts, that complex can also serve as a working example for development of a regional environmental program.

          The opportunity to assist in the development and application of applicable international-level norms and standards directly applicable to Baley was also explored in depth at working meetings with senior technical staff at the Institute of Natural Resources, a branch of the East Siberian Academy of Sciences, and an important center for scientific expertise and environmental policy development in the region. These working meetings resulted in the development of a written request to the Administrator of Chita Oblast initiate this policy development and operating proposal review project.

    2. Krasnokamensk

      1. Conditions and Environmental Concerns:

        The maze of open pits, waste piles, processing plants, at Krasnokamensk is the last major uranium mine still operating in Russia. These immense facilities sprawling across the steppe are the most extensive uranium operations in Asia and among the handful of the largest uranium mining and milling sites in the world. Near the international boundary where Mongolia and China meet Russia east of Lake Baikal, the operations produced approximately 5,000,000 pounds of uranium in 1995 - along with millions of tons of tailings, waste rock, mine water and mill processing water in the waste streams generated by the uranium recovery technology.

        This valley - one of the most restricted places in Siberia before 1990 - has a thirty year history of large-scale uranium mining, resulting in a pit 500 meters deep and a kilometer wide and rock dumps and uranium mills and tailings ponds larger than anything in the US, though they are rivaled in scale by some sites in Southern Africa, eastern Germany, Australia, and Canada. Underground shafts and processing plants are located right next to housing areas, which include thousands of log cabins and an array apartment blocks which once housed 70,000 people. Residential areas are surrounded by the pits, piles and headframes in the 30-40 square kilometer valley within which the mines and city are found. The major concentration of housing blocks sites is in the center of a low valley between hills up to 500 meters in elevation, with the natural areas covered by the grassy plants typical of great Russian steppe.

        The housing plan for Krasnokamensk concentrated apartment blocks in a low-lying area some 2-3 kilometers from the central pit with other nearby settlements, often of log cabins interspersed with cement buildings, interspersed among the dozens of headframes and processing buildings at the complex. One of these settlements, Octobrysky, has homes with reported indoor radon level up to 28,000 Bq/m(3), some 190 times applicable indoor radon standards (at 37 bq/m(3)=1 pCi/l; standard "action level for radon removal or treatment for US homes" at 4 pCi/l).

        Uranium production at Krasnokamensk has been a cornerstone of the Siberia economy in its role as a raw materials colony for the Soviet Union and Russia for decades, including the post-1990 period. The operations are reported to account for 32%(!!) of the value of all exports from Siberia and the Russian Far East in 1993, and is the only uranium production site of any significant size left in Russia. Current contracts as reported with several western European countries and operations are projected to maintain production at the 4,000,000 - 5,000,000 pound rate to meet those contracts, though that production is only 56% of full capacity as reported by the London-based Uranium Institute.

      2. Summary of Environmental Overview Presented by Senior Staff:

        Current operations are organized as Priargunsky Chemical Mining Union, a joint stock corporation as described by Sergei Pyschersky, the senior administrator of the operations, at a brief meeting during the visit to Krasnokamensk. Mr. Pyschersky authorized the tour of the mine workings, residential areas with indoor radon problems, and mine water discharge areas. He, however, could not allow a tour or photographs of the mill and tailings areas because, he indicated, they were in operations at the time. He presented a overview of the operations prior to the tour which was hosted by Mr. Sergei Moskvin, the chief ecologist or environmental manager for the operations. He and other, senior environmental officials at the site provided a very informative tour of the mines and housing areas, identifying in particular the large pits and associated waste rock piles, areas of historic discharge of largely untreated mine water and housing areas with particularly high in home radiation levels.

        Operations were described as beginning with initial exploration in 1952, which progressed slowly until major deposits were discovered in 1967 after which industrial scale mining began. Current customers were identified as France - including Cogema, as well as Sweden and Spain. Mr. Pyschersky indicated that Priargunsky uranium was still being marketed, out of Moscow, at the $18/kg rate though world spot market prices including potential, South African competitors, were quoted in the $35/kg range. Future operating plans were described as including expanded production of additional metals at the site, specifically expanded molybdenum production and initiation of gold using cyanide heap leaching methods.

