By David Persons,
November 23, 2007
A proposed uranium mining operation near Nunn, about 16 miles north of Windsor, could have serious repercussions not only for the town but a large part of Northern Colorado.
That was the message that Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction (CARD) presented to nearly 100 area residents on Monday night at the Windsor Community Recreation Center.
Powertech Uranium Corp., a Denver-based firm, has obtained mineral rights to more than 5,700 acres of land in Northern Colorado, much of it near Nunn, for what it calls The Centennial Project.
Powertech officials, on their Web site, claim there are 9.7 million pounds of uranium deposits on the site. With the price of uranium fluctuating between $80 and $100 a pound, the firm estimates the site ultimately could produce $860 million in uranium.
Powertech has announced plans for in-situ (in-ground) mining on the northern part of the project, while open pit mining is being considered for the southern part.
A panel of C.A.R.D speakers said Monday night that Powertech's plans are flawed and very dangerous.
Ami Wangeline, who has a Ph.D. in botany, said she is concerned about the in-situ method of extracting uranium. It involves drilling hundreds of holes into an area where the uranium exists in a sandstone water aquifer. Water is mixed with sodium bicarbonate and then pumped into the well holes. The water forces the uranium back up and out into the other water wells.
But uranium is not all that the water brings to the surface, Wangeline said.
She pointed out that along with the radioactive uranium comes other serious heavy metals such as arsenic, molybdenum, lead, cadium and selenium.
The worst of these, she said is selenium.
"Selenium is a major problem," Wangeline said. "It exists in us now in small amounts. It prevents the deterioration of heart muscle. But too much of it can have a negative impact.
"Some plants can absorb extreme amounts of selenium. That is highly poisonous to wildlife and livestock. It's a very real threat."
Selenium aside, the mining operation will take place in the Fox Hills water aquifer, which is a part of the larger Denver Basin water aquifer. The Denver Basin is a nonrenewable source of groundwater for municipal, agricultural, industrial and domestic use along most of the Front Range. The mining operation could lead to contamination throughout the Denver Basin.
Dr. Michael Paddack, a Loveland physician and Fort Collins resident, said there are "many, many health problems associated with uranium."
He said the radioactive uranium can be digested or inhaled easily and cause very serious problems, primarily for children and seniors.
"There's really no safe level of radiation exposure (from uranium)," Paddack said. "Its damage occurs at the cellular level. It destroys cells and it damages cells. This is not safe stuff."
Lilias Jarding, who has a Ph.D. in environmental policy from Colorado State University, said while in-situ mining is bad, open pit mining could be worse due to Northern Colorado's high winds, frequent dust devils, occasional tornadoes, grass fires and road dust.
She also stressed that the federal government doesn't have a good track record of enforcing uranium mining cleanup once the companies are done.
"The last round of uranium mining, which ended about 25 years ago, is still not cleaned up," Jarding said. "About $2 billion has been spent so far."
CARD members spent the latter part of the meeting answering questions and encouraging concerned citizens to urge state and local politicians to oppose the mining operation.
Two federal officials, U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, a Republican, and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, a Democrat, appear to already agree with CARD.
Musgrave took Powertech officials to task during a meeting in October. Salazar had a regional representative, Lexie Herbert, read a message of support at the meeting Monday night.
Some Windsor residents who attended the meeting admitted they were concerned by what they heard.
"It makes me a little nervous," agreed Vickie Stimac. "But it's an issue for all of Colorado."
CARE members, who will hold another community meeting in Briggsdale in January, say they will continue to take their message to as many towns in Weld County as they can.