Communities living with uranium mining
Published: June 23, 2011
By: Erika Kamptner
From the introduction:
Uranium was first mined in the United States in 1871, but industrial-scale uranium mining boomed at the end of World War II and the dawn of the Atomic Age. The industry's history of contaminating streams, rivers, lakes and groundwater with radioactive or toxic wastes is just as long, and it persists as abandoned open-pit mines from the Cold War era continue to leach pollutants into waterways, mostly on public or tribal lands, in 14 Western states. By 2009, 14 uranium mines were in operation in the U.S., and four were in situ operations that involve injecting chemical-laced solutions into the ground to dissolve uranium from ore and then pumping out the uranium-containing fluids.
But as we will see, modern-day uranium exploration and mining are far from being as safe as they propose to be. Together the legacy and the future of uranium mining are threatening communities who, under the lax provisions of the 1872 Mining Law, have little recourse against the reach of large multinational mining companies. The new 21st century push for nuclear power in the U.S. and worldwide significantly increases the risk of future uranium development leading to more tragic contamination stories like those outlined in this report.
This report tells only some of the stories of communities impacted by uranium mining.
We highlight the more serious cases of contamination from past and present mining. We spotlight the special places threatened by the devastating and lasting impacts of exploration and drilling. And we recommend policy changes that are urgently needed to protect the public from an industry whose byproducts too often include environmental degradation and health hazards.
It is long past time that regulation of uranium mining is brought into the 21st Century.