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Management of

Radioactive Waste

from the Mining and

Milling of Ores


No. WS-G-1.2






Under the terms of Article III of its Statute, the IAEA is authorized to establish standards of safety for protection against ionizing radiation and to provide for the application of these standards to peaceful nuclear activities.

The regulatory related publications by means of which the IAEA establishes safety standards and measures are issued in the IAEA Safety Standards Series. This series covers nuclear safety, radiation safety, transport safety and waste safety, and also general safety (that is, of relevance in two or more of the four areas), and the categories within it are Safety Fundamentals, Safety Requirements and Safety Guides.

Safety Fundamentals (blue lettering) present basic objectives, concepts and principles of safety and protection in the development and application of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Safety Requirements (red lettering) establish the requirements that must be met to ensure safety. These requirements, which are expressed as ‘shall’ statements, are governed by the objectives and principles presented in the Safety Fundamentals.

Safety Guides (green lettering) recommend actions, conditions or procedures for meeting safety requirements. Recommendations in Safety Guides are expressed as ‘should’ state- ments, with the implication that it is necessary to take the measures recommended or equivalent alternative measures to comply with the requirements.

The IAEA’s safety standards are not legally binding on Member States but may be adopted by them, at their own discretion, for use in national regulations in respect of their own activities. The standards are binding on the IAEA in relation to its own operations and on States in relation to operations assisted by the IAEA.

Information on the IAEA’s safety standards programme (including editions in languages other than English) is available at the IAEA Internet site www.iaea.org/ns/coordinet or on request to the Safety Co-ordination Section, IAEA, P.O. Box 100, A-1400 Vienna, Austria.


Under the terms of Articles III and VIII.C of its Statute, the IAEA makes available and fosters the exchange of information relating to peaceful nuclear activities and serves as an intermediary among its Member States for this purpose.

Reports on safety and protection in nuclear activities are issued in other series, in particular the IAEA Safety Reports Series, as informational publications. Safety Reports may describe good practices and give practical examples and detailed methods that can be used to meet safety requirements. They do not establish requirements or

–  –  –






VIENNA, 2002 VIC Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Management of radioactive waste from the mining and milling of ores : safety guide. — Vienna : International Atomic Energy Agency, 2002.

p. ; 24 cm. — (Safety standards series, ISSN 1020–525X ; no. WS-G-1.2) STI/PUB/1134 ISBN 92–0–115802–5 Includes bibliographical references.

1. Radioactive wastes. 2. Mines and mineral resources — Waste disposal.

3. Radiation protection. 4. Radioactivity — Safety measures. 5. Hazardous wastes — Management. I. International Atomic Energy Agency. II. Series.


by Mohamed ElBaradei Director General

One of the statutory functions of the IAEA is to establish or adopt standards of safety for the protection of health, life and property in the development and application of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and to provide for the application of these standards to its own operations as well as to assisted operations and, at the request of the parties, to operations under any bilateral or multilateral arrangement, or, at the request of a State, to any of that State’s activities in the field of nuclear energy.

The following bodies oversee the development of safety standards: the Commission on Safety Standards (CSS); the Nuclear Safety Standards Committee (NUSSC); the Radiation Safety Standards Committee (RASSC); the Transport Safety Standards Committee (TRANSSC); and the Waste Safety Standards Committee (WASSC). Member States are widely represented on these committees.

In order to ensure the broadest international consensus, safety standards are also submitted to all Member States for comment before approval by the IAEA Board of Governors (for Safety Fundamentals and Safety Requirements) or, on behalf of the Director General, by the Publications Committee (for Safety Guides).

The IAEA’s safety standards are not legally binding on Member States but may be adopted by them, at their own discretion, for use in national regulations in respect of their own activities. The standards are binding on the IAEA in relation to its own operations and on States in relation to operations assisted by the IAEA. Any State wishing to enter into an agreement with the IAEA for its assistance in connection with site evaluation for or the design, construction, commissioning, operation or decommissioning of a nuclear facility or any other activities will be required to follow those parts of the safety standards that pertain to the activities to be covered by the agreement. However, it should be recalled that the final decisions and legal responsibilities in any licensing procedures rest with the States.

Although the safety standards establish an essential basis for safety, the incorporation of more detailed requirements, in accordance with national practice, may also be necessary. Moreover, there will generally be special aspects that need to be assessed on a case by case basis.

The physical protection of fissile and radioactive materials and of nuclear power plants as a whole is mentioned where appropriate but is not treated in detail;

obligations of States in this respect should be addressed on the basis of the relevant instruments and publications developed under the auspices of the IAEA. Nonradiological aspects of industrial safety and environmental protection are also not explicitly considered; it is recognized that States should fulfil their international undertakings and obligations in relation to these.

The requirements and recommendations set forth in the IAEA safety standards might not be fully satisfied by some facilities built to earlier standards. Decisions on the way in which the safety standards are applied to such facilities will be taken by individual States.

