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Environmental, health, threats of USA’s zombie uranium mines

When toxic waste piles — either solid rock or liquid confined behind earthen dams — are left unaddressed, the potential increases for “catastrophic failure

WHILE ‘ZOMBIE’ MINES IDLE, CLEANUP AND WORKERS SUFFER IN LIMBO As the governor of West Virginia and other mine owners warehouse their operations and avoid cleanup, the Trump administration stifles attempts to write rules that could restrict the practice. Center for Public Integrity, 8 Sept 19

…….RADIOACTIVE LEGACY

Remnants of America’s nuclear past litter the Grants Mining District in northwest New Mexico: signs warning of radioactivity, a spiked drill bit outside the New Mexico Mining Museum in Grants, businesses offering to help retired miners get U.S. Department of Labor health benefits.

Mount Taylor — “Tsoodzil” to the Navajo Nation — towers over the landscape. At the base of the 11,305-foot-tall inactive volcano sits the Mount Taylor Mine, idled in 1990 and allowed to flood.

The heyday of Southwestern uranium mining lasted just 30 years. Much of the industry, including this mine, has since remained in standby.

The country’s last operational underground uranium mine shut in 2015, and  open-pit mines haven’t produced in decades. Only one mill in Utah and four in-situ-leach operations, in which ore is dissolved belowground and pumped up, are still active. Two other mills and 15 in-situ-leach sites are either officially in standby or not producing. The American uranium industry employed only 372 people last year, down from 1,120 two decades earlier. Production from U.S. uranium mines fell 85 percent during that period, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

At current prices, mining uranium in the Four Corners remains untenable.

But now the Mount Taylor Mine is reopening, at least on paper. 

…  the Jackpile-Paguate Uranium Mine, once the world’s largest open-pit uranium mine, is now a Superfund site. In the broader Four Corners region, the U.S. Department of Energy is supposed to clean up more than 20 such Cold War relics, from former mills to waste piles. Some leak arsenic, lead, uranium and other toxic substances into groundwater. Recently, hoofprints were found leading from an unfenced pollution control pond near Slick Rock, Colorado, indicating that cattle likely drink from it.

Just inside the southeastern corner of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, an unsettling sign hangs from barbed wire: “DANGER. ABANDONED URANIUM MINE,” a pile of mine waste looming behind it. Residents here in the Red Water Pond Road Community are surrounded by two abandoned uranium mines and a mill…….

Living around or working in uranium mines can worsen, or even trigger, autoimmune disorders, kidney disease, respiratory issues, hypertension and cancer. A study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the University of New Mexico and Navajo agencies found that Navajo Nation citizens, including infants, had elevated levels of uranium in their bodies.

Paul Robinson, Southwest Research and Information Center’s research director, has tracked the industry for more than 40 years. While the New Mexico Mining Act mandates that waste rock and other infrastructure be stabilized before entering standby status, it allows operators to delay reclamation while mining is paused, he said.

Leaving the wastes that are generated at a mine uncovered is one of the ways to ensure airborne or waterborne release,” Robinson said.

Thompson Bell, a member of the Navajo Nation who spent five years as a mechanic in a uranium mine, grew up here and returned for the study. He said many of his mining coworkers died from lung cancer. The sheep and cattle that used to graze here have all but disappeared, the flocks given up for fear of contamination.

The thing about uranium, we found out: It destroys humans and land,” Bell said.

Opinion remains split locally about whether the return of relatively high-paying mining jobs — if that ever happened — would be worth the human and environmental consequences. Christine Lowery, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and a commissioner for the county where the Mount Taylor Mine is located, said she welcomes a cleaner economy.

Those mines were open for one generation,” she said. “The legacy lasts forever…….

The federal government leaves it to the states to impose limits on uranium-mine idling. The resulting patchwork of state rules are largely anchored on a 147-year-old federal law aimed more at promoting mining than managing it.

Over time, uranium production has dropped, stockpiles remained large, nuclear power’s share of the country’s electricity production fell, and power plants bought more uranium from overseas. Still, mine owners hope for a revival…….

 Modern surface mining in Central Appalachia has been linked to health problems ranging from cancer to birth defects. And in a 2012 study, Bernhardt estimated that surface mining impaired about one in three miles of southern West Virginia’s rivers.

But idling poses other risks, Bernhardt said. When toxic waste piles — either solid rock or liquid confined behind earthen dams — are left unaddressed, the potential increases for “catastrophic failure,” she said, even as opportunities to use the land for new purposes are delayed…..

Regulators in Virginia have few options. Justice mine cleanup liabilities in Virginia total as much as $200 million, and taxpayers could get stuck with a large share of that if the state takes over. That’s because those companies have put up only about $51 million for cleanup if the operations are abandoned. Half of that amount would likely be worthless in that scenario because, state records show, it is backed against the value of the companies. A pool of money Virginia set up to close gaps like this at 150 permits across the state, including some of Justice’s, has less than $10 million in it. ……..https://publicintegrity.org/environment/while-zombie-mines-idle-cleanup-and-workers-suffer-in-limbo/?fbclid=IwAR1PsslGwAV0UPxPBIn4qv1JTypoGVk1

September 10, 2019 - Posted by | environment, health, Uranium, USA

6 Comments »

  1. Have the fires impacted the areas of Australia’s uranium mines? Some are reporting high levels of rad in the region and blaming Fukushima. While I know that Fukushima got to the southern hemisphere, I don’t believe it would result in a sudden spike that occurred at the time of the fires.

    Comment by miningawareness | January 21, 2020 | Reply

    • Hasty reply – (caught up in school hols now). No. I am pretty sure that there are no bushfires anywhere near uranium mining areas. Uranium mines are all in the interior. The fires are all in Australia’s greener coastal fringe.

      Comment by Christina MacPherson | January 21, 2020 | Reply

      • I actually found some at the Olympic Dam mine ongoing since the 16th. Uranium is one of the things mined there. I believe there may be more but it doesn’t tell back further than one week and I don’t know where they all are very easily. Even if it looks like a mine it’s not always easy to figure out which one it is. There are many old mines. I found a uranium mine map AND fire map but not in a format to do overlays. https://firms.modaps.eosdis.nasa.gov/map/#z:13;c:136.9,-30.5;d:2020-01-21..2020-01-21

        Comment by miningawareness | January 21, 2020

      • Wow! miningawareness, I have been in awe of your research/detective skills in USA. Now you’ve exercised them in Australia, too. Thanks, great work.
        I do suspect that your quoted fires are certainly important, they probably have not been par of the mammoth bushfires afflicting the East coast.

        Comment by Christina MacPherson | January 22, 2020

      • I found there have been fires at Olympic Dam since the 16th… could be longer. There may be more but it’s not easy to figure out: https://firms.modaps.eosdis.nasa.gov/map/#z:13;c:136.9,-30.5;d:2020-01-21..2020-01-21

        Comment by miningawareness | January 21, 2020

  2. One week ago there was a fire at Century Mine which is located at -18.741 138.618
    While it is zinc and lead, there is normally uranium with lead, I think. I think I had seen another copper mine.

    Comment by miningawareness | January 21, 2020 | Reply


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