        Mr. Pyschersky was particularly concerned about two recent contacts with western organizations. From a business standpoint, the mine ownership group was severely damaged by losses due to failed business arrangements with companies controlled by Oren Benton, the center or a bankruptcy proceeding in US courts. Financial losses at Priargunsky from contracts with the web of companies controlled by Benton may be worth $600 million USD or more USD, a very significant blow to Mr. Pyschersky's organization. Bankruptcy proceeding have bend muddling along for more than 18 months.

        On the international environmental front, operations have been the focus of a critical video by Greenpeace-Sweden which reportedly exposed a wide spread lack of environmental controls at the site and the extremely high radiation levels in homes. The video is apparently available in Europe and has been shown to Russian national ministry officials in Moscow, but not yet available to the environmental managers at Krasnokamensk. Mr. Moskvin, who was not part of the Greenpeace tour of the site and has not seen the video, was specifically concerned about misrepresentations he was aware of related to conditions at Krasnokamensk as well as improper documentation, and the overall clandestine approach, for the Greenpeace video team. Subsequent to the Greenpeace video, the operations have also been subject to site visit by Swedish Radiation Protection Institute scientists - described by Uranium Institute newsbriefs as representatives of the Swedish mining industry - who reported that they did not identify any environmental or health hazards at the Krasnokamensk operations. This Swedish interest in the Krasnokamensk operations is likely to result from Sweden's role as a customer for Priargunsky uranium, and the debate over economic and environmental impacts of nuclear energy supply world wide; these event may be more prominent for the Priargunsky staff as they are the first flash of international media coverage of their formerly closed and controlled operations.

        While the Swedish investigations may have had a functional value for the organizations conducting them, the Radiation Protection Institute or the Greenpeace, neither of the efforts were described as having identified the specific conditions at Krasnokamensk in any depth or detail, much less identified technological or financial responses to conditions observed. Greenpeace was reported to have offered to assist with the funding of relocation of residents of high radon homes, but no substantive action related to such an offers has been received by Priargunsky staff.

        Following Mr. Pyschersky's overview, thorough and frank discussions with the chief ecologist at Krasnokamensk focused on several very large-scale water pollution problems which the operating firm is attempting to cope with currently. This specific and detailed review of major environmental problems by senior staff was in sharp contrast to the very broadly cast condemnation of the operation reported for the Greenpeace documentation, and the similarly general acceptance of environmental conditions on site by the Swedish Radiation Protection Institute.

      3. Key Environmental Problems:

        Mr. Moskvin's review of environmental concerns at the Krasnokamensk showed a clear awareness, at least on his part, that the operations were facing several very difficult environmental remediation challenges as a result of past waste management practices. These problems related to ineffective handling of the two primary liquid waste streams at uranium mining and milling sites:

        • Mine water - the water removed from the ground to depressurize or dewater the mine.
        • Tailings liquids - the mixture of process chemicals, finely ground tailings solids and water which is released from the uranium recovery processing plant or mill.

        Due to the extended discussion of these recognized pollution problem and a brief discussion of community-wide water concerns, no time was spent discussing current or future concepts related to mine reclamation, landscape restoration, or tailings facility closure and containment.

        1. Mine Water Discharge Impacts:

          Untreated mine water problems at Krasnokamensk center on a hillside location called Bambakai, where a open pipe and eroded gully mark the long-term discharge point for the mine water collected from dewater wells and underground sumps at the complex of open pits and shaft mines. This discharge point was described as a point of release for approximately 150 m(3)/hr of mine water continuously for more than 17 years. This water was described as having a radiation emission rate reported as 150 microroentgens/hr during the discharge period.

