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No Such Thing As Green Nuclear Energy Print

by Linda J. Turner 

May 29, 2007


Green Uranium in Northern Colorado?

ImageColorado's 2007 legislative session ended with the claim our state will become an economic hub for renewable energy.

 While Weld County was given accolades for a wind turbine plant that will locate there, uranium mining has become a strong possibility in Northern Colorado. Powertech, a Canadian firm, has purchased the mineral rights on several properties in Larimer and Weld counties, for the purpose of mining uranium using an in-situ leaching process. It is difficult to reconcile clean renewable energy with uranium mining. Worse, where were the concerns over the west's water shortages when government subsidies were given to a mining process that uses water from Colorado's aquifer to leach out radioactive uranium from underground geological strata?

To combat my emotional, knee-jerk, this-can't-be-good reaction to Powertech's plans, I did some research on the in-situ leach process for extracting uranium. Simply put, this method pumps water out of an aquifer and adds to that water caustic chemicals that will separate uranium from the earth. The treated water is pumped back into the ground to react with uranium deposits. The resulting water solution, laden with uranium and other heavy metals, is pumped to the surface. Uranium is siphoned off for further processing into what is commonly known as yellow cake, while the remaining hazardous metals soup is pooled in a holding pond.

The in-situ mining method is touted as a benign way to remove uranium from the ground while leaving no visible impact on the environment. The facts show otherwise. Spills, leaks and mechanical failures plague all types of uranium mining. Kleberg County, Texas, has been in a legal battle with a uranium mining company to clean the pollutants out of their water after that mining company ceased operations five years ago when uranium prices fell to $7 a pound.

While the mining company claims there is not proof their in-situ mining was the cause for once-clean wells to become contaminated with uranium, people in the area have been notified they should stop drinking their water.

It is not unusual for irresponsible mining operations to cash in on a resource and leave behind a wasteland. The mining industry had garnered the term "rip and skip" to describe that practice.

A large portion of Colorado rests on a bed of uranium. Most of this uranium is low grade and, undisturbed, it poses little threat to our health. Until China's and India's demand for uranium increased its market value, it was not cost-efficient to mine Colorado's uranium. Now, as the price of uranium reaches $120 a pound, investors are seeing green (as in dollars) and are intent on pursuing uranium mining opportunities in our area with the principal purpose of selling to international markets.

Eastern Colorado's largest water-yielding aquifer is the Dakota-Cheyenne aquifer. This aquifer spreads beneath the cities of Fort Collins, Wellington, Nunn, Windsor, Greeley, Sterling, Fort Morgan, Longmont and Boulder. The proposed in-situ uranium mining in North Colorado would take place within the boundaries of the Dakota-Cheyenne aquifer. Uranium and water don't mix. "Benign" may be used to describe the in-situ leaching process. It is more likely "rip and skip" will become its lasting legacy.

Nuclear energy is not safe, is not clean, is not cheap and is not renewable. A trail of hazardous materials follows the nuclear energy cycle, from the mining of uranium through to the final disposal of weapon-grade plutonium from the spent fuel of nuclear power plants (See "Insurmountable Risks: The Dangers of Using Nuclear Power to Combat Global Climate Change", and "An Environmental Critique of In Situ Leach Mining: The Case Against Uranium Solution Mining").

Uranium is not green, it is glowing yellow. If we are not careful, Colorful Colorado may take on a new meaning.




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