The Tribune (Greeley)
July 20, 2007
NUNN -- Jim Bonner was happy to talk Thursday night about the geology of the Eocene Epoch and how Colorado looked during that time, 35 million years ago.
He answered geology and hydrology questions for almost three hours and was unruffled by unfriendly ones, of which there were a few.
Bonner, a geologist with Powertech Inc., a Canada-based mining company that plans to extract uranium in Nunn, was among several scientists and engineers who met with northern Coloradans Thursday evening to discuss the company's plans.
Nunn residents held signs outside the community center with slogans like "I Don't Want Uranium In My Cranium" and "Hell No, We Won't Glow." They have started a Web site, nunnglow.com, to organize against the proposal, which still faces several local and state permit hurdles.
Lee Tedesco, 63, watched warily as Bonner held a map with a cross-section of the Earth beneath Nunn. Bonner was explaining that the mine would not contaminate the area's groundwater partially because of the geology surrounding the uranium, which is made up of thick clay.
"We are cognizant of the fact that people use this water, and I know it's emotional, and I know there are people that are angry as hell at me, and I'm sorry about that," Bonner said.
Some people nodded, but kept listening.
"If the water is contaminated, how long will it take to get clean?" Tedesco asked.
Bonner explained a bit more about the geology and why he didn't think it would be contaminated to begin with.
"The geologic setting lends itself to good operations," he said.
Tedesco, who owns 80 acres near the proposed site, said he didn't feel any better after listening to Bonner's talk.
"And I don't know if you can feel worse if it will destroy your land values, and they've already told us that," he said.
The Centennial Project, north of Nunn and between that town and Wellington, contains 5,760 acres of land to which Powertech has purchased mineral rights.
The company estimates 9.7 million pounds of resources lie beneath that land, a veritable mother lode of radioactive material. With uranium prices currently hovering around $120 to $130 per pound, that's a major windfall for Powertech, which will also generate good-paying jobs in the region.
But try as they might, workers like Bonner had a hard time convincing Nunn residents that the plan won't harm their water, property values or surface rights.
"They're just saying, 'It's a safe process, and just trust us,'" said Daryl Burkhart, who lives between Nunn and Wellington, close to the site. "I don't trust anybody that wants to get rich."
Inside the community building, Gerrit Voschel, 61, was having an animated discussion with Powertech President and CEO Richard Clement.
Clement said he wanted to provide as much information as possible so residents understood the mine would not be dangerous.
"If I were mining toothpaste out there, nobody would care," he told Voschel.
"Yes, but toothpaste doesn't kill me," Voschel countered. "It doesn't give my kids cancer 25 years down the road."
Clement said he has encountered such resistance in every other place Powertech has opened a mine.
"It's the uranium business," he said.
Residents' chief worry is that the extraction, which will be done by forcing a carbonated water solution into the strata of rock to mobilize the uranium, will contaminate water in the massive Dakota-Cheyenne aquifer.
The aquifer spreads beneath Nunn, Greeley, Windsor, Fort Collins, Wellington, Sterling, Fort Morgan, Longmont and Boulder.
But Bonner and other Powertech representatives explained that the complicated process will ensure no contaminated water leaks into the overall supply.
To put it simply, the water that is forced through the uranium-containing rock will be brought to the surface so the uranium can be extracted. Then the uranium is separated from the carbonated water using a resin. That material, commonly known as yellowcake, becomes a valuable commodity. The uranium-free water -- which will contain other hard metals like molybdenum, arsenic and others -- will be recycled back into the mine.
In addition, mine workers will have a figurative canary in the mine, in the form of radioactivity sensors.
Charts, demonstrations and graphs abounded at the open house, which was also populated by state lawmakers and other leaders.
State Rep. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, said he was skeptical of any plan that gave more rights to the mineral owners or the surface owners. Working out a plan that everyone would accept would not be easy, he said.
"We've got to strike a balance that's fair to all," he said.
Powertech is drilling ore samples and test wells at the Centennial Project site, but no uranium mining is taking place yet. It will likely be sometime in 2008 or 2009 before uranium extraction begins, because of the lengthy local, state and federal permit process.
Uranium mining in Weld
» The Centennial Project is situated within the Cheyenne Basin, where uranium was discovered in 1969. Rocky Mountain Energy Co. began uranium exploration on its Union Pacific Railroad mineral rights within Weld County in 1974.
» Uranium test sites were completed in 1979 in the Grover and Keota areas. According to Carol Shwayder's book on Weld County history, the Wyoming Mineral Corp. of Fort Collins operated a leaching plant at the site.
» A year ago, Powertech Uranium Corp. bought the mineral rights to the 5,780 acres of land from Anadarko Petroleum Corp. Rocky Mountain Energy Co. owned the site before Anadarko.
Some Comments from readers:
by Anonymous on Friday, July 20 @ 05:12:44 PDT
They can change the message on their water tower. Change it from "Watch Nunn Grow" to "Watch Nunn Glow."
by Anonymous on Friday, July 20 @ 06:10:13 PDT
As funny as that may sound to you, I live in Nunn and what is most troubling is the fact that the communities that could be affected by this project are sitting very quite, if you think the ground water in Greeley would be safe with the Uranium project in Nunn, well good luck with that brilliant assumption, get involved, it is your water too. If you know of another water source lets hear about it!
by Anonymous on Friday, July 20 @ 07:00:34 PDT
I wholeheartedly agree. I live in Nunn myself and have been quite surprised that surrounding areas don't seem to care about the consequences they may face as well. I guess it comes down to the "it's not in my backyard, why should I care" mentality.
However, it's also my understanding that as the process moves along, there will be more meetings in various areas, including Greeley.
by Anonymous on Friday, July 20 @ 07:27:26 PDT
Oh my gosh, I moved here from the LA area where one of the biggest aircraft companies contaminated the wells there with hexavalent chromiun and who knows what else. They paid out millions to the citizens after it was found out. Don't let it happen here, many people died and many live with Cancer and other problems. By the way, the aircraft company moved out of California.
by Anonymous on Friday, July 20 @ 09:08:15 PDT
i live in pierce and am very concerned about this project. we dont want it either. kinda reminds me of the erin brocovitch story out of california. kept saying everything was okay and guess what their water and area was contanimated.
i bet our property value does go down .. who wants to live near this. i moved to the country for a reason. i feel so bad for the farmers that are so close to this project. i agree too that where there is money involved people get greedy. any way to make a buck and who cares who and what it sacrifices, as long as they get their money.