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Uranium Mining Ignorance Is Not Bliss Print

Fort Collins Forum
by Juliette Fardulis
September 24, 2007 

Just 1,000 feet from their front door, Jay and Robin Davis of Nunn, Colorado, watch helplessly as Powertech Uranium Corporation drills what they call the Centennial Project on their 80-acre property. And they are less than impressed.

Robin Davis is a horse boarder, trainer, and host of a 4-H club on her land, located 10 miles northeast of Fort Collins and 16 miles from Greeley—far too close for comfort for the couple to swallow the corporation’s proposed plan to (legally) plunder their property. 

Davis was disturbed enough to form the website www.nunnglow.com, a catchy name she coined after the water tower in Nunn, which reads, “Watch Nunn Grow.”

With what many see as a veritable death sentence of uranium mining and its consequences to the water supply, health of humans and animals, and plummeting land values, Nunn is no longer poised to grow—but it may certainly glow, Davis said.

Powertech, based in Centennial, Colorado, owns a 10-mile strip of mineral rights. But their mining would affect 50-60 miles of farming water, Davis said.

“It turns out being a landowner means you are a surface-right owner, only,” said Davis, who fears the contamination of radiation from uranium mining in her family and livestock.

“We are getting discouraged with the state for not coming to see if our water quality is safe. We had our water tested ourselves as a baseline before the drilling began and it was good. We are fearful because we have seen evidence that uranium mining can pollute aquifers right away, even during exploratory drilling,” said Davis. The family now uses a reverse osmosis system for their drinking water, but cannot afford a system to filter all the water for their livestock and for them to bathe in, she said.

If Powertech moves forward with their plans, the Davis family would want to move out of the area, based on the research they have done on Powertech’s record in past uranium projects. “But where could we go knowing the water supply in northern Colorado would be affected? And who would buy our property if we were sitting on uranium mining?” she said.

Over 81 questions on the hazards of uranium mining have been posed to Powertech since April 13, and are listed on the nunnglow website. At a July 19 public meeting in Nunn, all the questions were ignored, the website states.

“Powertech has really shut off communication. We do have some answers now, but we have not posted them due to inconsistency. For example, open pit mining is something they said they never planned to do, but we have quotes they are planning to do it by 2010,” said Davis.

Chris Sylvester, a media relations contact of Powertech could not be reached for comment.

Lilias Jarding, Ph.D, is a political scientist in environmental policy from Colorado State University, and a member of Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction (C.A.R.D.). She said, “there are no in-situ mines free from radioactive leaks. The problem is that uranium breaks down over time and changes into 13 substances; each is radioactive. Eventually it becomes a non-radioactive form of lead—but only after hundreds of thousands of years,” Jarding said.

“Powertech’s company officers have been involved in other spills,” said Jarding. C.A.R.D. asked Powertech to give them any example of a mine that did not result in radiation leaks, but they could not, Jarding said, adding, “There is no answer to what the overall health impact will be.”

Just what are the health risks from radiation exposure after uranium mining? The risk of cancer is paramount, according to the Argonne National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy.

“If a kid plays at a soccer field near the Budweiser site, winds would blow carrying radiation dust, even into Fort Collins, and Greeley and other towns,” said Jackie Adolf, outreach chair for C.A.R.D. And owner of The Biofeedback Clinic in Fort Collins, mentioning genetic problems, lung issues from breathing the dust and kidney problems from ingesting the radiation into the body.

Children from a Navaho reservation in a uranium mining area experienced a 1,500 percent increase in incidence of testicular and ovarian cancer, as cited in a report by Cindy Folkers & Mary Olson of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service in Washington, D.C.

Navaho children affected by uranium also had a 500 percent increase in bone cancer, while people of all ages saw an increase of 250 percent in leukemia in the Navaho population.

In addition, a partial list of non-cancer health effects of human exposure to radiation includes Downs Syndrome, hydrocephaly, microhydrocephaly, cleft lip and palate, epilepsy, kidney and liver damage, thyroid disease, low birth weight, increased infant mortality, increased stillbirth, genetic mutations/chromosomal aberrations, spinal defects, and congenital malformations, based on studies by the NIRS.

