WHAT’S SO BAD ABOUT URANIUM MINING—A RESEARCHED ANALYSIS by JACK DUNAVANT, PE
Chairman “We the People of Virginia, Inc.”
Naturally occurring uranium deposits are scattered all along the eastern slopes of the Appalachian Mountains from Main to Georgia. Those deposits are safely locked away, deep underground in solid bedrock and they pose no threat to anyone. Open pit mining strips away the soil above the bedrock which is then drilled and blasted and hauled to the top to be milled (crushed) into a fine powdery state. Uranium is then leached out of this powdery mix with strong acid and alkali solutions. An open pit mine can be 1000 feet deep and a mile wide. At first glance, the above thumbnail sketch of uranium mining seems relatively benign. So what’s the big deal? As always, the devil is in the details and the problems with uranium mining are myriad and its effects are everlasting.
1. One ton (2000 lbs.) of excavated bedrock produces an average of 1 pound of uranium yellow cake; the remaining 99.95% of excavated bedrock is left behind as powdery tailings.
2. Only 15% of the radioactivity in the excavated ore is removed, and the massive tailings left behind contain eighty five percent (85%) of its original radioactivity now in a fine powdery state.
3. “Tailings give off at least 10,000 times more radon gas than the undisturbed ore.” Dr. Gordon Edwards
4. The tailings contain other radioactive waste also (thorium, radium etc.) plus many heavy metals and toxic minerals. Rainwater percolating through the tailings can contaminate ground water supplies for thousands of years.
5. The tailings are vulnerable to the vagaries of weather. Windblown tailings can travel hundreds and even thousands of miles. Red dust tailings from Australian uranium mines are regularly visible on snow covered mountains in New Zeland two thousand miles away.
6. VUI says it will produce 110,000,000 pounds of yellow cake at Coles Hill. At an average grade of .05% that would produce 110,000,000 tons of tailings which, if mounded 200’ tall and 400’ wide, would stretch 7.1 miles long.
7. Mining worldwide has a history of fits and starts caused by supply and demand. Mining at Coles Hill is projected to be a 40 yr. project. The mining could intermittently stop for long periods on a moment’s notice.
8. The Piedmont region of Virginia is blessed with an average of 43 inches of rainfall per year and every acre of land receives 1.14 million gallons of water per year. There is no way to capture or control that volume of water.
9. Virginia is threatened yearly by hurricanes, tornados and other catastrophic weather events and in a 27-year period our state endured two PMP (probable maximum precipitation) rainfall events. In 1969 Hurricane Camille dumped over 30 inches of rainfall in a 12-hr. period on Nelson County, Va., twenty seven inches of which fell during a three hour period (9 in. per hr.). Camille washed away homes, bridges and the sides of mountains, and 286 people perished. A similar storm occurred in Madison County, Va. in 1995. Both storms occurred when warm moist air collided with the eastern slopes of Virginia’s mountains, which just happens to be where uranium is located. There is no way to plan for or control events like those.
10. The Banister River is a source of drinking water for Halifax County.
11. The Virginia Beach Uranium Mining Study indicates through advanced computer modeling that severe storms will wash and blow tailings from a Coles Hill Mine and those tailings would destroy the Banister River “for the foreseeable future” and render Kerr Lake’s waters, a source of Virginia Beach’s drinking water, unusable.
12. Our most fertile fields lie in our river low grounds and should they become flooded and contaminated with tailings they would be rendered useless for livestock and human use for perhaps thousands of years. There is no way to clean up or neutralize tailings spread out over large land areas.
13. Radon gas is 8 times heavier than air and it has a short 3.8 day half-life (loses half its radiation in 3.8 days). The lost half does not disappear but morphs into polonium 210 and other toxic substances. Polonium 210 is 4.5 billion times more toxic than hydrogen cyanide.
14. Radon gas emanating from finely ground tailings is far more concentrated than that from natural sources.
15. Radon gas from a Coles Hill mine would naturally flow like water down the Banister River into Halifax and other residential areas.
