Monday, July 23, 2007

The Joys of Uranium Mining

If you start at the beginning of the nuclear power fuel cycle--uranium mining--the shining attributes of clean, safe nuclear power become abundantly clear, as starkly illustrated in this Mother Jones article, Crazy for Yellowcake in Paradox, Colorado.
Petra Bartosiewicz paints a vivid picture of the past and potential future damage of mining operations amidst the clouds of radioactive dust:
George Gore, 59, a retired uranium miner and mill worker, grew up in Uravan, where his father worked for 24 years in the Union Carbide mill; he now lives in Grand Junction, Colorado. Gore, whose big white beard makes him look like a weather-beaten Santa, spent 18 years in the mining industry, several of them digging for uranium in the Lazy L Mine outside Uravan. By age 30, he had developed severe lung problems. "In 1977, I was told by a doctor that I'd be dead in two years if I didn't get out of uranium mining," he says. (Government records show that radiation levels at the Lazy L in the 1970s were so high, a worker would hit the maximum exposure to radiation considered safe over a lifetime—or 30 years of work—in just 4 years.) I met Gore when he returned to Nucla with his sister, Gladys, last winter. The siblings visited the local cemetery, its rows of headstones adorned with pickaxes, mining jacks, shovels. They listed off the dead as they walked: their father, from cancer; three brothers, from cancer, one at the age of 24; their uncle, who drove uranium trucks, from emphysema ("Never smoked a day in his life," said Gore); their aunt, from lung cancer; several cousins, from cancer; dozens of schoolmates, from cancer. "Almost all the people I grew up with—all of 'em dead," said Gore. "It's one of the tragedies of the Cold War. And now we want to try it again."

As one of the commenters to this piece noted, the harrowing description doesn't even go into the damage wrought on the Navajo nation in Arizona and New Mexico, where sickness and death followed the frenzy to exploit the considerable volumes of uranium ore located on reservation lands.