By David Persons,
February 23, 2008
A proposed uranium mining operation north of Windsor near Nunn could contaminate underground water and expose people, livestock and agriculture to radiation and heavy metal poisoning.
That was the message that a Fort Collins business owner and candidate for State House District 49 conveyed to the Windsor Rotary Club on Thursday.
Lilias Jarding, who also is a member of Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction (CARD), told the Rotarians that the Powertech Uranium Corporation, a Canadian firm, has already drilled test holes in the area of its proposed Centennial Project.
Uranium mining is being proposed for 5,760 acres.
She said the firm just needs to get four permits approved two state permits, a federal EPA permit and a Weld County land use permit. If they are approved, mining can begin this year. If any permit is denied, it will stop the mining effort.
Jarding said that is her hope that the mining will not happen.
She says there are just too many risks with the proposal.
"They have said they want to do in-situ mining," Jarding said.
"In-situ is Latin for 'in place.' What that involves is making a water, oxygen and base mix that is pumped into the uranium soil underground. Then it is pumped out and brought back to the surface where all the heavy metals are extracted.
"The water is then reused over and over."
Jarding said the problem with in-situ mining begins from the outset. Since uranium in the ground is fairly safe, it only becomes dangerous as it is brought to the surface and concentrated. Uranium then begins to emit dangerous levels of radiation as it breaks down into heavy metals in a process that cannot be stopped.
Some of those heavy metals are arsenic, selenium, cadmium and radium. Eventually over time, uranium will turn into lead.
Jarding said another problem with drilling in the ground for uranium is that the drilling can cause water-bearing uranium to leak into other underground water supplies, contaminating them.
Besides their intentions to use in-situ mining, Powertech officials have not made it clear whether they will have an open pit, where uranium is mined at ground level, Jarding said.
She says there are equally as many problems with this type of mining. She said airborne particles could be blown in many directions by winds in Weld County which are some of the highest in the state.
And her concern doesn't stop there.
"This is not just a local issue," Jarding said. "Radiation escapes at every step in exploration, mining, transportation, enrichment, power plants ... and waste disposal."
Jarding said uranium mining threats to people comes in two ways: inhaling and ingestion. She pointed out that there is no safe level of radiation.
Jarding said she hoped Windsor residents and officials will follow in the footsteps of other communities which have already taken a stance against Powertech's proposed Centennial Project. She said Fort Collins, Timnath and Larimer County have already voted to oppose it.
State officials appear to be following suit.
The House Agriculture, Livestock, and Natural Resources Committee passed a bill on Thursday to protect Colorado's environment and waters from uranium mining by an 11-2 vote. The bill was passed on to the House Appropriations Committee and will then go to the full House for the next vote.
HB 1161 would require all uranium mines in Colorado to meet strong environmental and public health protections as a "designated mining operation" and require mining companies to restore the ground water quality of injection or "in-situ" uranium mining projects to the original, pre-mining condition.