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Students from North Arizona researched and wrote about the effects of uranium mining, especially on indigenous people.

Navajo youth essay winner looks at uranium trail in Arizona

Picking up the fight — Beyond Nuclear International Diné student wins uranium essay contest, Beyond Nuclear, By Sandra J. Wright, 18 july 21,
Charisma Black, along with other students from northern Arizona, took on a challenge issued by the 4th World Foundation to research uranium mining effects on Black Mesa.

Each writer was also asked to propose actions to limit exposure to radiation.

Black was named the winner of the contest in April. On May 13, she accepted the $500 scholarship award along with a large hand-woven basket filled with traditional clothing and jewelry.

Tommy Rock, an alumnus of Northern Arizona University’s School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability, presented the award to Black.

Black’s extended family is from the Pinon, Arizona, area of the Navajo Reservation. But her immediate family moved to Phoenix when she was young.

She returned to northern Arizona about two years ago, and is a graduating student of Flagstaff High School. Only 18 years old, Black has spent a lot of time thinking about uranium.

“My greatest concern was for family members,” Black said. “Uranium has shortened my time with some of them. We have to take care of them. I hope things can change for everyone, not just us Navajo and Hopi people.”

Her awareness of the uranium issue began when she was 10 years old……………

Black’s essay spoke to the environmental reality of living on Black Mesa.

“Uranium is a big issue because it contaminates the water source from underground aquifer of both Navajo and Hopi,” Black wrote. “Water that is accessed is being not only depleted at a dramatic rate, water is also undrinkable in areas that only have wells and windmills for drinking.

“This impacts their health, their livestock, their fields, etc.,” she said. “It is becoming unsafe, uninhabitable and unsustainable to live on the land in Black Mesa. New disease and sickness have come to Black Mesa.”

Black concluded that people “have to participate and learn better ways to keep our land, air and water clean for our peoples, animals and other species. We need to continue the advocacy and organizing to bring attention to the issue of uranium contamination on Black Mesa for sustainability, healthy communities and future generations.”………….

Somana Tootsie, the director of the 4th World Foundation, was on hand during the dinner held in Black’s honor.

Tootsie said that the contest was designed to get tribal youth in the region talking about the larger picture of environmental awareness and responsibility.


“This was an opportunity for young people to hold a conversation with their family members about the effects of uranium on their tribes and neighbors,” Tootsie said.

“We received amazing responses and great ideas on what to do to get more attention on the need for the removal or remediation of radioactive materials left exposed throughout northern Arizona,” she said. “We wanted to get them interested in science.”………….

Exposure not just Navajo

Exposure is not limited to the Navajo, Hopi and other tribes of the region. Radiation from the nuclear testing begun during World War II has created “downwinder” victims across the country to the east.

He finds hope that more people are working the devastating effects of the uranium industry.

“We have many grass-roots organizations addressing uranium,” Rock said. “The University of New Mexico has undertaking a study on uranium exposure. Amended by these studies, we have better access to health care from exposure.

The Navajo Nation Environmental Agency has been stepping up,” he said. “We have the Dine’ Uranium Remediation Advisory Committee, which I sit on.”

The uranium industry has definitely affected drinking water across northern Arizona, and people need to be informed of that fact, Rock said.

“We all must face the reality that we need access to potable water,” Rock said. “Not just for us, but for future generations. We need to be informed.

“We live off the land, and uranium has a great impact on our environment,” he said. “We have to educate tribes, chapter houses, communities, and tell them what we are learning, what we are doing.”………….. https://beyondnuclearinternational.org/2021/07/18/picking-up-the-fight/

July 19, 2021 Posted by | indigenous issues, Uranium, USA | Leave a comment

Spain’s nuclear regulator blocks permit for a uranium concentrate plant

 Spain’s nuclear regulator blocks permit for Salamanca. The board of
Consejo de Seguridad Nuclear (CSN), Spain’s Nuclear Safety Council, has
issued an unfavourable report that will block Berkeley Energia’s plans
for a uranium concentrate plant at its Salamanca project in Retortillo,
western Spain.

