July 27, 2009. The League of Women Voters (LWV) of the United States has a long history of fighting the pollution of natural resources in the interest of protecting the environment and public health. The LWV of Colorado has positions on both hazardous and radioactive materials and the wise and balanced use of water resources in Colorado. The League’s position is that activities involving hazardous and radioactive materials should not take place in areas that supply drinking water, such as sole source aquifers, or in areas with significant renewable resource value, such as prime agricultural lands, aquifers, and significant grazing and forest lands.
These considerations, cited above, have led the LWV of Larimer County to take a position against the “Centennial Project” planned by Powertech (USA) Inc. Powertech is proposing to do in situ leach uranium mining, approximately 11 miles northeast of Fort Collins in the Fox Hills Aquifer. According to the Ground Water Atlas prepared by the Colorado Geological Survey, the Fox Hills Aquifer is part of the Denver Basin, which is an important nonrenewable source of ground water for municipal, industrial, agricultural, and domestic uses. The proposed mining involves over 8000 acres in Weld County near Nunn, an area described as the eighth largest primary agricultural region in the country.
In situ leach mining involves drilling a series of wells into the aquifer containing the uranium deposits. An oxygen and sodium bicarbonate concentrate solution is pumped into these wells. It leaches the uranium and other heavy metals out of the rock, and pumps them to the surface. An escape of the leaching solution, referred to as an excursion, can result in contamination of soil and ground water. These excursions involve the uncontrolled migration of radionuclides (radioactive contaminants) and heavy metals outside of the production zone. In March, 2008, the state of Wyoming reported an inordinate number of spills and leaks in the Smith Ranch and Highland in situ operations. Some 80 spills were reported, in addition to numerous pond leaks, well casing failures, and excursions.
The League is also concerned about the large quantity of water, about one million gallons per month, used in situ leach mining. In addition a large volume of wastewater containing toxic levels of heavy metals and radionuclides, is put into large evaporation ponds. The toxic water in these ponds is left to evaporate over a long period of time (many years), after which the remaining toxic sludge is put into closed containers and taken to another site. The drying up of these ponds can result in particulate contamination with possible dispersion of radionuclides. These radioactive particles can be deposited on crops and consumed by animals.
There are potential public health and economic impacts of “The Centennial Project.” Both the Larimer County Medical Society and the Colorado Medical Society wrote resolutions opposing in situ mining due to the potential health impact of radioactively contaminated water on our agriculture, livestock, and civilian population.
The League of Women Voters of Larimer County has concluded that in situ leach mining should not be done in this area due to the health and environmental risks it poses to the Northern Colorado Front Range. The League agrees with over 11,000 local residents who signed petitions opposing the Centennial project as well as the 80 municipalities, public entities, and businesses who have signed resolutions opposing it. In situ leach uranium mining should not be allowed in this area.
Powertech does not have the permits it needs to begin mining yet. The permitting process will involve numerous opportunities for public comment. We urge you to participate in the public comment process. You can keep informed by watching closely for articles on this subject that appear in the local papers. And we will continue to provide current information in League Lines and the Mid-Month Update.