Feb 102008
Authors: Ian Bezek

Generally political activism is something to be applauded, but the recent frenzy raised over the proposal for uranium mining in Weld County has really gotten out of hand.

The uranium mining industry is not new. Uranium mining has been going on for the better part of a century and Colorado has been a leading producer of uranium since the 1940’s. Now, the Powertech Uranium Corporation wishes to capitalize on the wealth of uranium we have here in Northern Colorado.

Uranium mining has caused health problems, mainly related to open-pit mining, in the past. However, these problems were largely solved decades ago.

Colorado State’s own Health Psychics department posted a Web site with the intention of “identify[ing] misinformation and provid[ing] accurate, scientific information.”

According to the site, “mining using ISL [In-Situ leaching — a mining technique Powertech plans to utilize in which uranium ore is extracted through wells using a liquid leaching agent instead of direct removal from the ground] does change things, but the resulting radiation doses to the public are so low that they are difficult to measure . and the long term surface impact appears to be minimal.”

Furthering their case, the department posted a link to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study that said, “no human cancer of any type has ever been seen as a result of exposure to natural or depleted uranium.”

If you are like me, you may be getting bored reading this — true science is often complicated and dull.

Hysterical warnings of environmental activists are far more interesting and memorable. When they claim that Fort Collins will turn into a nuclear wasteland if uranium mining occurs, our ears perk up and we tend to get worried.

However, a little digging into the facts shows that their alarmism is unfounded. For instance, the Collegian ran an article last week on protests over the uranium mining that tried to make Powertech’s plans look dangerous.

To accomplish this end, the reporter quoted a 1983 report to Congress citing potential health risks. When I was on a debate team in school, I would have been laughed off the stage had I cited a 25-year old study.

Newer studies are far more reliable because science progresses rapidly, and the newer studies are finding uranium mining to be virtually harmless.

In fact, according to a report from the Department of Energy’s Hanford Site, the risk associated with Powertech’s proposed mine is very small. To put radiation exposure into perspective, scientists came up with a list of activities comparable to being exposed to the mine.

Living near the mine for a year would be as dangerous as driving a car 22 miles, smoking half of one cigarette, or consuming 63 ounces of beer. Some people manage to accomplish all those risky behaviors in a single evening without a second thought.

The anti-uranium crusaders don’t have a plan for how we should get our electricity, since many also oppose using fossil fuels. Not mining for uranium would also rob us of its other uses including being used in smoke detectors, food safety, and cancer treatments.

America also has to import most of its uranium from foreign sources. In a time of war, it is better to have our own domestic supply rather than relying on unstable countries such as Niger and South Africa to provide a supply to our power plants.

Also, Powertech would bring a positive economic impact to Northern Colorado. It is estimated they would create 100 jobs and pay over $700,000 per year in taxes to Weld County.

If Powertech is willing to comply with Colorado’s stringent mining laws, they should be granted all necessary permits for their mine.

It’s time for environmentalists to focus on more pressing problems.

Ian Bezek is a sophomore economics major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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