 Mining Magazine 13th July 2021

 https://www.miningmagazine.com/geomechanics-ground-control/news/1413748/spain%E2%80%99s-nuclear-regulator-blocks-permit-for-salamanca

July 15, 2021 Posted by | safety, Uranium | Leave a comment

Increasing carbon emissions from uranium mining

 Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen 27th June 2021, The energy source of nuclear power is a mineral from the earth’s crust: uranium. An intricate system of industrial processes is required to convert the potential energy in this mineral into useful energy, and to manage the inevitable radioactive material wastes. During operation each nuclear power plant generates each year an amount of human-made radioactivty equivalent to about 1200 exploded Hiroshima atomic bombs. Without the process chain nuclear power would be impossible, and without nuclear power these processes would not exist.

The CO2 emission of these processes together form the specific CO2 emission inextricably coupled to nuclear power. The thermodynamic quality of the available uranium resources declines with time, because the highest quality resources are always mined first, for these offer the highest return on investments for the mining companies…


Declining thermodynamic quality of the resources results in an exponential rise of the specific energy and the coupled CO2 emission required to extract 1 kg of uranium from rock. At a given point the required extraction energy will equal the amount of useful energy that can be produced from 1 kg of uranium. Within the lifetime of new nuclear build uranium resources cannot be considered energy resources anymore, if the world uranium consumption remains at the present level. Meanwhile the coupled specific CO2 emission will grow as large as fossil-fuelled power.

 https://www.stormsmith.nl/reports.html

June 28, 2021 Posted by | 2 WORLD, climate change, Uranium | Leave a comment

‘Strong Evidence’ Links Uranium Mining to Lung Cancer

The U.S. Nuclear Weapons Program Left ‘a Horrible Legacy’ of Environmental Destruction and Death Across the Navajo Nation   Inside Climate News,  By Cheyanne M. DanielsAmanda Rooker, June 27, 2021  ”………………….‘Strong Evidence’ Links Uranium Mining to Lung Cancer

Uranium mining began in the Southwest in 1944, when the United States no longer wanted to depend on foreign sourcing of the uranium that was needed for nuclear research and weapons development as part of the Manhattan Project, the secret World War II effort to develop the atomic bomb. The federal government was the sole purchaser of uranium ore until 1971, but private companies operated the mines.

Navajo miners were not fully informed about the dangers of uranium mining specifically, despite the fact that scientists had concluded by the late 1930s that uranium mining caused lung cancer, even if debate existed about exactly why, according to a 2002 study published in the American Journal of Public Health. The miners were not informed about the potential risks of their work.

The investigation focused on white miners, although mortality rates were reported for non-white miners. One study looked at 3,238 white miners, while a second involved 757 non-whites, mainly Navajos. The studies were performed without the consent of the workers. 

In both white and non-white cohorts, “strong evidence” was found for an increased incidence of lung cancer. In the study of 757 non-white miners, 10 deaths were expected, but 34 were documented, meaning researchers found more than three times the number of lung cancer deaths than they expected. 

Tommy Reed, 64, a member of the Navajo Radiation Victims Committee who began working in a uranium mine when he was in high school, said his father was one of the Navajo miners studied. 

“They studied my father and a lot of the men …  and ladies that were in the mines there,” Reed said. “My dad, like many other men that were (miners), spent nine months on a ventilator. How much more of our story can cut deep, where one can comprehend the struggle that we have?”

For Reed, extending the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act isn’t to place blame but to ensure that other miners, uranium workers and downwinders are compensated for illnesses related to radiation exposure. But if he had to place blame, Reed said, he would point to the federal agencies that allowed the mining to take place and the related illnesses to go undiagnosed and untreated. 

“They knew, and they had numbers on them. They studied, it’s on the books, there were human experimentations,” said Reed.

“We’re just five-finger people,” he said, using a Navajo word for human beings. “But these five-finger people are the ones that they relied on, the people that are most expendable.” 

In response to this legacy of environmental destruction, death and racism, the Navajo Nation Council passed the Diné Natural Resources Protection Act in 2005 to mandate that “no further damage to the culture, society and economy of the Navajo Nation occurs because of uranium processing until all adverse economic, environmental and human health effects from past uranium mining” have been eliminated or substantially reduced……………… https://insideclimatenews.org/news/27062021/nuclear-weapons-navajo-nation-uranium-mining-environmental-destruction-health/

June 28, 2021 Posted by | health, Uranium | Leave a comment

Uranium at lowest price since 2007

Uranium Week: Struggling With Low Prices

FN Arena    Weekly Reports By Mark Woodruff May 25 2021, As the uranium spot price rose 2% for the week and 9% for the month, an EIA report revealed the lowest price paid since 2007 by owners and operators of US commercial nuclear plants

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) released both its 2020 US Uranium Marketing Annual Report and its 2020 Domestic Uranium Production Report last week. 

