By Sara Reed
Fort Collins Coloradoan
February 3, 2008
John Dixon spent eight hours at a uranium symposium at Colorado State University on Saturday. It wasn't long enough to get the assurances he was looking forabout the safety of in-situ leach uranium mining.
"I wanted someone to say it's 100 percent safe," he said. "Even 99 percent safe. I could work with that."
Dixon was one of more than 200 people who filled the East Ballroom of the Lory Student Center for the symposium, which featured presentations from representativesof themining industry, regulatory agencies and scientists. Area residents joined mining company and regulatory agency employees, scientists and business people in the audience.
Dixon, a Fort Collins resident, is concerned about the in-situ leach, a process also called in-situ recovery, mine proposed by Powertech (USA) east of Wellington. In-situ recovery entails pumping treated water into the ground to dissolve uranium deposits and extracting the ore from the water.
"I've been to three presentations and have yet to hear any guarantees," he said.
Wayne Heili, vice president of mining with Ur-Energy USA Inc., talked Saturday about groundwater restoration at an in-situ leach recovery mine in Wyoming. At such operations, the Environmental Protection Agency deems the water within the area of a mine unsuitable for drinking. Though restoration efforts can return the groundwater quality to what it was before the mine was open, it still won't be deemed drinkable, Heili said.
Donna Wichers, senior vice president of in-situ recovery operations with Uranium One Americas, explained the mining process and assured the area is monitored to make sure there isn't any contamination.
"It's a continuous, closed process," she said.
Fort Collins resident Lee Scharf said she spent 15 years working at theEPA and is familiar with traditional open-pit mining, but not in-situ, and wanted to learn more. Scharf said she's trying to get more information before she establishes a position on the proposed site in Weld County.
"I have to do my own homework," she said. "I'm trying to push back the fear and dismay from what I've seen (with open-pit mining)."
Thomas Johnson, a professor of environmental and radiological health sciences at CSU and co-chair of the symposium, said the workshop was not planned as a response to the 5,760-acre Powertech proposal in Weld County.
"The intermountain region is where the uranium is," he said.
Johnson said he wanted to educate people on the basics of uranium mining so they could ask more-educated questions about it.