Sunday, April 26, 2009

Uranium is Dangerous

Excellent letter from Katie Whitehead

From the Martinsville Bulletin

Uranium is dangerous

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Statements attributed to a Virginia Museum ofNatural

History curator and geologist supports uranium mining

(in a Bulletin article April 1) are disturbing. If accurately

quoted, they call for rebuttal:

1. “Uranium has this aura of horribleness around it,
but it’s not that toxic.”

Uranium is toxic. So are the products it produces from radioactive decay. Radiation and heavy metal toxicity are legitimate concerns when considering mining and milling uranium and storing tailings.

The “aura of horribleness” is itself an important issue.
Already, people’s perceptions of uranium mining are
affecting our region. The possibility of uranium
development here is adversely influencing home
buying decisions and business recruitment.

2. The substance does not become dangerous until
it’s enriched.

This statement is not true. Risks associated with
exposure to uranium and its radioactive and heavy
metal decay products vary depending on the sensitivity
of the one exposed, the amount of exposure, the length of exposure, whether exposure is internal or external,
what type of cells are exposed, etc.

According to Dr. Doug Brugge, a public health expert at
Tufts University School of Medicine, the necessary research has not been done to determine the health risks of exposure to heavy metals from living near uranium mines, mills and tailings. Preliminary results from new studies are reinforcing health concerns.

3. “I don’t think (contaminants leaching into groundwater) will be a problem” because the ore minerals are stable.

Other geologists are less cocksure. Dr. Krishna Sinha of
Virginia Tech has said the minerals are currently stable
in the ground; but a robust, multi-year study would be
required to determine what would happen to this stability if the ore is mined and milled.

Mining involves removing the topsoil and blasting
the rock. Milling involves crushing and pulverizing
the ore and adding solvents. The point of milling the
ore is to remove the uranium and leave the other
elements behind. For each pound or two of uranium,
there would be a ton of hazardous waste materials
left at the mill site. The waste cannot be expected to
be stable.

The Dan River Basin Association is particularly
concerned about the containment of this huge
volume of waste. It is not enough to speculate about
the probability of a leak. To begin to understand
the risk, researchers would need to identify all of the contaminants in the tailings and understand how
each would migrate and interact in the environment.

4. “If they determine it should be mined, I think it
should be mined.”

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) does not
make policy recommendations. Whether to mine uranium is not a scientific question. Nor will the NAS tell us whether it is safe to mine uranium and to attempt
to contain the huge volume of milling waste.

The National Academy will not accept “Is it safe?”
as the basis for a scientific study. This is a policy question.

The people of Virginia and elected representatives
will decide — researchers will not discover — whether to
lift the moratorium.

Katie Whitehead

Chairman, Dan River Basin Association Mining
Task Force

To read the article to which Katie's addressed her rebuttal, it's here:

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