Despite covid roiling energy markets during 2020, the reports pointed to nuclear energy being a fundamental source of base load electricity generation (20%) with capacity factors steady at 94%, explains Canaccord Genuity. The broker believes coverage of future demand will continue to provide an impetus for a more active term market over 2021.

The EIA is responsible for collecting, analysing and disseminating energy information to inform policy making and efficient markets. It also adds to the public understanding of energy and its interaction with the economy and the environment.

The released reports in 2020 quantify developments in the US uranium industry, including decreased inventories, explains industry consultant TradeTech. They also showed an elevated aggregated contractual coverage rate among owners and operators of US civilian nuclear power reactors. Additionally, lower weighted average uranium prices and historically low uranium production were reported.

The Uranium Marketing Annual Report showed owners and operators of US commercial nuclear plants in 2020 purchased nearly 49mlbs uranium from US and foreign suppliers. These were transacted at a weighted-average price of US$33.27/lb, which represents a 1% increase in volume and a -7% decline in price compared to 2019 data. The weighted average price is the lowest price paid by owners and operators of US civilian power reactors since 2007.

Of the US deliveries, 76% were through longer-term contracts, averaging US$34.74/lb. As Canaccord notes, it’s always darkest before the dawn, with pricing failing to represent the marginal cost of production let alone the incentivisation price for restarts or new developments.

During 2020, 11.7mlbs or 24% of sales were on a spot basis, up from 10.5mlbs in 2019 and the highest since 2014. This illustrates that long-term contracts signed post-Fukushima (2011-2015) are starting to expire, explains Canaccord.

The report showed Australian and Canadian-origin uranium combined accounted for 42% of reported volumes by country of origin. Uranium purchased by owners and operators of US civilian power reactors from Russia again was the lowest weighted average price paid at US$25.73/lb, while purchases from Australia occupied the highest cost position at US$39.86/lb.;;;;;;;;;;;;;; https://www.fnarena.com/index.php/2021/05/25/uranium-week-struggling-with-low-prices/

May 27, 2021 Posted by | business and costs, Uranium | Leave a comment

High level of radioactivity near France’s uranium processing factory

France Info 29th April 2021, Residents of the largest uranium processing site in France, in Narbonne
(Aude), are worried: samples taken near the plant and analyzed in the laboratory show a high level of uranium. The site manager, however, says there is no danger to residents.

The most important uranium processing site in France is located three kilometers from Narbonne (Aude). Concerned local residents regularly check the level of radioactivity in the vicinity of the plant.

At the barrier that limits access to the site, the meter is racing and exceeds four times the natural level of radioactivity. The Orano Malvési plant is the entry point for nuclear power in France. Uranium arrives from all over the world in the form of yellow powder and must be purified and transformed into nuclear fuel. In 60 years, already more than 300,000 m3 of radioactive waste have been produced and are contained in basins, in the form of sludge.

https://www.francetvinfo.fr/sante/environnement-et-sante/narbonne-les-riverains-de-lusine-duranium-orano-malvesi-inquiets-des-taux-de-radioactivite_4604407.html

May 1, 2021 Posted by | environment, France, Uranium | 1 Comment

Australian-Chinese company Greenland Minerals to be thwarted in its bid for uranium and rare earth mining in Greenland.

Telegraph 17th April 2021, Overlooking the small fishing town of Narsaq, next to painted houses and slow-moving icebergs, lies one the last great untapped deposits of rare earth materials. About a quarter of the world’s rare earth minerals are thought to be found here, deep in the southern fjords of Greenland, providing key ingredients needed to build everything from wind turbines or electric vehicles. These deposits are crucial to Britain’s dream of developing the technologies required to become a green economy while reducing our rare-earth reliance on China.

But one man could be about to scupper the UK’s plans. Múte Bourup Egede, the 34-year-old leader of the Left-wing Inuit Ataqatigiit party, won a snap election in Greenland lastweek. At the heart of his election campaign was a pledge to halt the Kvanefjeld project by Greenland Minerals, an Australian company with Chinese ownership.

