|The Energy Net|
Global Impacts of Uranium Mining
The nuclear industry has launched a global campaign to promote nuclear power as the savior from climate change and our addiction to foreign oil.
The "out of sight, out of mind" handling of the nuclear fuel cycle by the media has hidden the human and environmental impacts of this global industry. Here you will find out about the history, scandals and deadly impacts of uranium mining, and why the nuclear option is neither clean nor a viable energy solution.
What is it?
Uranium is the radioative element used to fuel nuclear power and make nuclear bombs. It is the first step in the nuclear fuel cycle, one of the largest most complex industrial processes in the world. This first phase of the fuel-cycle includes the exploration, mining and milling of uranium. Extracting the uranium yellowcake is highly destructive to the environment, leaving behind large volumes of dangerous tailings wastes.
A new speculative bubble has driven uranium prices sky-high, resulting in over 10,000 new U.S. mining claims in the last two years. This frenzy includes hundreds of claims on Indian disputed lands around the Grand Canyon. Using the infamous 1872 Mining Act, corporations are taking uranium from public land for pennies, leaving the public to pick up the environmental cleanup costs. The mining industry collapsed at the end of the cold war, leaving behind 45 billion cubic yards of tailings at thousands of abandoned mines. Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice... Psst! This is a military agenda to rebuild the entire nuclear weapons infrastructure.
There is no greater scandal concerning the nuclear story than how it has been handled by the U.S. corporate Media. Americans are mostly unaware that the TV industry is owned by the biggest nuclear companies. From the General Electric Company, owner of NBC, to Westinghouse, which used to own CBS, the media has a conflict of interest with nuclear power. Corporate TV News has been censoring the historic devastation of former mining communities and the failure of mining companies to pay for the true costs of its activities.
The uranium mining industry collapsed in 1991, leaving behind thousands of abandoned mines and billions of cubic yards of radioactive tailing wastes. In one of the most dramatic scandals, 300,000 tons of tailings were used for streets, public buildings and foundations of homes in Grand Junction Colorado. Close to a billion dollars was spent cleaning up this nightmare.
This industry has a history riddled with scandals, accidents and environmental contamination that the public has had to pay for. The last time around a huge corporate cartel was exposed for manipulating uranium prices prices. Deja Vu?
Uranium Mining industry itself is a complete disaster. Large mining companies are allowed to take public lands and dispoil them, making huge profits, leaving behind huge mining pits, water and soil contaminated with heavy metals and radioative radon. Over 40 billion cubic yards of contaminated tailings piles across the west are endangering the biosphere. Estimates for cleaning up their mess are as high as $30 billion.
Much of the previous mining operations in the U.S. took place on Navajo lands, devastating their water and lands. Compensation to the families of dead miners are still a scandal. The largest U.S. nuclear accident in history was the 1979 tailings pond collapse at Churchrock. The largest uranium mining in North America (Cigar Lake Canada) was flooded in 2005 causing a global supply crunch.
The Navajo People in the Four Corner's area of the southwest have been living with the uranium since the start of the cold war. Thousands of hard rock, underground mines were dug on their lands. Navajo men were hired to work the mines. Many would come down with Radon poisoning from working the mines. The Churchrock Mill tailings breach in 1979 would become the largest tailings disaster in U.S. history, contaminating a major drinking supply. Many of the mines have long since been abandoned but not cleaned up, leaving many of the tribes water sources contaminated. Steps to cleanup the abandoned mines started in the late 1970's. Yet, today, little has been done to clean up the contaminated mines or water supplies. The EPA broke off work to help clean up Navajo lands in 2001 over a dispute with the tribal council over its refusal to release documents.
The process of cleanup has been restarted as a result of federal hearings in October 2007 that documented the thirty year failure of the government to protect the Navajo's water, land and health.
Attempts to clean up the thousands of uranium mines and milling sites on indigenous lands in the U.S. is a failure. The Department of Energy has cut back or stopped the cleanup of sites across the country during the last eight years. Billions of cubic yards of uranium tailings were mined and then left by private companies for the public to pay for the cleanup. It could cost the public over $30 billion to cleanup up the messes from last time and this is just for the mining cleanup of the fuel-cycle.
The EPA was forced to restart plans to help clean up abandoned mines and mills on Navajo land, as well as do more than just put dangers signs on contaminated drinking waters sources. Some homes that were made out of radioactive talings have been repaired, but no all. Nor has there been a serious attempt to deal with the health impacts, or compensation issues for Navajo miners.
The state of uranium mining globally is of immense concern. From the absolute disdain for the environment that Soviet mining represented, to the use of slave labor at mines in Africa, the environmental impacts of uranium mining have fallen almost exclusively on poor indigenous communities around the world. This section of the report has just barely begun. There is major opposition around the world to uranium mining, from Europe, Australia and Canada.
Uranium mining today is going through dramatic changes. Combined with the flooding at one of the largest mines in the world, and Bush's call to build new nuclear power facilities all over the world, the price of uranium has shot up dramatically, spurring a global interest in uranium mining. Over 10,000 uranium mining claims have been filed in the last two years, with the NRC currently working on new procedures for allowing ISL mining in the southwest. Yet, there are still thousands of abandoned uranium mines across the west and around around the world that are contaminating the environment and endangering public health. There is no viable long term solution to deal the impacts from over 40 billion cubic yards of uranium tailings that are in dry and wet or wet form. One of the most deadly tailings sites at Moab Utah threatens the Colorado River and the millions who rely on this water downstream. Billions of dollars given to the industry in the late 1980's are missing.
We are currently facing an October 7th deadline by the NRC for their plans to start up an untested form of pumping chemicals into the ground to retrieve uranium ore.
Uranium politics are in a major upheaval today, here and around the world. The globalized uranium mining industry represented by giant companies like Rio Tinto and the French government's Cameco are behind mining operations around the world. From the rebel wars in Niger, to the recent flooding of the Cameco Cigar Lake uranium mine in Canada , there are growing levels of controversy.
The attempt to restart uranium mining in the U.S. is extremely controversial, not only due to its historic dangers, but because it is now tied into a whole new push to reignite a global cold war with the agenda to spend hundred's of billions of dollars to rebuild the U.S.'s entire nuclear weapons infrastructure. Uranium supplies within the U.S. have come mainly from Russia as a result of an agreement to buy old soviet weapons grade uranium to reduce the danger of it falling to rogue hands.
Today, Bush and the quasi private US Enrichment Co. is attempting to throw that agreement out to open up new demand from U.S. mining operations that are now gearing up across the west.
It is urgent that Environmentally aware Americans get aquainted with this issue. If you have mixed feelings about about the push to reintroduce nuclear power as an option to deal with climate change. Or have heard that nuclear power is a green option compared to coal or the use of other fossil fuels, note that nuclear power is neither clean nor will it help America become more energy independent. Instead, the nuclear infrastructure will create a global nuclear security state that will do just the opposite. The coal industry won't just stop stripmining, nor will the uranium industry if they are allowed to restart operations. The nuclear industry doesn't care about climate change, its just a pitch to them. By becoming aquainted with the scope of this industry and its impacts, it won't take long to understand just why it is so important that they not be allowed to move ahead.