16. The nuclear industry has a history of targeting poorly educated indigenous people for uranium mining with the promise of jobs. After years of abuse many of these peoples have outlawed uranium mining on
their lands. British Columbia and Nova Scotia ban uranium mining.
17. There are three forms of radiation; alpha, beta and gamma. Most uranium mining radiation is alpha which can not penetrate a sheet of paper; however, it is most deadly when ingested. Inhalation of contaminated shower water can lead to lung cancer, and if swallowed it can cause bone and other internal organ cancers.
18. There is no new technology that makes uranium mining safer today than in the past except for lagoon liners. These new liners have a maximum design life of 100 years, which pales in comparison to the half life of uranium, 4.8 billion years.
19. When mining is completed the investors walk away with the profit leaving the unsuspecting taxpayer holding the bag for cleanup and recovery---forever.
20. If Virginia embraces uranium mining what will follow? Would we not become targets for high level and low level radioactive waste dumps?
21. Contrary to VUI claims, uranium mining has never been done safely.
22. There are no (zero) active open-pit uranium mines in the United States today.
23. Areva, the giant uranium mining conglomerate is owned by the French government, yet France has no active uranium mines. Hmmm!
24.Areva has been cited by several international environmental groups for failing to disclose the risks associated with uranium mining to its workers in Niger, and for failing to treat patients who became ill at its company hospitals.
25. All old uranium mines end up as fenced-off superfund site monitored and remediated at taxpayer expense---forever.
26. Perception is reality in the absence of proof. A uranium mine would kill economic development for large areas around a mine site.
27. All studies, including The National Academy of Sciences study, have raised numerous red flags about uranium mining and the threats it poses to the health of future generations.
28. The Coles Hill mine site straddles the Chatham fault and lies in a flood plain near the Banister River---both conditions should render the site unacceptable for mining.
29. VUI touts Coles Hill as the largest uranium find in Virginia. They
can say that only because it is the only site to be drilled at a cost of millions. Other sites in Virginia have higher Geiger readings than
Coles Hill and are surely more mineable.
30. Coles Hill is not the mega uranium site it is purported to be by its investors. It is relatively small and the maximum .065% ore grade is marginal at best. There are better sites in Virginia. Is Coles Hill
a stalking horse to get the Moratorium lifted?
31. Moab, Utah has only 9” of rainfall per year (Virginia has 43”/yr.). We taxpayers are paying to haul millions of tons of tailings away from the Colorado River near Moab, Utah because the tailings were tainting L.A’s drinking water. For more information, Google “uraniummining Moab, Utah”.
32. There are no active open pit uranium mines in the U.S. today. All old uranium mines end up as fenced off Super Fund sites.
33. The American taxpayer pays for any monitoring, remediation and the cleanup associated with uranium mining.
34. There are no uranium mines east of the Mississippi River for very good reasons; heavy rainfall and severe storms.
35. Could uranium mining be a giant Ponzi Scheme to enrich a few at the expense of many?
Most of the problems associated with uranium mining begin when mildly
radioactive bedrock is ground into a fine powdery state. That lets the Genie out of the bottle and there is no putting her back. The mining boys take the money and the poor innocent taxpayers are left to pay for all monitoring, maintenance and clean up---forever. Would a prospective industry want to locate to an area that has a uranium
mine? How many existing industries would stay? Would a baby food manufacturer or a brewery not move away? How about the two prestigious schools, Hargrave Military Academy and Chatham Hall, each located only 6 miles from the mine site? Wouldn’t an old mine site be a target for federal radioactive waste dumps? Do we want to forever expose our people and environment to uranium mining’s hazards?
For more information please visit our web site; www.wethepeopleofva.org
Jack Dunavant is a professional engineer who lives on the Banister River in Halifax, Va. and he has studied uranium mining issues since the early 1980s.