We left Juneau this morning, having spent the day yesterday at the Greens Creek Mine on Admiralty Island. We were there to observe the filtered tailings placed in a dry stack. A simple conclusion: the system works amazingly well.
On the plane back I read an article in the September 13, 2010 issue of the New Yorker on uranium mining and milling in southwest Colorado, with special emphasis on Uravan and the proposed new mill that Energy Fuels would like to build. An abstract of the article is available at this link. I recommend the article to anybody interested in the environmental aspects of mining, the human side of mining, and nuclear power.
The article brilliantly captures the support of the locals for resumption of uranium mining versus the opposition that comes from the ignorant actors and playboys of Telluride and their ski-lodges. The article tells a little about the history of Uravan, the mining town that was declared a Superfund site and entirely torn down to be put in one of the four uranium mill and waste deposits high up on the hill behind the town site.
I have visited the site on and off over the years. On the UMTRA Project, we relocated the Naturita uranium mill tailings to the area. Then a few years ago, I was engaged to assist as a technical expert to defend a class action law suite brought to claim damages for everybody who had ever lived in the town. A judge threw out the claimants’ case on the first hearing. I must give her credit for a fast grasp of the facts—some of which I had put together.
I love that southwest part of Colorado and can never understand why people go running to Australia when they have not seen this part of their own country. Are they possibly scared that they will be affected by the radio-activity of the area?
The United States imports nearly eighty percent of the uranium required to keep its nuclear power plants running to produce about twenty percent of the nation’s electricity consumption. The American in me agrees that it is reasonable to ask if uranium mining and milling should not resume to meet domestic demand. The Canadian in me asks: why bother? There is so much uranium in Saskatchewan and so much mining there, why encourage competition. Better to keep the Americans importing the stuff—as long as they can pay the bill. And if they cannot, of course they can borrow more from China.
At this link is a long tirade against the uranium industry in Colorado. See also the Denver Post on the issue. Neither as well written as the New Yorker piece, but fascinating none-the-less. Both go on about the cost of past cleanup. The cost are real. I sent the kids through university on the money I earned working on the cleanup. It all goes to prove that mining done badly, is bad; but mining done well, is good.
The fight over the Pinion Ridge Mill and the inevitable associated mining, captures the dilemma of modern America perfectly:
- Coal versus nuclear power.
- Import versus do-it-yourself.
- Luxury ski condos versus trailer homes
- Bloggers in opposition versus the silent majority just scraping by.
We will watch this one with interest.