          Mr. Moskvin indicated that contamination from this mine water discharge can be identified for 10 kilometers beyond the end of the end of pipe at Bambakai. Current handling of this mine water included use of ion-exchange technology to remove uranium, resulting in 10 tons per year of uranium being recovered. The content of other contaminants was not discussed. At the 150 cubic meters/hour mine water release rate for 17 years, the total amount of untreated waste water released was more than 22,300,000 cubic meters - more than 5,850,000,000 gallons or 17,955 acre-feet. Based on the 150 microroentgen/hour radioactive emission rate, the released mine water represents a total emission source of more than 197 roentgens/yr (197,000,000 microroentgens/year) and more than 3350 roentgens during the full 17-year discharge period. No information on the concentrations of heavy metal or radioactive pollutants in this waste water, other than the microroentgen emission rate, was provided.

        2. Acidic Tailings Seepage:

          The problem of acidic seepage through a liner at the tailings handling facility at Krasnokamensk was also discussed in some detail. Though the tailings pond itself was not available for observation, the tailings seepage problem was the primary focus of discussion during working meetings at Krasnokamensk. As described, the problem includes an extensive seepage front moving out from under a lined, but leaking, tailings pond. No estimates for the areal extent or capacity of the tailings facility were provide though the length and scale of operations at the site provides clues to the volumes of tailings generated. If production in the range of the 5,000,000 pound of uranium produced at the site in 1995 is extrapolated over a 30 year period, and a ore grade of 0.1% uranium assumed, Krasnokamensk would have generated 75,000,000 tons of tailings, at a rate of 2,500,000 tons per year - a rate which is only 56% of full operational capacity. Production over the 17-year period of the Bambakai discharge at these rates would have produced 50,000,000 tons of tailings.

          At the 0.1% uranium ore grade, similar to that for US historic production, the Krasnokamensk operations would have been more than twice as large as the biggest US operations, the Quivira and Homestake sites in New Mexico. World-wide, only the tailings piles at the Elliot Lake sites in Ontario, Canada, the Wismut site in Thuringia and Saxony in eastern Germany, and the Namibian and South African sites would rival the scale of radioactive waste generation at Krasnokamensk. Seepage from the tailings pond was described as highly acidic, a likely result of the addition of sulfuric acid to crushed ore for uranium which produces significantly elevated sulfate concentrations - typically up to 20,000 parts per million and a pH acidity of 1-2. This acidic waste stream, typical of unneutralized tailings following sulfuric acid treatment of the ore in the mill, can also be anticipated to contain significant concentrations of the radioactive decay product of uranium, heavy metals associated with the ore and soluble in sulfuric acid, as well as nitrate and chloride from process reagents. The area affected by this seepage problem is expanding rapidly as the front of this seepage plume has advancing steadily for years. The rate of advance of the seepage plume was indicated to have originally been 350 meters/year, with the current rate of advance at 150 meters/year. No estimated time period for the onset of this seepage was presented, though tailings production has been a fundamental part of the production of uranium since operations began in the late 1960's. Assuming only a ten year duration, this seepage problem would have produced a seepage plume between 1.5 - 3.5 kilometers beyond the tailings disposal area, based on reported seepage rates.

          The chief ecologist attributed the seepage to leakage through a synthetic liner of unspecified construction detail, and indicated that a pump-back system had been installed to collect this acidic tailings drainage. This collected seepage is currently being disposed of at the leaking tailings ponds, maintaining the hydrostatic head in the tailings which is, at least in part, driving the seepage spreading process. Seepage collection wells surrounding the tailings ponds are used in this pump-back system, which may also be functioning in a manner which pulls seepage aware from the tailings, increasing the amount of acid drainage leaking from the tailings piles.

        3. Community Radon Exposure:

          As with the other problems at the site, the information presented indicated a very severe degree of contamination and at a very large scale. The discussion of the radon in homes in Krasnokamensk demonstrated that the mine administration had a detailed view of the problem, but had yet to provide a remedy to the current health risks, in the form of some relief from high radon levels, for the many of the residents of even the most severely contaminated homes.

