Talvivaara waste water under scrutiny for uranium in Finland

A sludge pond at the Talvivaara metals mine. Image: Kimmo Rauatmaa / Lehtikuva. yle.fi Environmental officials have already detected increased nickel levels in water courses near the waste water leak at the Talvivaara metals mine in the Kainuu region in east Finland.

However the levels currently do not pose any environmental hazard.

The Finnish Environmental Administration Syke said however that growing metal content in local waterways could cause fish kills.

Talvivaara has the Cabinet’s permission to mine uranium, which is currently under appeal.

According to the Finnish Environmental Administration Syke, the local Employment and Economic Development Centre (Ely-keskus) plans to study the waste water leaking from a ruptured gypsum pond to determine its uranium content. The waste water currently pouring out of the pond contains sulphates and metals, particularly nickel.

“Nickel has been detected in increased levels in the nearby water courses. There may also be other metals such as iron, manganese, perhaps copper and also zinc,” said Syke project manager Timo Jouttijärvi.

The Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority of Finland (STUK) has also sent an investigator to Talvivaara to look into the uranium content of any waste water discharges.

Possible danger to aquatic life

Nickel belongs a group of harmful substances for which environmental quality standards have been set. Nickel can be detrimental to aquatic organisms if it exceeds a particular limit. According to Jouttijärvi in regular emissions that end up in the environment, the nickel content could be as much as five times the environmental standard. However once released, the metal becomes attenuated.

“It hardly exceeds the environmental quality standard at the moment. The concentration that the Kainuu Ely-keskus reported yesterday, which was reported at 108 micrograms per litre, if it reaches the environment in streams between Salminen and Kalliojärvi, then that can already be seen as being mildly toxic to aquatic life,” Jouttijärvi said.

Environmental authorities want to determine how the leak could impact on the surroundings over the short as well as the long term. The situation is most critical in local water systems. The environmental specialist said that currently the discharges are not large enough to cause a significant environmental impact. However he said that officials should be prepared in the event that the situation deteriorates, in which case the discharges could affect Oulunjärvi and the Vuoksi River.

“According to the information we’ve received there is no longer any capacity to contain all the water that is leaking from the gypsum pool. At this moment about ten percent of it is escaping into the surrounding environment,” Jouttijärvi said.

Talvivaara’s Head of Communications Olli-Pekka Nissinen denied that claim, stating that the company was pumping waste water that had escaped the mining area to the north into backup reservoirs, and the other main leak was contained within the existing backup system.

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