Step forward David Thorpe:
The ore is crushed and then stacked on a heap leach pad with a capacity of 30m tonnes, 2.2 square kilometres in area, where it is leached with a sodium carbonate/bicarbonate solution. This leachate will be able to spread into the environment. After leaching, the spent ore is placed on unprotected waste dumps and/or back in the pits, and fresh ore is placed on the heap leach pad.
This leachate: for those who don\’t quite get mining, the leachate is the liquid after it has passed through the pile opf rock and ore. What you\’re trying to do is to get the metals that you want dissolved into said liquid, which you then collect. Then you cart it off to a refinery and you take out the metal that you want (almost certainly via ion exchange). So while it is indeed possible that said leachate will spread into the environment, the actual point of what you\’re doing is to stop it doing so. It\’s the product that you\’re trying to collect, after all, the thing that you\’ve dug up that 30 million tonnes for in the first place. Your incentive is to not allow it to spread, as it\’s the very thing you\’re spending all that money to get.
Further, think about what the actual complaint is even if it does leak. There used to be lots of uranium in the ground here. Now some of it has gone back into the ground. Scary, eh?
Finally, that dumping of the spent material back into the mine. Think again of what is happening. We nice people are coming along, digging out the nasty radioactive (and chemically poisonous) metal and then putting the earth back, having taken out all the nasty stuff that can kill you. Quelle Horreur!