Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Legacy of Uranium Mining

Brandon Loomis of the Arizona Republic has over the years provided excellent coverage of the legacy of uranium mining in the Southwest. His most recent article focuses on rising uranium contamination near the Grand Canyon:
Brandon Loomis, “Radiation rise stalls uranium mine permits near Grand Canyon,” The Arizona Republic, December 31, 2015,

The levels pose no immediate risk, according to state officials, but reignite calls for a permanent ban on new uranium mines near the Canyon

Story Highlights
Radiation around the Pinenut mine is four times higher than the background levels. Nevertheless, state environmental officials say it poses no immediate health risks. Mining opponents say a permanent ban on new uranium mines around the Canyon is needed

A spike in radioactive soil contamination around a remote uranium mine north of the Grand Canyon has caused Arizona regulators to delay issuing new permits for three mines.

Energy Fuels Resources Inc. found elevated radiation just outside its Pinenut Mine, which is north of the Canyon and south of Fredonia. The company has completed mining the site but is storing ore above ground and trucking it to a Utah mill.

Arizona Department of Environmental Quality officials say the contamination is at least four times higher than the area’s background radiation levels but poses no immediate health risk.
Previous articles by Loomis have addressed the toxic legacy for the Navajo people:
Brandon Loomis, “Abandoned Uranium Mines Continue to Haunt Navajos on Reservation,” The Arizona Republic, August 4, 2014,

Uranium is still a threat. Study finds Navajo uranium miners had a lung-cancer rate nearly 29 times that of Navajos who did not work in the mines....Decades after America's Cold War uranium binge, the Colorado Plateau remains scarred, poisoning and frightening a people who still live with the radioactive residue of 521 abandoned mines scattered across their reservation's 17.2 million acres, which is larger than West Virginia. The U.S. promises a thorough cleanup, but at current funding levels, it could take generations to complete. Anger is rising....
A 2000 study published in the journal Health Physics found Navajo uranium miners had a lung-cancer rate nearly 29 times that of Navajos who did not work in the mines. From 1969 to 1993, two-thirds of new lung cancers in Navajo men afflicted the miners....

When the U.S. needed Navajos to mine uranium for atomic bombs, they went willingly. Decades later, the Navajo Reservation is dotted with signs like this one posted by the Environmental Protection Agency in Church Rock, N.M. There are 521 abandoned uranium mines on the reservations. 
Also featured in this excellent series by Loomis:
Brandon Loomis, “With uranium poisoning wells, Navajos must drive miles to get drinking water,” The Arizona Republic, August 5, 2014,

Brandon Loomis, “Uranium-mine cleanup on Navajo Reservation could take 100 years,” The Arizona Republic, August 6, 2014,
What we learn from Loomis' reports is that people and eco-systems are DISPOSABLE when uranium mining occurs.

In my opinion, Uranium is the one ring (a la Tolkein) that destroys the heart/spirit of all who covet it.

On a tangential note, I wonder whether the Utah uranium mill that is processing the uranium trucked from the Grand Canyon area is the one sold by the US to the Russians, as approved by Hilary Clinton while Secretary of State (see my discussion here):
Davidson, Amy (2015, April 24). Five Questions About the Clintons and a Uranium Company. The New Yorker,

[excerpted] The Times has reported that people involved in a series of Canadian uranium-mining deals channelled money to the Clinton Foundation while the firm had business before the State Department. And, in one case, a Russian investment bank connected to the deals paid money to Bill Clinton personally, through a half-million-dollar speaker’s fee.....

See also:
Jo Becker and Mike McIntire, "Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal," The New York Times, April 23, 2015, 
 The path to a Russian acquisition of American uranium deposits began in 2005 in Kazakhstan, where the Canadian mining financier Frank Giustra orchestrated his first big uranium deal, with Mr. Clinton at his side....

Within days of the visit, Mr. Giustra’s fledgling company, UrAsia Energy Ltd., signed a preliminary deal giving it stakes in three uranium mines controlled by the state-run uranium agency Kazatomprom....

If the Kazakh deal was a major victory, UrAsia did not wait long before resuming the hunt. In 2007, it merged with Uranium One, a South African company with assets in Africa and Australia, in what was described as a $3.5 billion transaction. The new company, which kept the Uranium One name, was controlled by UrAsia investors including Ian Telfer, a Canadian who became chairman. Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Giustra, whose personal stake in the deal was estimated at about $45 million, said he sold his stake in 2007.

Soon, Uranium One began to snap up companies with assets in the United States. In April 2007, it announced the purchase of a uranium mill in Utah and more than 38,000 acres of uranium exploration properties in four Western states, followed quickly by the acquisition of the Energy Metals Corporation and its uranium holdings in Wyoming, Texas and Utah. That deal made clear that Uranium One was intent on becoming “a powerhouse in the United States uranium sector with the potential to become the domestic supplier of choice for U.S. utilities,” the company declared....
The story of the Clintons and Uranium One is a very long and complicated narrative that I recommend readers peruse in more detail at the links above.

The moral of the story is that uranium is the object of great conflict by great powers who care little for the health and well-being of people and the environment.

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