          Mr. Moskvin indicated that more than 200 homes had been identified with elevated radon, distributed as follows:

          • >1000 Bq/m(3) -- 18 homes
          • 400 - 1000 Bq/m(3) -- 59 homes
          • 200 - 400 Bq/m(3) -- 151 homes

          For comparison, a relevant US standard, the current EPA "action level" for indoor radon is 4 pCi/l, converts to approximately 150 Bq/m(3). Mine administrators indicate that they have regularly written and asked Russian Federal agencies to provide financial support to assist with relocation of the most affected residents, but no response had been forthcoming. Mine administrators apparently have not been successful at implementing a locally developed solution to this exposure problem.

        4. Rising Regional Water Table:

          In addition to the pollution problems associated with mine water and tailings seepage, the Mr. Moskvin identified another large-scale and severe water resource concern, long-term rising water table conditions in the main housing area of Krasnokamensk. He indicated that water table conditions had risen from a depth of 18 meters in 1976 to only 3-5 meters below ground surface in 1996, and including the main housing area dominated by 5-10 story apartment and office blocks. The potential for additional rise in groundwater conditions is current controlled by drainage ditches cut to the depth at which the water table currently stands. The risks of this excess water problem include instability in stature built for non-saturated foundation conditions and a lack of management alternatives for the increasing amount of water encountered in the combination of mine dewatering, water treatment, and surface impoundments.

      4. Initial Assessment and Opportunities for Future Actions:

        1. Information Exchange:

          This goal was accomplished by providing a 1,500 page library of recent literature on US mining and reclamation methods including US Department of Energy workshop papers on uranium mill tailings management, Environmental Protection Agency Technical Resource Documents on mineral sectors, tailings management and costs of remediation as well as other papers on remediation methods and uranium market activities to Priargunsky representatives. These material were among the more voluminous body of reference materials provided to the Institute of Natural Resources staff in Chita. Both organizations have requested translation assistance from Tatiana Maltakova, the very capable translator who participated in the site visit and is an English professor at the Teachers Training College in Chita.

          A brief discussion of this material, which included several papers specifically addressing uranium mill tailings seepage and reclamation matters among which were case studies and other published research by Paul Robinson, served as a basis for specific discussions of the current environmental problems at Krasnokamensk. This demonstrated interest in a practical level of technical exchange, helped break the ice at what was initially a very chilly reception in Krasnokamensk. A result of the bitter experiences involving the Greenpeace expose and the unpaid debts from the Concord Oil/Oren Benton bankruptcy. The anticipated lack of recent mine waste management and policy literature in this very isolated region was a basis for providing this substantial body of material at no cost.

        2. Identification of Options for Pollution Control and Environmental Improvements:

          1. Community Radiation Exposure:

            The head ecologist at Krasnokamensk was quick to report the number of homes with high radon levels and quite prepared to provide a photo opportunity along the streets of Octobrysky with the highest levels. He was just as quick to pull out the letters to show that the mine administration had written to Moscow for years to request funds to provide alternative homes to people with high radon levels. Suitable alternative housing appears to be available in apartment blocks away from the high radon levels at Octobrysky. Institutional barriers, however, related to problems with newly established concepts of home ownership are reported to be a major obstacle to actually moving people to new homes. These institutional barriers may be effectively addressed after regional elections where the ecological as well as economic issues at Krasnokamensk are a political campaign concerns.

            The Octobrysky neighborhood with the most extreme radon levels appeared to be composed primarily of wooden homes and the neighborhood is within 200 meters of a mine shaft. As wood is commonly a low radon material, the source of the indoor radon is likely to be enriched uranium content of the soil, rock and ore located directly beneath the community. This may result in soil-derived radon gas, rather than construction materials being a primary source of local exposure.

            Additional investigations are certainly appropriate to confirm and expand the existing data base on the indoor radon problem at Krasnokamensk and geologic data integrated into that research evaluate the soil-related portion of the current exposure pattern. Home-scale technology for air exchanges and ventilation techniques can also be applied as is the case for Baley. A wide array of remedies have been developed for US applications and these remedies have been the focus of technical discussion between US and Eastern governmental delegations, as documented in material provided to Mr. Moskvin. Comparison between Krasnokamensk exposures and health effects with other Russian sites and the group of communities world-wide which suffer from these pollutants can help identify effective approaches and raise Russian and international awareness of the problem.