But for Greenlanders, strategic relevance was eclipsed by concerns surrounding the mine’s uranium contents. The territory’s anxieties around radioactive materials can be traced back to the 1968 Thule plane crash, when a US plane carrying nuclear bombs crashed into the sea ice in Greenland’s north. Even though the nuclear material did not
detonate, as part of clean up efforts the US Air Force collected 1.6m gallons of contaminated snow.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2021/04/17/battle-rare-earth-minerals-turns-radioactive/

April 19, 2021 Posted by | ARCTIC, AUSTRALIA, politics, Uranium | Leave a comment

Australian uranium fuelled Fukushima 

Mirarr senior Traditional Owner Yvonne Margarula ‒ on whose land in the Northern Territory Rio Tinto’s Ranger mine operated ‒ said she was “deeply saddened” that uranium from Ranger was exported to Japanese nuclear companies including TEPCO.
overseas suppliers who turned a blind eye to unacceptable nuclear risks in Japan have largely escaped scrutiny or blame. Australia’s uranium industry is a case in point.
The mining companies have failed to take any responsibility for the catastrophic impacts on Japanese society that resulted from the use of their uranium in a poorly managed, poorly regulated industry.
Australian uranium fuelled Fukushima  https://theecologist.org/2021/mar/09/australian-uranium-fuelled-fukushima, Dr Jim Green, David Noonan 9th March 2021
The Fukushima disaster was fuelled by Australian uranium but lessons were not learned and the industry continues to fuel global nuclear insecurity with irresponsible uranium export policies.
Fukushima was an avoidable disaster, fuelled by Australian uranium and the hubris and profiteering of Japan’s nuclear industry in collusion with compromised regulators and captured bureaucracies.

The Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission ‒ established by the Japanese Parliament ‒ concluded in its 2012 report that the accident was “a profoundly man-made disaster that could and should have been foreseen and prevented” if not for “a multitude of errors and wilful negligence that left the Fukushima plant unprepared for the events of March 11”.

The accident was the result of “collusion between the government, the regulators and TEPCO”, the commission found.

Mining

But overseas suppliers who turned a blind eye to unacceptable nuclear risks in Japan have largely escaped scrutiny or blame. Australia’s uranium industry is a case in point.

Yuki Tanaka from the Hiroshima Peace Institute noted: “Japan is not the sole nation responsible for the current nuclear disaster. From the manufacture of the reactors by GE to provision of uranium by Canada, Australia and others, many nations are implicated.”

There is no dispute that Australian uranium was used in the Fukushima reactors. The mining companies won’t acknowledge that fact — instead they hide behind claims of “commercial confidentiality” and “security”.

But the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office acknowledged in October 2011 that: “We can confirm that Australian obligated nuclear material was at the Fukushima Daiichi site and in each of the reactors — maybe five out of six, or it could have been all of them”.

BHP and Rio Tinto, two of the world’s largest mining companies, supplied Australian uranium to TEPCO and that uranium was used to fuel Fukushima. Continue reading

March 11, 2021 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, Uranium | Leave a comment

EPA awards $220 million for uranium mine cleanup on Navajo Nation

EPA awards $220 million for uranium mine cleanup on Navajo Nation,  12 News, 17 Feb 21, 

From the late 1940s through the 1960s, Kerr-McGee mined more than 7 million tons of ore on or near the Navajo Nation, leaving behind uranium mine sites.

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday it will award contracts worth up to $220 million to three companies for the cleanup of some of the hundreds of abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation.

Work could start later this year following the completion of assessments for mining sites coordinated between the EPA and the Navajo Nation’s environmental agency, the federal agency said.

This week’s announcement is just the latest in years of efforts to clean up the mines, the toxic legacy of Cold War mining in the region. More than 30 million tons of uranium ore were mined in the region, according to the EPA, which said more than 500 mines were ultimately abandoned.

“From World War II until the end of the Cold War, millions of tons of uranium were mined on Navajo lands, exposing mine workers and their families to deadly radiation,” said Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, whose district includes the Arizona portion of the Navajo Nation.

“As a result, high rates of cancer, birth defects, and contaminated water sources remain a reality for residents of the Navajo Nation even now,” O’Halleran said in a statement on the contracts.

The agency said it worked closely with Navajo Nation to develop contracts that would incentivize the creation of employment opportunities for Navajo residents in order to build local economic and institutional capacity.

