Uranium-Mining Opponents Spread the Word
Organizers hope to grow opposition to in situ extraction proposal
By Greg Campbell
After a community meeting among Northern Colorado landowners to discuss the possibility of in situ uranium mining in Weld County, opponents of the plan are more galvanized than ever to raise awareness of what they fear could be irreversible contamination of groundwater and other negative impacts.
Weld County property owners learned last year that Powertech Inc., a Canadian mining company, had purchased more than 5,700 acres of mineral rights to capitalize on the skyrocketing price of uranium for use in nuclear reactors. New nuclear power plants under construction around the world have put the price of uranium as high as $113 per pound, up from a low price of about $7 per pound less than a decade ago.
The process of extracting uranium involves injecting a solution of water and bicarbonate soda into uranium-heavy sandstone using groundwater from the Dakota-Cheyenne aquifer, and then pumping the uranium-laden solution to the surface for processing into yellowcake. Although Powertech representatives say the process is benign and safe, opponents fear groundwater contamination, as well as a risk of radiation and heavy metal poisoning for people and livestock.
Landowners Robin and Jay Davis were among those who organized the meeting last weekend that drew about 50 people, including Fort Collins state representatives John Kefalas and Randy Fischer.
“People were finding out things that they didn’t know, so from that point of view, we accomplished out goal,” Jay Davis says. “Our intent was to inform people and get them to know what’s going on out there because people didn’t really know.”
The proposal to mine uranium is still far from being a reality; Powertech has yet to acquire local, state and federal mining permits. But Jay Davis believes the meeting left property owners sufficiently concerned about possible impacts that opposition to the plan will grow.
“They were … what’s a good word to use? Certainly concerned,” he says of those who attended the meeting. “I think from the amount of input we got that it’s going to progress. We hope that people follow through and we can grow this thing and make more people aware.”
One attendee was a veteran if fighting uranium mines in Colorado, and says affected landowners have reason to be concerned.
“Yes, very definitely,” says 77-year-old Doris Williams, who drove about 70 miles to the meeting in Wellington from the small eastern plains town of New Raymer to share her experience fighting Getty Oil, Westinghouse and a number of other companies looking for uranium on 4,000 acres she owned at the time.
Their major concern, she says, should be “contamination of their domestic water. As long as it’s there and you don’t disturb it, it’s not going to mess with you, but once this is disturbed in the groundwater … you cannot repair it.”
Back in the 1970s, Williams fought the mining companies with force, even pulling a gun “on a couple of them,” she says. “It was sad that it had come to that, because they wouldn’t negotiate. It seems like rudeness is all they knew. They knew they were wrong, they had no access to the surface.”
Williams says the property owners have some tools at their disposal, like regulations requiring mineral rights owners to negotiate with surface rights owners. While she says it will be an uphill fight, she says it will be worth it, especially considering that the uranium is being mined by a foreign company for sale to foreign nuclear plants.
“Why would we want to give up our domestic water in Colorado, which is such a priceless commodity, and fritter it away on something so foolish?” she says. “I don’t know how else to say it. It’s foolish.”
Powertech representatives were not at the meeting because they weren’t specifically invited, says Richard Blubaugh, the company’s vice president of environmental health and safety resources. Had they been, he says he would have argued that the in situ leaching process “is a safe and environmentally benign technology that’s been used for 30 years.”
The mining “will provide jobs and a good boost to the economy and to the county,” Blubaugh continues. “And it provides a source of fuel that doesn’t contribute to greenhouse gases.”
Blubaugh says Powertech plans to host its own public outreach meetings in the future, but says the company will attend future meetings organized by landowners if they’re invited—and if it is for the purpose of discussing the technology and sharing information.
“If it’s just a rally where people are just galvanizing opposition to it, I don’t know that that will be in our interests to attend,” he says.
Another informational meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 2 at the Nunn Town Hall, 185 Lincoln St. in Nunn. For additional information, see www.nunnglow.com and www.powertechuranium.com.