If you where in a plane flying over northwestern Nebraska, and your plane happened to be flying near the town of Crawford, you may notice that there was many small dots peppering the landscape. The dots are small boxes, black and white, each one with a number. Each box is covering the opening to a well, some as deep as a thousand feet. The wells are for mining uranium.
I have been living in Nebraska on and off for six years, and in those six years it has never been brought to my attention, until recently, that Nebraska is home to the second largest uranium mining project in the entire U.S. The mining company is named Crow Butte Resources. The method they use to extract the uranium, at first thought, does not seem to be as environmentally destructive as the dynamiting and removal of millions of tons of earth. But with the possibility of contaminating an aquifer spanning eight states, it could prove to be worse for the population dependent on that resource than the environment.
The mining practice used is called an In Situ Leach operation. What it entails is the digging of wells deep into the earth to reach the uranium deposits. After the uranium ore is reached, instead of removing the earth and rock in the way, the well is used to pump a solution into the well to dissolve, or leach, the uranium into a solution and then pump it out and extract the wanted minerals. To put up an enviro-friendly front, the company’s that use the ISL technique claim they can return the water back to its previous state for such things as agriculture. But ground water restoration for this process is a very troublesome task which is not yet completely effective. It is as of yet impossible to restore water to it’s original conditions, and still this is a requirement the company must fulfill. The leaching process is done right over the ogallala aquifer. which is the largest aquifer in north america extending through eight states, and the source for clean water for many in the mid-west. The Crowe Butte Resources company can produce as much as one ton of cake uranium a day.
The environmental impact this has on the region is not completely understood, and while researching this article i found what i consider minimal information. The information i did find does not convince me this is a safe way to extract uranium from the earth(never mind the fact i don’t agree with any of the uses for uranium anyway). The water that is pumped out of the well is put into large storage ponds the size of a football field, some larger. At the Crowe Butte ISL mine there have been several leaks in these ponds. Meaning the water can percolate into the ground and possibly reach the ogallala aquifer which it is built over. Here is a list of regulation violations that i have found, possibly not comprehensive.
License Violations at Crow Butte ISL uranium mine (Nebraska)
May 14, 2004: leak detected at Pond 1
December 23, 2003: Monitor well placed on excursion status
December 26, 2002: Monitor well placed on excursion status
September 10, 2002: Monitor well placed on excursion status
April 4, 2002: Monitor well placed on excursion status
December 4, 2001: Monitor well placed on excursion status
March 2, 2001 : Monitor well placed on excursion status
September 10, 2000 : Monitor well placed on excursion status
May 26, 2000 : Monitor well placed on excursion status
April 27, 2000 : Monitor well placed on excursion status
March 6, 2000 : Monitor well placed on excursion status
July 2, 1999 : Monitor well placed on excursion status
August 7, 1998 : Spill of 10,260 gallons of injection fluid
March 21, 1998 : Monitor well placed on excursion status
August 12, 1997 : Discovery of Pinhole Leaks in Upper Liner of Process Water Evaporation Pond
(details on post-Nov.1,1999, events available through ADAMS, Docket No. 04008943)
*An excursion can be defined as any unwanted or unauthorized movement of recovery fluid out of the production zone as a result of in situ mining activities. (a spill of the industrial solution containing uranium)
A spill at an ISL mine in New Mexico will take as long as 40 years and 3 billion dollars to clean up presenting health risks to the surrounding community. In Crawford NE, there is little dissent from the community. As little as five people go to meetings to address the issues of the mine. The possibility of a 40 year clean up in NE because of mining efforts that could contaminate our water supply is enough of a reason to act against this corporation. And then there is the uses of uranium once it is extracted. We all know the dangers of nuclear energy. We all know the efforts of the US to be the worlds strongest nuclear power, and the conflicts between nations that result. It is common knowledge that depleted uranium has increased the cancer cases in Iraq since the first Gulf war. And with a radioactive life span of 4.5 billion years, depleted uranium related illnesses will be a gift from the US military that will last much longer than any “democracy” we may manage to force upon them. Does Nebraska’s residents really want to contribute to all these issues? I know i don’t.