The majority of funding for the contracts comes from a nearly $1 billion settlement made in 2015 with Kerr McGee Corp. for the cleanup of more than 50 mines in Nevada and on the Navajo Nation that the company and its successor, tronox, were responsible for.

From the late 1940s through the 1960s, Kerr-McGee mined more than 7 million tons of ore on or near the Navajo Nation, leaving behind uranium mine sites that included contaminated waste rock piles. Exposure to uranium in soil, dust, air, and groundwater, as well as through rock piles and structural materials used for building can pose risks to human health, according to the EPA

Mining stopped for the most part decades ago, and the Navajo Nation banned uranium mining on its lands in 2005. But the cleanup effort has lingered. The EPA launched five-year programs in 2007 and 2014 to study the issue and identify the biggest risks, and the agency last year added abandoned Navajo uranium mines to its list of Superfund sites “targeted for immediate, intense action.”…….  https://www.12news.com/article/news/local/arizona/epa-awards-220-million-for-uranium-mine-cleanup-on-navajo-nation/75-154a0fae-53e3-477d-a5ce-0a678d97d

February 18, 2021 Posted by | environment, Uranium, USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Radiation illnesses and COVID-19 in the Navajo Nation

Radiation illnesses and COVID-19 in the Navajo Nation, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Jayita SarkarCaitlin Meyer, February 3, 2021 The COVID-19 pandemic is wiping out Indigenous elders and with them the cultural identity of Indigenous communities in the United States. But on lands that sprawl across a vast area of the American West, the Navajo (or Diné) are dealing not just with the pandemic, but also with another, related public health crisis. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says COVID-19 is killing Native Americans at nearly three times the rate of whites, and on the Navajo Nation itself, about 30,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus and roughly 1,000 have died. But among the Diné, the coronavirus is also spreading through a population that decades of unsafe uranium mining and contaminated groundwater has left sick and vulnerable.

In Indigenous lands where nuclear weapons testing took place during the Cold War and the legacy of uranium mining persists, Indigenous people are suffering from a double whammy of long-term illnesses from radiation exposure and the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, we have not witnessed in the mainstream media and policy outlets a frank discussion of how the two public health crises have created an intractable situation for Indigenous communities. The Diné are drinking poisoned water, putting them at risk for more severe coronavirus infections.

From 1944 until 1986, 30 million tons of uranium ore was extracted on Navajo lands. At present, there are more than 520 abandoned uranium mines, which for the Diné represents both their nuclear past as well as their radioactive present in the form of elevated levels of radiation in nearby homes and water sources. Due to over four decades of uranium mining that supplied the US government and industry for nuclear weapons and energy, radiation illnesses characterize everyday Diné life.

The water crisis Continue reading

February 4, 2021 Posted by | health, indigenous issues, Uranium, USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Why Spain plans to ban uranium mining.

Shock waves: what will a Spanish ban mean for uranium mining in Europe?, Mining Technology, Yoana Cholteeva12 January 2021 ” ………. Reasons behind the proposed ban

The proposed ban has been welcomed by environmental groups and local organisations concerned about the potential damage to ecosystems in the country and overall safety, as argued by the Spanish organisation Stop Uranio (Stop Uranium). The group, which was established in 2013, has since then been trying to prevent the approval and construction of Berkley Energy’s uranium mining project in the Campo Charro area of Salamanca.

For the past seven years, Stop Uranium has organised a number of campaigns and protest rallies over the country, with activists from both Spain and Portugal raising concerns over Salamanca’s agriculture lands, pastures, rural tourism, and the population’s health being at stake.

Stop Uranium member and spokesperson Jose Manuel Barrueco has written in The Free –  blog of the post capitalist transition, that “the majority of the inhabitants of the area oppose the planned mines due to the negative effects that this activity will entail for the region: explosions with release of radioactive dust into the atmosphere, the continuous transfer of trucks and heavy machinery, loss of forest, diversion of water courses, etc.”.

It terms of scientific evidence to support the some of the claims, according to a 2013 peer reviewed article, ‘Uranium mining and health’, published in the Canadian Family Physician journal, the chemical element has the potential to cause a spectrum of adverse health effects to people, ranging from renal failure and diminished bone growth to DNA damage.

The effects of low-level radioactivity include cancer, shortening of life, and subtle changes in fertility or viability of offspring, as determined from bothanimal studies and data on Hiroshima and Chernobyl survivors.

