Why Act Now?

The best reason to enact significant mining law reform now is the rush to mine uranium on public land.

New Uranium Projects in US, from Uranium-wise website

Nuclear power is back in demand as a relatively cheap, reliable and emissions-free solution to the world's insatiable demand for energy. Even some leading environmentalists have endorsed nuclear power as an antidote to global warming. More than 50 nuclear plants are planned or under construction in a dozen countries, according to the experts. The truth is nuclear power uses fossil fuel energy at every step: mining, milling, enriching, conversion to solid. And the problems with the waste still have not been solved. See short video by Russell Lowes of AZ Nuclear Energy Watch.
Act Now: Tell NRC Not to Limit Public Debate on Dangerous Uranium Mining
News Release:   Lawmakers Hear Community Concerns & Industry Promises
Report on recent In-Situ uranium mining in Texas: Findings related to restoration of groundwater

The price of uranium is going up so the speculators who hope to make a quick fortune on its rise are coming out of the millworks—especially from across the border. Our Canadian neighbors are in a frenzy to stake claims on free public land along with its free water offered by their unsuspecting and uninformed taxpayers south of their border.
Current News: UN Body Holds Canada Responsible for Corporations' Actions Abroad

According to the wonderful record keepers at Environmental Working Group, the number of mining claims registered with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) increased from 220,265 at the end of 2002 to 324,551 in September 2006, a 47 percent increase. Many of the claims are for potential uranium mines, reflecting a renewed interest worldwide in nuclear power.
Map and database of current claims

What’s the Problem?
Uranium is extremely toxic. The fact remains that land, water and people are still suffering the effects of mining of uranium from the 1950’s through the 1980’s. When it comes to uranium mining, public land has a unique connotation: Most of the uranium was mined on Native American reservations managed by the Department of Interior.

Colorado Plateau:
The largest single source of uranium ore in the United States was/is the Colorado Plateau located in the “Four Corners” area: Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. The U.S. Federal Government, the sole legal purchaser of uranium ore, paid discovery bonuses and guaranteed purchase prices to anyone who found and delivered uranium ore. The Feds twisted the arms of the tribes, principally Diné, with the promise of good jobs and even royalties (the Diné are still waiting for those checks) and by assuring them that it was the “patriotic” thing to do. The economic incentives resulted in a frenzy of exploration and mining activity throughout the Colorado Plateau from 1947 through 1959. For information on the situation today in Navajoland.

The High Cost of Uranium in Navajo land

Dam failures occur all over the world, but there was a particularly fateful one in New Mexico. The biggest expulsion of radioactive material in the United States occurred July 16, 1979, at 5 a.m. on the Navajo Nation, less than 12 hours after President Carter had proposed plans to use more nuclear power and fossil fuels. On that morning, more than 1,100 tons of uranium mining tailings gushed through a packed-mud dam near Church Rock, N.M. With the tailings, 100 million gallons of radioactive water gushed through the dam before the crack was repaired.

By 8 a.m., radioactivity was monitored in Gallup, N.M., nearly 50 miles away. The contaminated river, the Rio Puerco, showed 7,000 times the allowable standard of radioactivity for drinking water below the broken dam shortly after the breach was repaired, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The few newspaper stories about the spill outside of the immediate area noted that the area was "sparsely populated" and that the spill "poses no immediate health hazard."

Image:Colorado Plateaus map.png —Map from National Park Service

Black Hills: There were additional opportunities for uranium mining in the Lakota-Sioux lands in the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Feds did not even have to do arm-twisting there. With a gold rush in 1870 and a doling of grazing and mining leases, sanctioned by Congress and the Department of Interior, in 1902, leases on their land was already in the hands of exploiters and available for mining operations. For information on current situation

Spokane, WA: The only uranium mining in Washington State was on the Spokane Indian Reservation: the Sherwood Uranium Mine and the Midnite Uranium Mine. Among Newmont Mining's many holdings is majority interest in the Dawn Mining Company, which until 1981 operated the Midnite Mine on the Spokane Indian Reservation. The open-pit uranium mine is the source of radiation and heavy metal contamination of Blue Creek, which flows into the Spokane River arm of Lake Roosevelt. After some 25 years of inaction, the Midnite Uranium Mine is now designated as a federal Superfund site requiring a $280 million cleanup. However, the work has not started because EPA has not been able to get the parentcompany—Newmont—to fund the work; therefore, it will fall to the taxpayers to do so.
For information on current situation

Tucson, AZ: At the Cyprus Tohono Mine, operated by Phelps Dodge on Tohono O’odham land west of Tucson, Arizona, EPA issued an administrative order requiring the company to clean up tailings containing toxic salt and uranium. This site leached uranium into the groundwater and fouled a tribal community’s drinking water well. The well was relocated to an area untouched by the contamination. Removal of the salts and tailings is now underway. These wastes are being piled on a plastic pad, which will then be capped so that no water can get in to move the toxics. The work will cost an estimated $18 million.

Where is the assurance that the old mines will be cleaned up?

Three Basic Problems:
1) Physical damage to the health of the miners and families
2) Economic degradation of the local economy and culture
3) Environmental contamination of the water and land

Health: The physical problems, such as lung cancer and various respiratory problems, caused by dust blown from the mines and tailings took years to appear—and the chromosomal damage done was even slower to show up. There’s no doubt that the U.S. Government and its agencies have done a poor job in helping the affected communities recover from economic, health and environmental contamination. The financial compensation that has been doled out appeared long after most of the miners were dead.

Economic: Uranium mining was a boom and bust economy. While homes were built in some mining areas, in others homes and fields were uprooted for mining operations.

Environmental: Tailings impoundment, excavations, spoiled water, most of which the mining companies and U.S. Government never cleaned up. In the few cases of reclamation, the Native Americans got funds from various sources to conduct the work themselves after years of idle promises.

Did the U.S. Government know that working with uranium was harmful?

The ability of radium to kill cells was known and it was being used to treat cancer several decades before the fission research that produced the bomb. By 1915, the British Roentgen Society had adopted a resolution to protect people from overexposure to X-rays. This was probably the first organized effort at Radiation Protection.

By 1922, American organizations had adopted the British protection rules. Awareness and education grew, and throughout the 1920s and 30s, more guidelines were developed and various organizations were formed to address radiation protection in the United States and overseas. However, radiation protection was primarily a non-governmental function until the late 1940s. After World War II, the development of the atomic bomb, and nuclear reactors caused the federal government to establish policies dealing with human exposure to radiation. So why was there only health problems in the Native American mining communities?

The first Western uranium boom answered a call in 1948 for domestic uranium stockpiles for atomic bombs. By the 1970s, demand plants was picking up for nuclear power plants. Then there was a partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island reactor. Then in 1986 Chernobyl reactor failed. The populace—and officials—were no longer enamored with the promise of cheap and easy power—the environment price was exorbitant, and had to be factored in.

In the early 1980’s the federal government, owning all uranium sites and stock piles, dumped its uranium stocks on the market and the price of uranium plummeted. With the disenchantment of coal fired power plants, the officials are again turning to nuclear.

Now, the spot price for milled uranium yellowcake has jumped sharply to $52 a pound after bottoming out at $7 in 2001. Higher prices have motivated thousands to snatch up expired uranium claims and wildcatters to sink test drills from the north rim of the Grand Canyon to Albuquerque across the traditional Colorado Plateau region. The mining claims grant an exclusive right to mine a piece of federal land.

Excellent, informed well-researched book on Uranium and Native Americans: If You Poison Us by Peter H. Eichstaedt

Excellent resource on uranium impacts throughout the world.:

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