Saturday, September 3, 2016

Over a Century of Uranium Mines Left Unmitigated - Why Would We Allow More Uranium Mining in the West?

Below find an excerpt from an article on an EPA plan to remediate 50 uranium mines in the Southwest. The article provides some background about the abandoned and poisoning uranium mines dispersed across the western US.

The article explain that the General Mining Act of 1872 allowed settlers to mine uranium and other hard minerals on land managed by federal agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Clean-up was not, apparently, required.

There are many, many abandoned mines in the southwest region, which includes northeastern AZ, parts of New Mexico, and Utah. The article notes that there are “more than 15,000 mines known to have ‘uranium occurrence’ in 14 Western states. About 75 percent of those are on federal and tribal lands, according to the EPA.

You can read more about the impact of uranium mining at the Southwest Research and Information Center:

Here is the article describing the proposed cleanup of the selected 50 mines: 
Adam De Rose. Sep 2, 2016. EPA announces plans to begin next phase of Navajo uranium cleanup. Cronkite News,

WASHINGTON – Federal officials took the first step this week toward a planned $1 billion cleanup of abandoned uranium mines in and around the Navajo Nation, seeking bids to assess the problem and begin planning the project.

The Environmental Protection Agency expects to use about $85 million for the planning, part of a nearly $1 billion settlement with Kerr-McGee Corp., later Tronox Inc., which operated mines in Arizona and New Mexico.
The entire uranium supply chain is dirty and expensive and humanity should dispense with it altogether.

Moreover, given the history of uranium mining in the US, it is inconceivable that the government would allow more mining, particularly when uranium can be "recycled" from existing weapons materials.

You can read my letter to the AZ Dept. of Environmental Quality about re-permitting of uranium mining near the Grand Canyon and my blog post about the proposed mining here:
Letter to ADEQ 
Blog Post on Re-Permitting of Uranium Mining 
The world is awash in enriched uranium. There is a global "glut" (e.g., see discussion here).

Beginning in 1993, uranium from dismantled nuclear weapons programs was “recycled” into reactor fuel by downgrading from “weapon” grade fuel consisting of approximately 95 percent U-235 to 3.5 percent by mixing in natural uranium.[i]

“From Megatons to Megawatts” aimed at reducing Russian supplies of enriched uranium by deconstructing warheads and shipping uranium to the US company USEC for final stage processing of the nuclear fuel. USEC was created by the Energy Policy Act of 1992 to privatize uranium enrichment for use in nuclear utilities.[ii]

USEC initial public stock offering occurred in 1998. The company went through bankruptcy and re-emerged as Centrus Energy in 2014.[iii] Centrus Energy’s current chief executive officer is Daniel Poneman, formerly of the US Department of Energy[iv].

The Megatons into Megawatts program was designed to avoid flooding the market with uranium by stipulating that stockpiles of U-308 (each approximately 26,000 tonnes) would be held by the Russian and US governments until 2009. Russia could sell only what exceeded its mandated stockpile and sales were limited to designated buyers.[v] Russia completed its final shipment of low-enriched uranium in 2013 but the program was not extended.[vi]

You can read more about Poneman's revolving door relationship with Centrus and the Department of Energy, here, as well as his role in promoting Japan's "pluthermal" program:

Poneman visited Japan after the Fukushima earthquake before leaving the Department of Energy and appeared to encourage plans for recycling and enrichment at Rokkasho, despite the detection of earthquake faults under the site. His visit and recommendations stirred up quite a bit of criticism in the Japanese media (cited here
The uranium supply chain is dirty, duplicitious, and lacks accountability.

[i] Terje Langeland, “Megatons to Mega-Problems,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 58 (2002): 49.

[ii] “United States Enrichment Corporation,” Wikipedia, last modified July 5, 2015,

[iii] Steven Overly, “Centrus Energy, Formerly Known as USEC, Emerges from Chapter 11 Bankruptcy,” The Washington Post, September 30, 2014, accessed November 2, 2014,

[iv] Douglas Birch, “Former Energy Department Official Wins Huge Pay Raise After Moving to Firm with Deep Ties to DOE,” Center for Public Integrity, May 13, 2015, accessed May 17, 2015,

[v] “Military Warheads as a Source of Nuclear Fuel,” World Nuclear Association, August 2014, accessed December 7, 2014,

[vi] “Russia Finishes Turning Megatons into Megawatts,” TCE: The Chemical Engineer 868 (2013): 26-26.




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