by Forrest Bowlick
The Mirror (University of Northern Colorado)
March 12, 2008
As the controversy and debate heats up about the proposed uranium mining north of the University of Northern Colorado in Nunn, both proponents and detractors of the plan have begun trying to rouse support for their positions.
In-situ mining, the process of removing an element imbedded in bedrock by using a chemical solution, is how the mining in Nunn will be done. The chemical that will be used to force the uraniunm out of the bedrock is is sodium bicarbonate. While the sodium bicarbonnate is not radioactive, the uranium is.
The effects of in-situ mining aren't obvious on the landscape, making it difficult to ascertain what an in-situ mine really does.
"The best way to define in-situ mining is the extraction of minerals from a deposit using fluids, rather than conventional mining techniques," said Ron Frost, a geology professor at the University of Wyoming. "Many of the in-situ mines access deposits that are below the water table and inaccessible to surface mining."
Because an in-situ mine doesn't create large holes in the ground or leave massive tailings piles, the limited effect on the landscape might lend it to be easily forgotten.
"As that chemical passes through the host rock, it leaches the element of interest from the ore phase," said David Budd, ageology professor at the University of Colorado. "In this case, that means that some of the uranium is now in a mobile phase within the groundwater. When the chemical leachate and dissolved uranium reach the pumping wells, they are removed from the host rock and sent to a processing station."
The primary concern of residents in the area is that this mining will contaminate the groundwater and have adverse effects on the environment in general. In a resolution adopted by the Larimer County Medical Society Board of Directors for presentation to the Colorado Medical Society there is opposition to the proposed mine.
"(We) oppose the practice of in-situ and open pit mining of uranium in geographical areas that are utilized by the farming or ranching communities or where there are human residents due to the adverse health conditions associated with increased radioactive contamination," the board said in a statement.
The greatest danger of any uranium mine is the release of radioactivity into the environment.
"At the surface the danger is leakage from storage tanks and pipes," Budd said. "In the subsurface, (the danger) is that not all the injected and dissolved uranium will be recovered by the pumping wells."
While pit mines do not introduce foreign elements deep into water tables, they also create greater environmental damage to the surface and can't always be applied to obtain uranium.
The proposed mine, known as the Centennial Project, has also found opposition from Marilyn Musgrave, the Republican representative of Colorado's Fourth Congressional District.
"Like many of my constituents, I am particularly concerned about the impact this mining could have on our ground water resources in Northern Colorado," Musgrave said in a letter to the Larimer County Commissioners. "This process has the potential to contaminate the underground aquifers that our families, communities and agricultural producers rely upon for clean, safe water."
More information about Powertech (USA), the company proposing the mine and who holds the mineral rights, can be found at www.powertechuranium.com.