….. MP Juan Lopez de Uralde has in turn voiced his support of a holistic approach, telling the Spanish online newspaper Publico that banning uranium extraction is directly linked to the energy policies of both Spain and the EU. He continued that “since no uranium mine is active in the Old Continent”, “by committing to the closure of nuclear power stations we should complete the circle entirely by banning uranium mining”………. https://www.mining-technology.com/features/shock-waves-what-will-a-spanish-ban-mean-for-uranium-mining-in-europe/

February 4, 2021 Posted by | environment, politics, Spain, Uranium | Leave a comment

Australian uranium mining company threatens Spanish government with legal action

Miner threatens Spain over uranium ban, Cosmo Sanderson, 01 February 2021

An Australian company developing a controversial €450 million uranium project has threatened to bring an arbitration against Spain over a proposed law banning mining of the material……  (subscribers only)   https://globalarbitrationreview.com/miner-threatens-spain-over-uranium-ban

February 4, 2021 Posted by | Legal, Spain, Uranium | Leave a comment

From tears to joy — Beyond Nuclear International

First Native American nominated to US cabinet position

From tears to joy — Beyond Nuclear International
……………..“A new scintilla of hope has bloomed among us in part because Haaland, like millions of Indigenous peoples, strongly believes in and practices the Seven Generation rule,” wrote Moya-Smith. “The rule says that all significant decisions must be made with the next seven generations in mind, and includes preserving and protecting the water, the earth and the two leggeds and the four leggeds for people you will never meet — at least in this life.”
……. Haaland has been in the forefront of the fight to get restoration and compensation for Native uranium miners and their families. Getting the mines cleaned up will also likely be high on her priority list at Interior.
……Last year, Haaland was also recognized by the Nuclear Free Future Award, receiving the award in the Special Recognition category.

January 18, 2021 Posted by | environment, indigenous issues, politics, Uranium | Leave a comment

The Shoshone Nation’s battle against nuclear racism and trespassers on indigenous land

January 4, 2021 Posted by | indigenous issues, Uranium, USA | 1 Comment

The cover-up of workers’ illnesss in radioactively polluted clean-up of Kingston coal ash spill

A Legacy of Contamination, How the Kingston coal ash spill unearthed a nuclear nightmare, Grist By Austyn Gaffney on Dec 15, 2020  This story was published in partnership with the Daily Yonder.

………………………………….The apparent mixing of fossil fuel and nuclear waste streams underscores the long relationship between the Kingston and Oak Ridge facilities………… .

……….In 2017, a former chemist named Dan Nichols stumbled upon a news story that revealed the existence of the additional health problems TVA feared. High levels of uranium had been measured in the urine of a former cleanup worker named Craig Wilkinson. Like Thacker, Wilkinson had worked the night shift. After dredges piped the coal ash back onshore, Wilkinson used heavy equipment to scoop, flip, and dry the wet ash along the Ball Field.

Although Wilkinson worked at the Kingston site for less than a year, he quickly developed health issues, including chronic sinus infections and breathing problems that eventually led to a double-lung transplant. Frustrated by his sudden decline in health, Wilkinson shelled out over $1,000 for a toxicology test because he wanted to know what occupational hazards might be lingering in his body.

After reading Wilkinson’s story, Nichols sat stunned. Though he was not associated with the spill, he’d been unable to shake his obsession with the Kingston disaster. Nichols had worked as a Memphis-based field chemist for a wastewater technology company, and he was used to studying lab reports on industrial water supplies and samples. For years he’d been trying to solve a mystery that no one else seemed to be aware of: why Kingston regulators deleted and then altered a state-sanctioned report showing extremely high levels of radiation at the cleanup site.

Roughly a month after the spill, Nichols read a Duke University press release stating that ash samples collected at Kingston by a team led by Vengosh, the geochemist, showed radium levels well above those typically found in coal ash. Nichols knew that the state environmental regulator, the Tennessee Department for Environment and Conservation, or TDEC, was also testing soil and ash samples at the site. After seeing Vengosh’s high radium readings, he wondered if TDEC’s report would also show high levels of either radium or uranium. (Radium is a decay element of uranium.) Later that spring, Nichols visited TDEC’s website and discovered the test results.

“I opened it up and went to uranium, and it was just off the charts,” Nichols recalled. In a 2020 affidavit, Nichols reported that these levels were “extremely high so as to be alarming.” At least 27 soil and ash samples were collected from at least 20 different sites surrounding Kingston beginning January 6, 2009. The levels ranged from 84 parts per million (ppm) to 2,000 ppm. The average level was over 500 ppm, as much as 50 times the typical uranium content found in coal ash.

