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Landowners Say Big No to Mining Print

by Carol Barrett, J-A Agriculture editor
Sterling (CO) Journal-Advocate
June 21, 2008

Company says uranium extraction process is safe

NEW RAYMER — Bright yellow signs state “No Uranium Mining in Northern Colorado.” The message on the bumper stickers says, “Hell no! We won’t glow!”

Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction (CARD) members are making their message clear. They are homeowners and landowners, business people and scientists and homemakers, who are concerned about the Powertech mining company’s proposed uranium mining in Weld and Larimer counties.

Tuesday evening, they brought their message to New Raymer.

The first speaker, however, was not from CARD. Weld County Commissioner David Long told the small crowd that as a county government official, he cannot take a position on uranium mining at this time. To remain impartial until any official hearing, he should not stay and hear CARD’s presentation, he said.

When and if Powertech submits an application for a county permit to operate such a mine, at that time he and the other Weld County commissioners will determine whether the permit should be granted.

“I take private property rights seriously,” Long said before leaving. “I also take very seriously my job to protect the health, safety and welfare of the people of Weld County.”

Jay Davis, homeowner from the area between Nunn and Wellington, where Powertech’s uranium mining project is planned, introduced each of the speakers from CARD.

Ami Wangeline has a Ph.D in botany from Colorado State University. As a trained biologist, Wangeline said that uranium is not that dangerous by itself. But it degrades into substances that are, such as radium and radon.

Powertech has purchased the uranium rights under 5,760 acres in northwest Weld County, the area designated as the Centennial Project.

Wangeline said at the CARD meeting that the chief problem lies with the “in situ” process that Powertech plans to use to extract the uranium. The mining company’s rights are above the Fox Hills aquifer. Many Weld County homeowners have wells that are drilled into the aquifer. Geologists have said the water won’t be safe to use after the mining process, Wangeline stated, as chemicals are used to extract the uranium from the water.

Wangeline is also concerned that the water containing uranium will not all be removed from the ground, but that some of it may move horizontally through the aquifer into private wells. It might also move vertically to the surface through empty abandoned wells, she said, noting that Weld County has 3,500 old exploration holes.

“Hydrologic models cannot reliably mimic the complexities of the real world,” Wangeline said.

Dr. Michael Paddock, a family physician who practices in Loveland, is also a member of CARD. At Tuesday’s meeting, he talked about his experiences as a physician in Cortez and Montezuma County.

There, he said, the incidence of certain cancers is many times higher than in the United States population as a whole. This is particularly true among the Navajos, he said. The Navaho Nation has since banned all uranium mining, Paddock added.

Lilias Jarding, CARD’s last speaker, also has a Ph.D. One of the major issues with uranium is that there is no place to put the radioactive waste over the long term, she said. The uranium mining industry has left at lest 16 million cubic yards of tailings and contaminated soils that have never been restored, she said.

Jarding said that even the exploration process can lead to contamination of groundwater. A common cause of well contamination is underground water movement. From 1977 to 1979, a small in situ pilot program was undertaken at Grover, and four months later, water samples showed increases of radiation in the water up to 10 times higher than it was before, Jarding said.

She also noted that most of the mining companies are organized in other countries, mainly Canada, and have few or no assets in the United States.

At least four uranium mining companies are reported to be interested in northern Colorado.

Geovic, another of the companies, is also planning to extract uranium in Weld County. It has acquired the uranium rights to about 15,000 acres in the Keota ghost town area. Like Powertech, this company has not yet acquired any permits.

CARD states that its Web site,, was developed in response to Powertech’s Centennial Project, to mine uranium in northern Colorado near Nunn. The Web site states that CARD has one overall goal: “To protect northern Colorado from the environmental, health, and economic impacts of uranium mining by Powertech or any other mining company.”

Powertech Responds to CARD

Richard Clement, Powertech CEO, was not present at the CARD meeting on Tuesday, although another Powertech official was. Clement said by telephone on Thursday that the uranium deposits, or pods, that Powertech is interested in lie underneath 200 to 250 of the Centennial Project’s total 5,760 acres.

The land consists of railroad sections that were originally deeded to the Union Pacific Railroad by the federal government. Anadarko obtained the mineral rights to these lands and Powertech has since purchased some of them.

The company does not plan to dig mines in the area. Instead, Clement said, they will perform an “in situ” process, which uses water to force the uranium to the surface.

The process includes many small wells that are drilled on five-spot grids. Four injection wells are drilled in a square 75 feet apart. In the center of this square, an extraction well is drilled, he said. This process is repeated until the land above the uranium deposits is covered with these wells. Monitor wells to check water quality are then drilled 400 feet from the perimeter of the entire grid. These monitors are spaced 400 feet apart.

Water containing added oxygen and carbon dioxide is injected into the ground through the injection wells, Clement said. Under pressure, this water dissolves the underground uranium. The uranium-bearing water is then pumped out through the extraction wells. The uranium is removed from the water and the water is again injected into the ground. This process is repeated over and over, at that five-well spot and the others in the grid, until no more uranium can be extracted.

Clement contends that when all the uranium has been removed, the water is safe. No harmful chemicals are added to the water that is pumped underground, he said, just oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Clement said that many Utes who worked for years in the Cortez area’s uranium mines were unknowingly victimized. The radon gas that is emitted when uranium is disturbed is what caused the problems, he said.

“They worked for years in those mines without any vents,” Clement said. Today, in Canada, uranium is safely mined underground because the radon gas is vented out of the mines, he said.

Clement said that Powertech was indeed organized in Canada and is listed on the Canadian Stock Exchange.

“That’s because people in Canada understand mining,” he said, adding that Canada has the majority of the world’s uranium mines.

Powertech now has offices in Denver and Wellington, as well as in South Dakota and New Mexico.

“We are required in the U.S. to bond our operation with a very high cash bond,” Clement said.

In Colorado, all mining is under the control of state agencies, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency.

Powertech has performed exploratory tests at the Centennial Project site, and is ready to begin the permitting process.

Powertech representatives can be reached by calling toll free (877) 798-4240. Messages left will receive a response within 24 hours, the company states.

Carol Barrett: (970) 526-9281; This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it


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