Jarding said the dollars brought to the project have not helped northern Colorado: property values have already gone down in the affected areas.

The cost of cleaning up a uranium mine after the proposed 10-12 year project will outweigh the profit gained by selling mineral rights to Powertech in the first place, Jarding said. Clean up will be done by Powertech, with additional clean-up costs paid for by a bond created by taxpayers, Jarding said.

“Cleaning up the mill tailings cost the Federal government over $2 billion in other uraninum mines nationwide,” said Jarding.

Powertech paid $4,500,000 as a purchase price for the mineral rights, Jarding said.

Yet the jobs created will be minimal, and temporary. “We heard it will bring about 100 jobs, but unfortunately a number of them are for their own skilled people, such as the people doing the exploration drilling from Wyoming. And the jobs will only last while they are here,” said Adolf.

“Anyone who says the threat is overstated is being naïve, based on the history of the uranium industry. A leak is not just a little leak. Uranium decays at a half-life of over 70,000 years on the periodic table. That means aquifers can never be returned to the same state they were found. Other areas reclaim their water to meet a less stringent standard,” Adolf said.

In addition, the cost of bringing county roads up to snuff for semi-trucks is a huge expense, Adolf said.

“With gas and oil, also a dirty industry, spills can be cleaned up. But the now-radioactive heavy metals, including uranium, selenium, arsenic, cadmium, radium, and lead cannot be fully removed from the aquifer when mining stops,” said Adolf.

“I have studied uranium since 1979. Every time it is mined there is environmental impact and water is polluted. Many use the aquifer in this project as drinking water. Usually uranium mining is not done in such a highly populated area. We don’t need any more restrictions on our water supply,” said Jarding.

Davis, Adolf and Jarding stress that the project can be stopped at any point in the permitting process. “We can stop it. We just need voices. It is overwhelming the number of people who have joined the effort,” Davis said.

“The land is zoned agricultural. Powertech wants to change it to industrial. At that point, it could be denied,” said Jarding. The county commissioners could also halt the efforts of Powertech, in due process.

Dave Long, chair of the Board of County Commissioners in Weld County, could not say if he would be in favor of Powertech’s plans. “We don’t have a position. If they are allowed to mine, it has to be approved by the planning commission and the board of commissioners, and they must abide by the code, including standards of health and safety. But we need to remain unbiased until the board Land Use Hearing,” said Long.

“If we develop a position before the board hearing, we could be disqualified and have to resolve the issue in court. We do this for any application presented. Powertech hasn’t filed an application yet, and we don’t know if they will. The prices of uranium could change, and it might exclude them from even pursuing this,” said Long.

Residents may holler repeatedly to the commissioners, but calls, letters and emails will not be heard or read until they are entered into the record, “so we do not taint the process. Concerns will be heard at the meeting. We want to set ourselves up for a successful process, not a negative one,” said Long.

Fort Collins’ Mayor Doug Hutchinson said because the proposed uranium-mining site is in Weld County, “the city of Fort Collins has no involvement in the issue.”

Concerned residents are not powerless, however. “We have a chance to say no, we don’t want to live with that health risk,” said Adolf, listing the Navajo Nation Resolution in Arizona as an example of the implications of uranium mining. The resolution states the Navajo uranium mining, which began in the 1940s, resulted in mining-induced illnesses and deaths, diminishing value of agricultural lands and home sites because of the illnesses and premature deaths of the workers. Surface water and ground water was left non-potable and lands left unstable and unproductive. Livestock could not be marketed because of believed contamination by uranium.

Northern Colorado is proud of its renewable-energy identity, Jarding stated. To align with a company with plans to mine, enrich, and concentrate uranium, making it more radioactive, before using it to create fuel rods for nuclear power plants or make nuclear weapons does not add up with representatives of C.A.R.D.

“The end of the process leaves us with high-level nuclear waste. We still haven’t figured out what to do with that waste as a nation. It doesn’t make sense to mine more,” Jarding said.

Want to get involved?

  • Weld County Commissioners (970) 336-7204
  • Larimer County Commissioners ( This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it )
  • Governor of Colorado (303) 866-2471
  • Members of the Colorado State Legislature
  • Sign a web petition or call (970) 372-0029



        
 

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