            The peak levels of indoor radon reported for Octobrysky are enormous; 28,000 Bq/m(3), or 756 pCi/l, which is 190 times the action level for a US sites and 140 times the level of concern indicated by the staff ecologist. It is a level more likely to associated with an unventilated uranium mine, rather than a home radon concentration. A rapid response to this severe of an exposure is available, but bureaucratic obstacles are currently being allowed to prevent effective relocation or repair actions. If the high soil radon source of the current conditions at Octobrysky is verified, the community may be most effectively protected by a full relocation as the source may not be amenable to in-home repairs, and the site may be an area with potential ore grade material. The location of the homes above mine workings may suffer from significantly enhanced pre-mining radon level in the area due to radon migration through freshly fractured rock associated with the blasting of shaft and tunnels for the relatively shallow, less than 500 meter deep, underground mining.

            The Soviet technique of building mine towns in and around the mine sites,at both Baley and Krasnokamensk, appears to have been a very effective way to establish a community in a high radiation area. Subjecting people to those hazards, and supplementing this relatively high background with construction materials made of tailings, are conditions were health risks are significantly increased, and can therefore be said to be a ecological catastrophe in the making. These conditions are especially disastrous for the people stuck with the problem who are unable for legal or economic reasons to leave these places where the risk was so enhanced by governmental policy, whether in the former Soviet Union or any other communities facing problems of environmental justice across the globe.

          2. Environmental Assessment and Policy Development for Future Mining:

            The immense size of the Krasnokamensk operations, the enormous volume of untreated waste discharges and the leaking tailings pond present a complex of major challenges for repair and remediation, if current and future environmental damage is to be controlled and reversed. Addressing the impacts of open dumping of radioactive mine water at Bambakai - affecting at least a ten kilometer long area - as well as any current treatment area and the tailings seepage plume are likely to require extensive soil washing or an analogous approach and groundwater restoration if the contaminated areas are to be treated effectively.

            For a site which has produced 50 - 75,000,000 tons of tailings - enough to cover 200 hectares of land to a depth of more than 10 meters - the acidic tailings seepage from the tailings area indicates a wide spread environmental problem which will require both extensive, and expensive, remediation and reclamation for the existing site. And a comprehensive response should also include installation of a new, well-designed and constructed tailings repository for future wastes, as the containment system of the current pond has failed. The acidic tailings seepage is the most contaminated of the materials released by uranium mills such as those at Krasnokamensk as it is derived from the mixture of highly acidic mill chemicals and the crushed ore which contains the highest concentrations of uranium decay products and associated heavy metals.

            The site owners and the surrounding communities are already aware of these problems at a general level, and local political candidates acknowledge them in the "ecological" aspects mentioned in campaign literature. However, the effort necessary to resolve the acknowledged water resource problems may themselves be dwarfed by the technological and financial challenges of effective long-term isolation and containment of the tailings and reclamation of the mined areas at Krasnokamensk.

            The conditions on site are a direct consequence of the Soviet-era operation of the uranium mines at Krasnokamensk without effective management of environmental aspects of production and without restoration of contaminated areas, much less planning and design for reclamation and long-term containment of wastes. Mining operations without an environmental protection or closure plans were the normal operating approach in the US and other western countries before the wave of environmental awareness and standards in the 1970's. Similar operating conditions without effective pollution control and closure concepts were apparent at uranium sites in other centrally planned economies such as East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary prior to 1990, though notable surface water and groundwater contamination episodes have occurred in US, Canadian, South African and Australian operations in the past as well.

            Currently many mining areas - US states such as Colorado and New Mexico, Canadian provinces including British Columbia, and eastern and western European countries, including Spain, Hungary and the Czech Republic - have effective instituted reclamation standards at major mining sites, including programs applicable to existing as well as new uranium and other metal mines. These programs in areas which have a long and active mining tradition provide a set of strong working models of the effective environmental controls for current and proposed mines in Russia.

