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Opponents to uranium mining detail dangers Print

By Douglas Crowl
Loveland Connection
April 24, 2008

Jay Davis thought a letter in the mail one October day in 2006 explaining uranium claims under or near his 80-acre Larimer County ranch had to be a joke.

He tossed the letter aside assuming one of his friends was trying to pull a fast one.

“We just totally dismissed it,” Davis said.

Then, a man from Powertech Uranium Corp. came knocking on his and neighbors’ doors explaining plans to mine uranium underneath thousands of acres north of Fort Collins.

Nearly two years later, Davis, a few of his neighbors and many followers travel throughout Northern Colorado with their group Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction (CARD) trying to stop Powertech and other companies from mining uranium in Northern Colorado.

The group met in Loveland Wednesday night and spoke to about 40 people about the dangers of uranium mining, which included presentations by two experts in the field and a physician listing the variety of cancers uranium contamination can cause.

The speakers drew a grim picture, showing Powertech at risk of contaminating the aquifer, surface water and the air with a variety of lethal elements, as well as turning the landscape into a tight grid of uranium wells.

There were photos of mine fields in Wyoming and Texas and horror stories of millions of dollars spent on failed reclamation mine sites. Much of the information can be found at CARD’s Web site,

Davis said the speakers were not giving a balanced view of the issue, but he said people should understand the risks involved.

“What we have found tells us it’s bad,” Davis said. “We’ve heard the other side that tells us we are crazy, but to say that it’s not going to have an impact … I don’t think so.”

Powertech has claims under 5,600 acres northeast of Fort Collins with 9.6 million pounds of uranium, Powertech President and CEO Dick Clement said.

Most of the land’s surface is owned by private landowners, who would have to respect the mineral right and endure the mining process.

Clement, of course, knows Davis and CARD and he denies the group’s claims about uranium mining. He said mining companies have indeed made mistakes in the past, but modern mining is safe.

"It started out that it's close to populated areas,” Clement said of the opposition. “But generally, there's an anti-nuclear movement in the world. I really don’t understand it. It’s a fear factor.”

In the United States, 104 nuclear reactors produce 20 percent of the nation’s energy, pushing the demand for mined uranium to 55 million pounds annually, Clement said.

One issue CARD challenges is Powertech’s in-situ approach to retrieve the uranium, which involves pumping a mix of water, oxygen and carbon dioxide into the aquifer where the uranium naturally exists, to bring the resource to the surface.

The problem here is that Powertech’s site also has 3,500 drill holes from past explorations. If the aquifer is under pressure, the liquid mix and maybe the uranium could leach into other ground water.

“We don’t want to be putting these chemicals down there and releasing them through the holes,” said Ami Wangeline, who has a doctorate degree in botany and spoke at the CARD presentation in Loveland.

Clement said the in-situ process is proven safe, which state Rep. Don Marostica, R-Loveland, supported at the legislature last month.

Marostica gave a presentation on the in-situ process while arguing against HB1161, which could require more rigorous water treatment.

The bill passed out of the House of Representatives to the Colorado State Senate with a 49 to 16 vote, with Marostica as the only state representative in Northern Colorado to vote against it.

Marostica did not return phone messages seeking comment.

Mining companies already are required to return water back to its initial purity after exploration.

But depending on how the language in HB1161 is interpreted, Clement said it would make purity standards so strict that his company could not drill on Northern Colorado, which he characterized as “taking” the company's property.

“The most important thing to understand is that this process has been operating in the United States for a number of years," Clement said.

Even with examples of safe mining, Davis said there’s enough evidence of risk and impact involved in uranium mining to make Coloradans not want it in their backyard.

“Our whole thing is the health issues related to it,” he said.

Before any mining does happen, Powertech must complete five quarters of water testing in the area to determine its quality. The company is in the middle of the second-quarter testing now, Clement said.

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