The attention of States is drawn to the fact that the safety standards of the IAEA, while not legally binding, are developed with the aim of ensuring that the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and of radioactive materials are undertaken in a manner that enables States to meet their obligations under generally accepted principles of international law and rules such as those relating to environmental protection. According to one such general principle, the territory of a State must not be used in such a way as to cause damage in another State. States thus have an obligation of diligence and standard of care.

Civil nuclear activities conducted within the jurisdiction of States are, as any other activities, subject to obligations to which States may subscribe under international conventions, in addition to generally accepted principles of international law. States are expected to adopt within their national legal systems such legislation (including regulations) and other standards and measures as may be necessary to fulfil all of their international obligations effectively.


An appendix, when included, is considered to form an integral part of the standard and to have the same status as the main text. Annexes, footnotes and bibliographies, if included, are used to provide additional information or practical examples that might be helpful to the user.

The safety standards use the form ‘shall’ in making statements about requirements, responsibilities and obligations. Use of the form ‘should’ denotes recommendations of a desired option.

The English version of the text is the authoritative version.


–  –  –


1.1. The radioactive waste generated in mining and milling activities, especially those involving uranium and thorium (U, Th) ores, differs from that generated at nuclear power plants and most other industrial operations and medical facilities.

Waste from mining and milling activities contains only low concentrations of radioactive material but it is generated in large volumes in comparison with waste from other facilities. The management methods to be employed are therefore different and will usually involve waste disposition on or near the surface, in the vicinity of the mine and/or mill sites. Furthermore, the waste will contain long lived radionuclides, and this has important implications for its management because of the long time periods for which control will be necessary.

1.2. Radioactive waste arises from all stages of mining and milling processes and includes, in addition to mill tailings, waste rock1, mineralized waste rock2 and process water, including leaching solutions. Rainfall and snowmelt runoff and seepage from stockpiles and areas of uranium process plants should also be managed.

1.3. The hazards to humans or to the environment posed by mining and milling waste arise not only from its radioactivity but also from the presence of toxic chemicals and other materials in the waste. Achieving a consistent regulatory approach to protect against these different hazards is a challenge for national regulators. This publication is focused on the management of the radiological hazards associated with the waste, but where there is a particular need for regulators to take account of the non-radiological hazards, this is also indicated.

1.4. This publication supersedes Safe Management of Wastes from the Mining and Milling of Uranium and Thorium Ores, Safety Series No. 85, issued in 1987.

1 Waste rock is material that is excavated from a mine and which does not present any significant radiological hazard requiring management to protect human health or the environment. Waste rock may still require management for other reasons, such as to control erosion to prevent the siltation of local surface water bodies.

2 Mineralized waste rock is material that is excavated from a mine and which has chemical and/or radiological characteristics which necessitate its management to protect human health or the environment.

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1.5. The objective of this Safety Guide is to provide recommendations and guidance on the safe management of radioactive waste that results from the mining and milling of ores. The recommendations of this Safety Guide apply primarily to new facilities.

Existing facilities may not necessarily be in compliance with all of these recommendations. However, in accordance with national policies, appropriate steps may be taken to review the safety of existing facilities and, where reasonably practicable, to upgrade their safety in line with the relevant recommendations set out in this Safety Guide.


1.6. This Safety Guide addresses strategies and protocols for the siting, design, construction, operation and closure of facilities that are necessary to protect workers, the public and the environment from the impacts, both now and in the future, of radioactive waste arising from the mining and milling of ores. Closure means the technical and administrative actions required to place a waste management or disposal facility in an acceptable condition at the end of its operating life. Closure may apply to mill tailings: piles of mining debris and heap leach piles. Other parts of facilities used for the mining and milling of U/Th ores (for example, surface structures) can be decommissioned by adopting the approach taken in other parts of the nuclear industry. Recommendations and guidance for such decommissioning are provided in another IAEA publication [1].

1.7. This Safety Guide provides recommendations on those waste management activities associated with the mining and milling of ores that are deemed to be practices.3 Owing to poor waste management practices employed in the past, the mining and milling of some ores have frequently resulted in the generation of waste for which the application of all the principles developed for practices is inappropriate.

3 A practice, as defined in the Basic Safety Standards (BSS), is “Any human activity that introduces additional sources of exposure or exposure pathways or extends exposure to additional people or modifies the network of exposure pathways from existing sources, so as to increase the exposure or the likelihood of exposure of people or the number of people exposed” [2]. It should be noted that in some regional organizations the term practice does not cover activities in which naturally occurring radioactive material is involved, where this material is not used for its radioactive or fissile properties. This material may therefore be subject to different provisions of the regulations.

2 In such cases, the regulatory body should decide whether to treat waste management activities for these situations as practices or as interventions.4

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