Uranium Stewardship

Note: this paper has been derived from material developed by WNA's Uranium Stewardship Working Group.

Stewardship involves the care and management of a commodity through its entire life cycle.  For a mineral, this cycle generally encompasses exploration, mining, processing, refining, fabricating, use, recovery, recycling and disposal.

Stewardship must be an integrated programme of action aimed at ensuring that all materials, processes, goods and services are managed throughout the life cycle in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.

For an enterprise, the concept of Stewardship entails accepting responsibility for influencing and improving performance in all aspects of the life cycle, including those beyond its direct control. When the principle is actively applied, Stewardship becomes a driver for innovation in the ways we view our businesses and operate them.

"Eco-efficiency is reached by the delivery of competitively priced goods and services that satisfy human needs and bring quality of life, while progressively reducing ecological impacts and resource intensity throughout the life cycle, to a level at least in line with the Earth's carrying capacity". 
World Business Council for Sustainable Development 

As a practical matter, it is now well established that efforts to redesign processes and products to minimize their environmental impact often results in significant financial savings. In short, environmental consciousness and profitability can go hand in hand.

An essential element of stewardship is the sharing of management systems and best practices within and among industry sectors. This inevitably strengthens the efficiency of any enterprise.

A stewardship approach means taking a long-term, whole-of-business view. Leading companies will see Stewardship not as a compliance issue but as a means to shape their future operational processes, products, services and relationships.

Uranium stewardship can be defined as a shared programme of action to enable uranium products to be produced, used and disposed of in a safe, sustainable and acceptable manner. This means that the full life cycle of uranium, from cradle-to-grave, is key to establishing leading industry practice in such sectors of uranium mining as health, safety and the environment. The "social aspects" such as promoting minimal waste and encouraging recycling are also areas of attention under Uranium Stewardship.

Continuous striving is part of the process which leads toward industry best practice and ethical conduct which in turn underpins the concept of Uranium Stewardship. In the nuclear sector the full cross-section of activity from mining through to waste disposal and from the production of medical applications to the operation of nuclear power stations is part of the package toward achieving Uranium Stewardship best practices.

A crucial aspect of Uranium Stewardship is also the engagement of, and participation by, civil society in the unfolding processes. The intention is to act out the concept of transparency, or 'walk the talk' by engaging the public in dialogue, and providing them with regular updates, to gain trust for the global nuclear fuel cycle. Stakeholder participation is an important part of the establishment of best practice.

Principles of Uranium Stewardship

"Sustainability must be the guiding principle of global development - requiring worldwide policies that meet the needs and aspirations of the present generation without compromising the opportunity of future generations to fulfil their needs and aspirations".
World Nuclear Association: Charter of Ethics 

The Principles of Uranium Stewardship cascade from the Charter of Ethics of the World Nuclear Association.

Uranium stewardship is a shared responsibility, through all sectors of the nuclear fuel cycle, working together in the spirit of cooperation. Through the Principles, the subscribing members of this sector commit to:

  1. Ensure the safe and peaceful use of nuclear technology
  2. Act responsibly in the areas that we manage and control
  3. Operate ethically with sound corporate governance
  4. Uphold fundamental human rights
  5. Contribute to social and economic development of the regions where we operate
  6. Provide responsible sourcing, use and disposition of uranium and all its byproducts
  7. Encourage best practices and responsible behaviour throughout the nuclear fuel cycle
  8. Improve continually in all areas of our performance
  9. Communicate regularly progress on the implementation of the Principles
  10. Review and update these Principles as necessary

Uranium Stewardship and Sustainable Development

 Uranium Stewardship is one pillar that supports the overarching concept of Sustainable Development. Its role is to ensure that business management focuses simultaneously on economic development; environmental impact and the fulfillment of social responsibilities. For an enterprise accepting the goal and duties of Stewardship, these three objectives become "triple bottom line accountability". To pursue these objectives effectively, an enterprise must establish productive working relations with government ministries, companies within and outside of its immediate sector, and other stakeholders.

The Business Ethics Challenge

Surrounding communities have become more educated about what is happening in mining operations, and are increasingly better informed about the nature of mining and its associated activities. This awareness has led to increased pressure on miners with respect to their social responsibilities at the same time challenging the sector on operating procedures and even marketing initiatives.

The global uranium market is forecast to grow rapidly in the short to medium term on the recognition that uranium will play a valuable role in reducing greenhouse gasses through its part in nuclear power generation. The consequence of such favourable short to medium term fundamentals is an expanding uranium market driven by better prices and a cleaner environment. The business ethics challenge is to balance financial rewards with environmental and social responsibility on growing public awareness and involvement.

Pressure is not restricted to only surrounding communities. It also comes from downstream users of uranium. This has resulted in the mining sector having to understand, and track its product, through the various stages from the raw material right the way through processing; manufacturing; consumption and even the recycling, of the original resource. This larger "cradle to grave" philosophy is known as the nuclear fuel cycle.

Part of the nuclear fuel cycle includes the long-term management of nuclear waste. This is a challenge that requires the participation of industry, governments and the community to reach agreement on matters such as treatment techniques and sites for repositories.

Environmental Aspects of Uranium Mining