A comprehensive look at how aquifers are formed, the toxic state of water and the implications to humans and animals of Uranium mining.
-Uranium tailings move easily in wind or water because they are fine particles like sand. But they are very different from most sand, because they retain 85% of the radioactivity of the original uranium ore.
-The radiation is measured in “picocuries” per liter of water; a “picocurie” isn’t much, but the U.S. Public Health Service limit for safe water is only 3 picocuries per liter of water.
About 60 water samples taken in the Southwest had from 0.5 to 65 picocuries of radium per liter. Several streams have been declared unfit for irrigation and for drinking by stock and humans. Unfortunately, animals can’t read, and they continue to drink (and die) from dangerous streams.
Another pollutant, selenium, was present in wells near the United Nuclear/Homestake mill at levels 340 times the recommended maximum for drinking water. Studies show that water from mill activities move from streams to aquifers, and that effects on groundwater are “marked.”
-To make things worse, tailings are often stored mixed with water, so they move unexpectedly in a flood or if the dam used to hold them breaks. there have been over a dozen tailings-dam breaks in the U.S., none of which has been cleaned up. The biggest was a spill at the United Nuclear mill in Church Rock, N.M. in July 1979.
The dam break spread 100 million gallons of tailings and water for 50 miles down a river, despite the fact that the dam was “of the newest and safest type approved by federal and state agencies.” Radioactive readings were more than 6,000 times the drinking water standard.
-In 1962, the problem was aggravated by spilling 200 tons of tailings, much of which washed 25 miles then sank into the Angostura Reservoir. Current plans for moving the tailigs will reduce the release of radiation into the air and the Cheyenne, but will not stop seepage through the ground — only slow it down.