Plans to exploit Czech uranium mine slag heap sparks furore

Photo: archive of Radio Prague

Slag heaps of broken rocks and stone are the clearest legacy of the uranium mining boom in the Czech Republic. But one company’s plans to get rid of some of the unsightly waste has sparked a heated argument about what to do with them.

Photo: archive of Radio Prague
Massive slag heaps dozens of metres high are the most visible remnants of the uranium mining boom around the Central Bohemian town of Příbram. The last of the uranium mines closed a `quarter of a century ago but most of the around 20 slag heaps have remained as they were as scars on the landscape. The heaps are made up of basically stones excavated during mining and they contain a small fraction of uranium ore.

That’s one of the main reasons why a proposal from a local company to take away the rock waste at the biggest slag heap in the area instead of being applauded by local councils have stirred up an angry reaction.

The company Ekototalbau has its sights set on the slag heap at the former mine 15, it’s a 60 metre high monster slag heap totaling around 13 million tonnes of material. The company would like to take the stone, sort it, and use the material for construction work such as road building. Some of the stones with a high uranium content could be handed over to the state uranium processing company Diamo. Even with planned extraction over around 20 years, the height of the slag heap would only be halved.

Ekototalbau says taking the construction material would be a lot less environmentally damaging than opening a new quarry and it has tried to calm fears that the dust caused by its processing would amount to a radioactive health hazard for locals. In the long term, it argues that removing the waste reduces the amount of ambient radiation in the locality. Petr Váňa is one of those locals opposed to Ekototalbau’s plans and highlights the risks from radioactive radon.

Uranium ore, photo: Kgrr, CC BY-SA 2.5
“There will be a lot of dust in the atmosphere and there will be a lot of noise. Also, the district has the major handicap that when it’s foggy, everything will be pushed downwards the radon.”

The issue has also been taken up by Příbram mayor Jindřich Vařeka who met with environment minister Richard Brabec on Tuesday. The ministry must rule on Ekototalbau’s slag heap application. And it’s not the first such application of its type that has been presented.

Minister Brabec says it’s not really an option to leave the massive slag heaps as they are. The main question is to decide what is the best option and technology for dealing with them. And state company Diamo, which has come out against the latest slag heap application, could find a role for itself. Meanwhile, the mayor of Příbram is organizing what promises to be a stormy public meeting on September 16.