Three uranium mines located in the Kirovohrad region of Ukraine are on the brink of shutting down over the imminent bankruptcy of the operating company VostokGOK, the union said. The mines might soon have the electricity cut off due to unpaid bills, industry workers claim, meaning that the mines’ pumps will no longer remove and filter water leaking into the shafts, thus creating the risk of local groundwater becoming contaminated.
Germany's DPA news agency separately reported that operations at the three mines have practically stopped, with 5,000 workers sent on unpaid leave. However, the facilities' water pumps and filtration systems are still operational, the DPA said. The company operating the mines is going through a bankruptcy process that is expected to be finished by March 2021. The firm's financial troubles started because its only client, the state company Energoatom, had its own financial difficulties and was thus unable to pay for VostokGOK's uranium. Ukraine has practically zero export of uranium to compensate for Energoatom's inability to pay to VostokGOK.
Local authorities have not yet commented on the reports of the allegedly imminent environmental disaster.
While not as dangerous as specialised nuclear fuel for reactors, natural uranium isotopes are still harmful to a human's health. For this reason, most uranium mines require constant monitoring for signs of contamination of the nearby environment, even after being decommissioned. In many countries, operating companies are obligated to pay a certain fee to a government's budget even before starting mining operations to compensate for the authorities' expenses to maintain the shaft's safety in case the mine is closed or the company goes bankrupt. It is unclear if the Ukrainian government, which is currently struggling with economic problems and a budget deficit, will have the resources to maintain the uranium mines after VostokGOK goes bankrupt in spring 2021.