In Colorado, Energy Fuels, a mining company headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, hopes to gain approval from state regulators to re-open long-shuttered uranium mines, and build a $175 million uranium ore mill in Paradox Valley. The original mill, opened in Uravan in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project and later purchased by Union Carbide, was shut down in 1986, and the entire town was erased from the map. Everything that constituted Uravan was chopped up and buried: roads, homes, schools, commercial buildings, churches -- all of it was obliterated because the entire town festered under a toxic plume of radioactive dust and water pollution precipitated out of the uranium mill and surrounding mines.
According to a December 26, 2010 article, "A Battle Over Uranium Bodes Ill for U.S. Debate," in the New York Times, local residents, who are eager for mill and mining jobs promised by Energy Fuels, resent the obstruction presented by environmentalists, and more affluent residents of nearby Telluride.
To residents (of Naturita) ... like Michelle Mathews, the fact that many opponents of the mill hail from Telluride is a crucial strike against their arguments.
“People from Telluride don’t have any business around here,” said Ms. Mathews, 31, who works as a school janitor and ardently supports the idea of bringing back uranium jobs. “Not everyone wants to drive to Telluride to clean hotel rooms.”Well, this is cold-hearted, but you do not get to impose toxic mines and mills on the rest of the country when you choose to live in a place that lacks lucrative employment and you elect politicians who do nothing to create lucrative employment that doesn't impose burdens on the rest of the country. There are better alternatives, and the New York Times article does a lousy job of detailing alternatives that would be available if we -- neighbors and fellow taxpayers -- look at the big picture.
The perceived benefits Paradox Valley residents hope the mines and mill will afford them -- however appealing those benefits are -- should not figure into the decision to issue permits for uranium mines, or the mill. If the cost to fellow citizen taxpayers, economic and environmental, exceeds the benefits of the additional reactor fuel produced, then the permits should be withheld. The desire of Energy Fuels executives to make easy money, or the desire of Paradox Valley residents for well-paid jobs, are not reason enough to impose pervasive, lasting damage on the environment, or on the health of residents, both of which will impose unavoidable costs on someone.
The cost of rectifying these environmental and health problems will not likely be borne by Paradox Valley residents, or Energy Fuels executives. The costs will likely come long after Energy Fuels has left the scene, and the Pinon Ridge Mill is once again shuttered and declared a toxic no man's land. Then, the costs will likely be borne by taxpayers. In 1990, "The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act" was passed by Congress. It provides cash payments, starting at $100,000, and health care, to victims of radiation exposure in Paradox Valley and elsewhere. Taxpayers fund "The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act," and consumers funded the obliteration of Uravan by way of price increases on Union Carbide products (which are ubiquitous, and all of us use them daily).
These jobs are not free. And we will be subsidizing them for a long time. (Not to mention opportunity cost: we could do better things with our money than clean up radiation spills and provide cancer treatment and oxygen bottles to retired mine and mill workers.) We, taxpayers, will deal with irreparable damage to Paradox Valley land and water. Land and water, like lost Uravan's, that will never again be accessible to Paradox Valley residents, Energy Fuels, or anyone.
If we want to do Paradox Valley residents a favor, and we are not mean-spirited enough to tell them to move elsewhere where they might have a better chance of finding work, let's simply write them a check for the salaries they would earn in the mill and the mines. That would be cheaper and safer for taxpayers than re-opening mines that were already shut down once after they devastated Uravan. Or, we could put the residents to work on renewable energy projects: 4.5 million good jobs and $4.3 trillion in domestic revenue. Nah. That would actually make sense for everyone. Nuclear power, incidentally, will do nothing to mitigate global warming, as many proponents suggest it will. I outline why here:
Nukes will do nothing to prevent climate change...
Read a long article about Uravan, "The Uranium Widows," in the September 13, 2010 New Yorker.
And visit the Sheep Mountain Alliance, and the Paradox Valley Sustainability Association to find out what you can do to oppose Energy Fuels Pinon Ridge Uranium Mill.
Let's not waste a lot of time and money making corporate energy executives rich...again.