            Of the many large operations which have retrofit all or part of their operations with reclamation plans, readily accessible examples include the Jackpile uranium mine in New Mexico - the largest open pit uranium mine in the US - and the Bingham Canyon Mine in the US - the largest copper mine in the US. A growing number of examples effective reclamation and restoration techniques are available world-wide. US cases in this area are a focus of the USEPA Technical Resource Documents provided to Krasnokamensk representatives and INR in Chita. Additional examples can be drawn from Europe where fully reclaimed uranium sites can be found in both Spain and Sweden and substantial efforts are under way in Germany, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

            Sweden, for example, has a reclaimed uranium mine and mill complex at Ranstad which effectively demonstrates technology at the level of US and other international standards, including attention to long-term containment in a northern European setting. These examples do not appear have been a point of comparison for the Swedish investigators reporting on environmental conditions at Krasnokamensk.

            This problem of "mining-plans-without-reclamation-plans" can be anticipated for the other existing mines in Russia, the majority of which are in Siberia and the Russian Far East. As some of the first and largest post-Soviet mining ventures in Asian Russia, the Baley and the Krasnokamensk mines, present technical challenges - upgrading old poorly operated workings to perform to international economic and environmental standards - like those facing regions elsewhere in the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe as well as local and regional authorities in Chita. The feasibility study considering disposal sites for 90,000,000 tons of tailings and 500,000,000 tons of waste rock in the renewed mining at Baley, is useful as an initial point of action from a regional perspective. It is a proposal similar in scale to Krasnokamensk operations and addresses a wide range of the environmental parameters necessary to the establishment of environmental controls at mines utilizing non-Russian capital for future operations.

            Krasnokamensk is certainly a critical focal point of Chita's regional policy "concerning environmental controls and needs for monitoring and oversight of economic activities of businesses using international capital", due to its size and current international market involvements. As the source of a major fraction of Siberia's hard currency exports (though perhaps less than the 32% share in 1993), Krasnokamensk certainly includes very substantial "economic activities ... using international capital". This role of international capital is also born out by the western European-based client list and the entanglements with the Benton bankruptcy and Swedish environmental politics. This international economic environment provide a clear basis for the application of ecological and environmental management norms and standards appropriate on an international level.

            The lack of effective environmental controls screams out from of environmental damage and associated health risks already identified - from the radiation exposure in homes adjacent to mining operations and on high radiation ground to the discharge of untreated mine water and ineffective tailings liner. The urgent need for an effective comprehensive environmental assessment of the severity of conditions site-wide, including the already identified water resource and radon problems, is immediately apparent. Such an inquiry, conducted in a thorough manner - not a brief tour but a scientific investigation and including operator, regional government and independent expertise and a extensive sampling program - would allow a full characterization of the site conditions and the and focus attention on the effectiveness of current technology and provide a strong foundation for design and installation of the sorely needed environmental controls.

            Discussions at Krasnokamensk included the identification of existing and emerging technology to respond to site-specific problems. These concerns were also a main discussion point following the site visit at the Institute of Natural Resources in Chita, from the perspective of region-wide policy needs and the means to address the first wave of major "international-investment-based" mining.

            Financial resources are as important to repair of environmental damage as a technological solution, whether for an existing site with a acidic seepage problem like Krasnokamensk, or a future site where such problem can hopefully be prevented. Just as urgent is the establishment of financial assurance mechanisms to insure that operations allocate sufficient funds to repair of environmental damage and final reclamation of sites after closure. Such financial assurance mechanisms are increasingly common for uranium and other metal mines world-wide and should be a clearly identified economic planning or environmental management strategy for the operations.

          3. Options for Addressing Identified Water Pollution Problems:

            1. Tailings Seepage:

              Discussions at Krasnokamensk concerning the identification of applicable technology for on-site problems centered largely on the tailings seepage concerns. These discussions were very engaging and appeared to result in a recognition of the value of more detailed dialogue by Krasnokamensk staff.

