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Marostica Received Failing Grades From Landowners for Support of In-Situ Uranium Mine Print

by Art Montana
Rocky Mountain Chronicle
April 24, 2008

In the April 3 issue of the Chronicle, Joshua Zaffos reported that Representative Don Marostica received failing grades from landowners for his support of the proposed in-situ uranium mine less than ten miles from Fort Collins (Uranium Support Moves Above Ground). Marostica — a former high school science teacher and real-estate broker — also must receive something less than a “D” for his statement that he has “studied the in-situ science” and that he is “very comfortable with how they set up the monitoring wells.”

One issue defended by Marostica is that standards set by the legislature for remediation and restoration of groundwater in the mining area should not be severe because the uranium in the rock layers proposed to be mined have previously contaminated the groundwater with radioactivity. This is more or less correct, but the important point here is that the uranium itself is immobile because it is in a reduced chemical state, and as such, it is quite insoluble in water. To remove the uranium and bring it to the surface, Powertech Uranium Corp. proposes to pump an oxidizing aqueous solution down into the uranium-bearing rocks, oxidize and dissolve the uranium into the solution, and pump the uranium-bearing solution to the surface, where the uranium would be extracted.

However, once the uranium is oxidized underground, it becomes mobile and nearly impossible to completely control. Monitoring and controlling the migration of groundwater is an exceedingly complex problem. Fugitive solutions can migrate uncontrolled through long distances along faults, fissures and bedding planes, threatening groundwater well beyond the site of the mine itself. Hydrologic models cannot reliably mimic the complexities of the real world.

With the backing of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) in Santa Fe, the Navajo Nation voted to disallow similar in-situ uranium mining. NMELC has challenged the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s issuance of a permit to mine there, and the decision will be aired before the Tenth Federal District Court in Denver on May 12.

The Colorado House voted overwhelmingly to require mining companies to demonstrate that they can either restore the quality of the groundwater or meet state standards. The issue now goes before the Senate.

Art Montana lives in Fort Collins. He is Professor emeritus of Geophysics & Planetary Physics, UCLA and the former chair of the New Mexico Mining Commission.

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