The next morning, when Nichols slumped back into his computer chair and refreshed TDEC’s website, he saw that the report had been changed. The high uranium readings had plummeted. Now the average uranium levels in the ash were 2.88 ppm, a tenth of the typical uranium content found in coal ash and illogically, below levels naturally occurring in soil. Luckily, Nichols had downloaded the unaltered report the night before.

A month later, Nichols sent the two lab reports to one of the attorneys representing Tennessee residents affected by the spill in a lawsuit they’d brought against TVA. According to Nichols, the lawyers weren’t interested. Nevertheless, Nichols was determined to find more proof of the unusually high levels of on-site radiation. In between cutting hay and spraying weeds on his family farm, he spent years poring over information online about TVA, coal ash, and uranium before he stumbled across Wilkinson’s story.

Back in 2014, Wilkinson’s urine tested for unusually high levels of both mercury and uranium. The mercury is more easily explained: The most common cause of mercury contamination, according to the EPA, is coal-fired power plant emissions, which account for 44 percent of all man-made mercury pollution. The 2008 spill released 29 times the mercury reported at the Kingston site for the entire decade before it, and TVA documents show high levels of additional legacy mercury were present in the Clinch River and could have migrated into the Emory. Today, Wilkinson has symptoms attributable to methylmercury poisoning including blurry vision, fatigue, a hearing impairment, memory loss, and loss of coordination that caused him to fall out of the machines he operated until retiring on disability in 2015.

But most shocking to Nichols was the high level of uranium in Wilkinson’s body — it was 10 times the U.S. average, and identical to the median levels that one study found in workers exposed to the substance. Prolonged occupational exposure to uranium is strongly linked to chronic kidney disease, which Wilkinson suffers from. Because Wilkinson’s toxicology results were taken four years after he left Kingston, they likely show lower uranium levels than what he and other cleanup workers initially had.

Wilkinson’s results left no doubt in Nichols’ mind that the original uranium readings he’d saved were significant. A reporter for the Knoxville News-Sentinel, Jamie Satterfield, contacted him after the report he saved showed up in court proceedings. Satterfield published a story about the altered uranium readings in May of this year.

In response to her story, TDEC told the News-Sentinel that its updated uranium readings, which plummeted by 98 percent, were due to a change in the sampling method used for the tests. (Satterfield also reported that radium levels had been lowered between the initial TDEC report Nichols downloaded and the updated one; the department attributed this to a “data entry error.”) In an email response to Grist and the Daily Yonder, a TDEC spokesperson elaborated that the sampling lab, which was neither staffed nor supervised by TDEC, “discovered there were interferences in the analysis of soil and ash samples for uranium” and subsequently changed the method of analysis from one EPA-approved protocol to another. The new results were then published without public notice of the alteration.

“Changing lab reports is a very serious thing,” Nichols said. “But I can assure you data entry errors don’t cause a man to test for unusually high levels of uranium. That’s [TDEC’s] big problem.”

Unbeknownst to Nichols, Russell Johnson, the district attorney with jurisdiction over Roane County, where Kingston is located, had informed TDEC’s commissioner in 2017 that he was beginning a criminal probe into the Kingston cleanup. “I am deeply concerned with the apparent intentional conduct of the cleanup contractors and their supervisors, actions that took place in Roane County, conduct that may indeed have caused serious bodily injury or possibly even death to a number of people,” Johnson wrote in a letter to TDEC.

In concert with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Johnson began investigating whether TVA or its contractors “suppressed information” as part of the coverup alleged in the 2013 worker lawsuit against Jacobs. They now have Nichols’ evidence as well. But despite this ongoing investigation, it’s unclear if workers will ever learn for certain whether or not they were exposed to dangerous substances besides the coal ash itself. (Bob Edwards, an assistant district attorney working under Johnson, told Grist and the Daily Yonder that the district attorney’s office could not comment on a pending investigation.)………………….https://grist.org/justice/tva-kingston-coal-ash-spill-nuclear/

December 17, 2020 Posted by | employment, health, incidents, investigative journalism, Legal, PERSONAL STORIES, Reference, secrets,lies and civil liberties, Uranium, wastes | Leave a comment