              Recommendations in this area including considerations of options for treatment of the waste water recovered by the current pumping scheme and concepts for alternative approaches to the current monitoring and pumping wells system. A recommendation related to the removal of waste waters from the tailings ponds, both liquid recycled from the pumping wells and process wastewater, was suggested to reduce the volume of liquid and its hydrostatic force which were likely to be pushing the seepage thorough the tailings and into the surrounding area. An array of well-engineered and well-constructed tailings ponds with multi-layer liner and leachate collection systems also appear to be needed to address water management needs associated with current and future tailings management.

              Suggested technical approaches included low to moderate cost modifications of current practices as well as full-scale alternative technologies, with costs appropriate to full resolution of the large-scale extremely severe pollution problems at the site. Additional recommendations related to the locations of containment and pumping wells currently in place were suggested, responding to the potential that those wells were not fully effective at either containment or removal of the seepage plume. From the discussion at Krasnokamensk it appeared that several problems have be occurring at these wells: 1) the pumping approach in use may be pulling seepage away from the tailings ponds and spreading the problem as it removes a portion of the contaminants; and 2) the wells may not have been sufficiently well constructed, due to poor mechanical integrity of poorly located screened intervals to effectively remove or contain the seepage. Alternatives to consider include angle or horizontal drilling of wells to place monitoring and control systems immediately beneath the tailings ponds. An additional concept for remediation at the site would be establishment of a outer well system to inject water outside the plume to establish a groundwater mound subsequent reversal in the seepage flow direction.

              Recommendations were also offered in terms of construction and operations of the pumping wells, such as a review of the mechanical integrity and screen placement in wells to insure that they are pumping only in affected zones and not a source seepage movement themselves. Full scale physical barriers to contain seepage, such as the subsurface barrier wall constructed to contain seepage at the New Wales phosphogypsum stack in Florida, may ultimately be appropriate if physical containment of the plume is found to be necessary and other remediation efforts at the site are ineffective.

              Recent technical literature covering this array of existing and emerging technologies, specifically including pollution prevention methods and reclamation and restoration technology in place in the North American mining facilities, including uranium and gold mining operations, were among the materials provided to Mr. Moskvin at Krasnokamensk and Drs. Zamana and Strizhova at INR-Chita. This material will be a valuable source of existing and emerging technology to address the water resource problems as well as pit and waste rock dump reclamation and design and implementation of comprehensive environmental programs for current and future mine sites.

              This material also includes substantial information on the management of uranium mill tailings and homes with tailings used in construction as part of the US Department of Energy's Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action Project. This program is part of an 18-year long effort to address US uranium problems and provides useful examples as well as problems to avoid from the US approach to problems currently existing at Krasnokamensk and Baley. Future presentation of information gathered during the trip to Chita with Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency staff in the US, among other contacts, may provide opportunity for future assistance on the environmental problems in uranium and other mining districts in Chita.

            2. Rising Regional Water Table:

              The current high water table condition at Krasnokamensk appear to represent a urgent and critical problem, from a housing safety and pollution standpoint. At the same time this water is also a potential resource, if it water can be drained and treated to usable quality. The existing control measures, a system of drainage trenches and ditches, may have allowed the water table to stabilize however local goals include returning ground water conditions to previous levels to allow for better drained soils and improved foundation conditions.

              Options identified for consideration included a deepened drainage system using deepen ditches, collection trenches, gravel-filled infiltration galleries, or subsurface piping, to provide an array of collection points below the current water level. Rising water table conditions were described as a result of increased water encountered during mining including mine water formerly released at Bambakai. Developing a quantitative measure of current water management activities, including establishment of water balance relationships, should allow for more effective management of the current water supply. Selection of appropriate water uses after treatment, such as crop and pasture irrigation, or discharge to watersheds separate from the local ground water system, may also alleviate the problem in Krasnokamensk and make the water available for beneficial use. A more detail understanding of shallow ground water flow system would provide a strong basis for selection of future drainage, treatment and discharge options.

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