Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Colorado Commissioner Joins Fight Against Mine

Wow! Here's a County Commissioner that gets it! Hope some of the local supervisors see this and follow suit!

By Cherry Sokoloski
North Forty News

Larimer County Commissioner Randy Eubanks has thrown down the gauntlet in the uranium-mining controversy, challenging his fellow commissioners to sign a resolution against uranium mining in northern Colorado.

At an informational hearing hosted by the commissioners Feb. 25, Eubanks said he plans to write letters of opposition to all permitting authorities involved with the proposed Centennial mine in Weld County.

"There's no safe level of radiation," said Eubanks, who worked in the nuclear power field for 13 years.

The Centennial Project between Nunn and Wellington is proposed by Powertech Inc., a Canadian company that wants to mine uranium using the in-situ leach method. With this method, wells are drilled into the aquifer containing the uranium deposits. A leaching solution is injected into the site and then piped back to the surface, where the uranium is removed from the water.

A report by the county's environmental advisory board stated that "a number of risks are identified with ISL operations," but that too little information is available to know for sure what the probabilities of contamination are.

Open-pit uranium mining presents higher risks to the environment than an ISL operation, the EAB noted. However, the report added, uranium mining could cause economic damages in the region regardless of actual risks, because of the power of perceptions.

Local commissioners do not have decision-making authority over the proposed mine, but they may provide input to Weld County, Colorado and the federal government, all of whom must issue permits before any mining can begin.

Jeff Parsons of Loveland, a mining attorney who spoke at the hearing, said the county's input "will be taken seriously at the state level."

Other speakers noted that Fort Collins, Timnath, Front Range Cancer Specialists and the Larimer County and Colorado Medical Societies have already passed resolutions against uranium mining.

Terence Walsh, project manager for Powertech's Centennial project, told the commissioners there's a large demand for uranium in the nuclear power industry. Twenty percent of electrical power in the United States is currently generated by nuclear power, he said, and the industry requires 55 million pounds of uranium per year. Most of that is imported, he said.

In-situ leach mining, according to Walsh, is "a safe and benign method of mining," but he acknowledged that groundwater restoration is a necessary part of the process.

He said monitoring wells would measure any vertical or horizontal migration of water, a primary concern with in-situ mining. If such a migration occurred, it could contaminate other aquifers used for domestic water or irrigation. In Colorado, Walsh noted, compliance wells are also required. Walsh said it takes about three years to restore groundwater to previous quality levels.

Lilias Jarding, a member of Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction which is actively opposing the Centennial project, said water contamination from the mine could occur from pipe failures, failures in the wastewater retention ponds or heavy rains. Another concern for Jarding is the use of large quantities of water for the in-situ process. Powertech officials, she said, estimate that about a million gallons of water per month would be consumed at Centennial.

Jarding said the price of uranium has "skyrocketed" in recent years, creating a worldwide uranium-mining boom.

Most speakers at the hearing were concerned about possible ill effects on health and the environment from the proposed mining operation. Possible water contamination was cited, along with contamination caused by high winds that could carry pollutants long distances.

There was also concern about livestock grazing on contaminated pastureland and about property values in the vicinity that are already falling. Some worried that Powertech would eventually file for permits on open-pit mining as well.

The Navajo Nation in the Four Corners area has banned uranium mining. "The people there were affected very badly by open-pit uranium mining," said Dian Sparling of Fort Collins, a nurse-midwife who worked on the reservation in 1982. One of her jobs was to collect statistics on the number of miscarriages and birth defects experienced by tribal members.

"Uranium mining so close to 275,000 people is a very risky business," said John Dixon of Fort Collins. "We will be playing Russian roulette with the lives of our children and future generations. What is the health of our children worth?"


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