Monday, November 5, 2007

South Dakota ISL uranium mining: Now you see it, now you don't

Einstein once said that nuclear reactors are terrible ways to boil water; I say that poisoning water to mine uranium and promote nuclear energy is even more dangerous since we cannot easily see radioactive poisoning and heavy metal groundwater contamination especially if it is buried deep underground.

My purpose in this blog post is continue my drive to inform the rest of this country about the dangerous situation developing in South Dakota over in situ leach uranium mining. Continuing in this, there are several factors I consider very important background information before delving into this situation with me: (1) the groundwater hydrology in South Dakota hasn't been fully mapped as it has in Colorado where the direction of groundwater flow has been illustrated beautifully; (2) as a volunteer researcher for the Defenders of the Black Hills I attended the first meetings with the State of South Dakota over uranium mining permitting regulations and PowerTech Uranium's application to conduct exploratory drilling in Fall River county where I can only felt that we experienced racism, outright bigotry and environmental injustice from state officials; and (3) our verbal comments as well as those submitted in writing were largely passed over in favor of PowerTech Uranium and its cohorts attending with them, Energy Metals (currently mining in Wyoming), and Crow Butte Resources (currently mining in Nebraska).

Current concerns and fears I share about in situ leach uranium mining are below blockquoted from

The concerns of environmental groups and landholders centre around;

  • Acidification of groundwaters

  • Mobilisation of potentially hazardous heavy metals and, in the case of uranium, radioactive heavy metals.[6]

  • Disturbance of the groundwater table, mixing of groundwater aquifers and general disturbance of the land atop the ore body

  • Destruction of habitat for stygofauna and other rock-inhabiting organisms, bacteria, et cetera.

  • Potential spills of acidic and metal-bearing or salt-bearing leachates upon the surface

As illustrated below, in situ leach uranium mining can experience several dangerous failures that are impossible or very difficult to remediate when these failures occur:

Although in-situ leach uranium mining is supposedly safe, I contend that it isn't, After reading published reports from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and existing controversial conditions reportedly resulting from in-situ leach uranium mining in Texas, Wyoming, and New Mexico as well as Australia and Russia, I should think that modern science could find a different means to generate electricity, other than using coal, uranium, gas, oil or hydropower.

For starters, the restoration process, technically named a groundwater sweep, at an in situ leach uranium mine uses reverse osmosis (RO) where high pressured water called the pore volume (the actual displacement yield of the well field) is injected back through the contaminated ore zone and extracted through another well head pump, then passed through a filter that usually clogs with the contaminated liquid during the first pass. This contaminated material is then removed from the filter and clean water is then repeatedly injected into the ore body until a certain groundwater standard has been achieved, usually pre-mining water quality standards.

The first critical subject to note is as quoted in NUREG/CR-6870:

The concentrate liquid waste from the RO units is either fed to evaporation ponds, injected into deep disposal wells, or dried for disposal at a licensed facility.

The waste is highly radioactive and emit high concentrations of radon to the atmosphere while also having the extreme possibility of escaping into the environment during catastrophic storms or acts of terrorism or through negligence. Disposing of this contaminant into deep disposal wells is just as dangerous since we don't really understand what happens down there yet but "out of sight, out of mind" seems to be valid science acceptable to the NRC.

Another important aspect that the NUREG states is that often the groundwater sweep doesn't remove all of the lixiviant, requiring another process of injecting more poisons (hydrogen sulfide, sodium hydrosulfide, or alkaline solutions) into the earth to stabilize the lixiviant to keep it from continuing to react with the ore body, thereby increasing the levels of uranium in the groundwater. But injecting these other poisons into the groundwater is acceptable to the NRC if it is within the pre-mining groundwater quality standards as measured by pH ratios yet this doesn't mean that it is any better because now its chemical composition is radically different.

NOW as I am finished with this, knowing that you are fully aware of my small perspective on the bigger picture as this form of toxic uranium mining, you must agree that uranium mining in all forms is dangerous to us, to all of us! Call your local congress representative, have them start investigating why uranium mining is allowed to continue in this country although the facts remain that it is very dangerous and toxic. Support all of the groups I have listed in the right sidebar!


Anonymous said...

I hear you and we also are fighting

igmuska said...

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