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Friday, June 27, 2008

Is The Colorado River Becoming Radioactive from Upstream Uranium Mines?

It All Depends On Who You Ask

Las Vegas Water Offical Warns Radioactive Levels Rising

Sunday’s news was a bit disconcerting, when I read a small story at Tri-State Online. Pat Mulroy, head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority was quoted as saying measurable quantities of uranium are showing up in Colorado River water, something difficult and expensive to remove before passing it on to consumers in Las Vegas.

She blames upstream uranium mining, especially in the Moab, Utah area, so I decided to take a look and see what’s happening up there.

To the best of my knowledge, there are no operating uranium mines in or near Moab, UT, or anywhere in the state of Utah. So, I felt Ms. Mulroy was referring to the uranium mill tailings just outside Moab, where they’ve been for decades after the failure of the Atlas Minerals Corporation mill.

Well, the 16 million tons of radioactive dirt is still there, but according to Moab Mayor David Sakrison, they are no danger to the community or the river.

In a phone interview, the mayor said the federal government has done an exemplary job of mitigating dust and water runoff that would contaminate the Colorado. Sakrison did say, however, this has been the case for the past eight years, and before that, Colorado River water was indeed being polluted.

Had the tailings pile presented a health risk to his community, especially through it’s drinking water? “No”, said the mayor, “our aquifer is on the other side of the Colorado and our water supply is not contaminated.”

It was in 2000 that then Energy Secretary Bill Richardson promised to relocate the tailings pile, and Congress had given the Department of Energy authority to begin cleanup. President Bush, however, included NO money in his 2000 budget for the removal project.

Cleanup About To Begin at Moab

Donald Metzler, Federal Project Director for the Moab cleanup, told me everything is in place to begin transporting the contaminated soil to a storage area at Crescent Junction, Utah. The site is about 30 miles north of Moab, and is in a formation called Mancos Shale bedrock, a hard, almost impenetrable formation that will isolate the site from any aquifer. After all the tailings have been removed from the Moab site and placed in storage, it will be capped and should be safe for at least 1000 years.

I asked Mr. Metzler about the possibility that the tailings were still polluting the river, and he assured me there is absolutely no contamination. He said tests from a few hundred feet south of the Ajax site showed no increase in radiation other than background, caused by nature.

Taking my query a bit further, some 500 miles, I spoke with Mitch Basefsky, PIO for the Tucson Water District, and he assured me they are monitoring the level of radiation in water coming into the area from the Colorado River via the Central Arizona Project. Basefsky said they have not seen a change in water radioactivity over the years, but remain concerned that eventually, if nothing is done to stem the release of radioactive materials into the river, it will become a problem here.

So, Where’s The Radiation Coming From?

Southern Nevada’s Mulroy has supposedly written federal Interior Secretary Dick Kempthorne, asking him to “carefully evaluate” further uranium mining along the Colorado to determine the risk of further contamination of the river.

I’ve tried for days to get someone in her office to talk with me about her statement and what they’re finding in the water near Las Vegas, but no one has been forthcoming, and I can find nothing on the SNWA website concerning the issue.

There are no operating uranium mines in Utah, and according to Mayor Sakrison, most of the abandoned sites have been cleaned up, and clean water is leaving the Moab area. What’s the problem?

Grand Canyon Exploration and Possible Uranium Mining

While writing this story, word came to me from the Sierra Club, stating the House Natural Resources Committee has ordered the Bush administration to immediately stop mining claims on public lands surrounding the Grand Canyon. Good news, because of fears that pollution from uranium mines could threaten the drinking water for more than 25 million people living in the southwest, and just the idea that mining operations are going on within three miles of the canyon is unthinkable.

Until I hear something concrete from the folks in Nevada, there appears little or no danger at this time from uranium-polluted Colorado River water.

Stay tuned.

original here

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