Uranium mining in Arizona Strip: What would Brigham Young say?

uranium mining ban in southern utah
A Uranium mine in Northern Arizona. | Photo courtesy of themoreyoudig.com

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Dallas Hyland is a developing columnist for St. George News and blogs as The Amateur Broad Thinker. The opinions stated in this article are solely his own and not those of St. George News.

This past week, a public hearing was held in St. George to discuss uranium mining on the Arizona Strip, as reported in St. George News story, Uranium Mining on Arizona Strip Threatened by Federal Government. A panel from the Arizona-Utah Local Economic Coalition and concerned citizens from Arizona and Utah met to discuss and put comments on the record about the Secretary of the Interior’s moratorium on mineral extraction in the region.

The main thrust of the argument against the ban on mining permits from the perspective of the panel was its dramatic impact on local economies dependent on jobs and revenue from mining.

When asked during the hearing if any of the panel members present were concerned about contamination to the environment, specifically the air and water, or the threat to the health and safety of people, the answer was a resounding and unanimous “no.”

Read that again. Uranium, a known radioactive element, is being presented by the panel as harmless so long as it is not processed.

If that does not give you cause for concern, perhaps this will:

Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner is so sure of the safety of uranium mining that he said, “We could put one year’s worth of uranium mined ore in its unprocessed state into the Colorado River at one time, and there would be no danger at all.”

I wonder what people downriver would think about the sheer hubris of that statement.

The author Robert Fulghum once observed that to get through life and see it realistically poses a problem. On the one side is the notion of hopelessness as our earth falls into a dying sun. Nothing really matters. On the other side, the best of humanity seeks to make life as meaningful as possible. Everything matters.

“It is easy to become immobilized between these two points of view – to see them both so clearly that one cannot decide what to be or do,” Fulghum once said.

Our country is facing hard times economically and the pressure of it bears heavy upon our elected officials. Add to this the reasonable assertion that our dependence on foreign countries weakens us as a nation and that we should be sustaining ourselves on the plentiful resources right here at home.

When relevant concerns of the long-term effects of our dependence on depletable and contaminating resources are presented, however, it seems the only viable answer is draconian in nature. It is implied that we have no choice. Our economy must take precedence over everything at seemingly all costs; even at the cost of the health and well-being of air, water, and people in the not-too-distant future.

Olene S. Walker, former governor of Utah, was a keynote speaker at the Clean Air Summit in St. George last week.

The former governor spoke candidly of her lung cancer and made a poignant observation.

“What is more important: jobs or quality of air?” she asked. “You can argue that it does not matter but science tells us different[ly].”

What is more important? Jobs? Or clean air and clean water?

The advocates for mining of uranium use science when it supports their aspirations but seem eager to willfully ignore any science that contradicts them. Might this make them culpable if harmful effects emerge from their decisions in the future?

David Kreamer, Ph.d., is a hydrogeologist and professor at University of Nevada at Las Vegas. His expertise is in hydrogeology and contaminant transport by ground water. He has been studying water contamination from mining in the Grand Canyon for 25 years. He was not consulted by the panel.

Kreamer testified before Congress in 2009 and is a peer-reviewed scholar and expert in the field we now find ourselves discussing.

When asked about the one year’s worth of dumping of uranium in the Colorado River being harmless, as implied by Gardner, Kreamer said there was some truth to that at least in the very short term; because it would be placed in a large body of moving water, its concentrations would be diluted. But they will eventually re-concentrate downriver and in places along the way. They will accumulate in indigenous species that will in turn spread the concentration. They will accumulate in the river bottoms and creeks. This is how they got to the place they are now being mined from and, in effect, the reverse would be taking place if uranium is placed in the river. The process would just be sped up and intensified by mining.

In response to Gardner’s assertion, Kreamer said, ”I believe that an assumption that uranium mining will have minimal impact on springs, people, and ecosystems in the Grand Canyon is unreasonable and not supported by past experience, research and data.”

At present, the Environmental Protection Agency’s limit for uranium concentration in water is zero. However, the legal regulatory limit is 30 micrograms per liter or 30 parts per billion.

Recent studies at Horn Creek, downstream from uranium mining sites in the Arizona Strip, have put concentrations at 92.7 ppb, three times that of the recommended limit. This is attributed to uranium mining and not the natural seepage of the mineral suggested by proponents for mining.

These are just a couple of pertinent facts that support at the least the necessity for a more systematically cautious approach to mining uranium and we have not even begun to discuss the air quality issues associated with uranium mining; or, the risks to humans with relation to the effects of prolonged exposure to carcinogens through particulate matter (air), water consumption, and bioaccumulation in species found in our food chain.

Put bluntly, there is a direct correlation between mining in the Arizona Strip and the risk of cancer to unsuspecting people in the Colorado River corridor and beyond.

While our economy is of utmost importance, it is reasonable to assert that the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar made a good call when he directed the halt of mining on the Arizona Strip until such time more studies into the long term effects could be concluded and some foresight could be implemented in how we are to go forward in meeting our needs as a country and as a species.

Look people, this is hardly going to be a popular observation on either side of the aisle but all of this resource extraction, albeit oil, coal or uranium, is about lifestyle. We have grown accustomed if not dependent on the lifestyle afforded us by these resources and we are paying for it with our lives.

Disagree? Ask a soldier. They are fighting and dying to protect not just our liberty but our lifestyle.

And, we are dying of exposure to the byproducts of using these resources. It is almost idiotic if you think about it. We are in a constant reactionary state to the securing of more resources for our future while trying to cure the diseases we contract from them, and all the while we continue the maddening process of trying to make this flawed, short-sighted system work.

One could argue that our dependence on depletable and poisonous energy sources weakens us as a species and does not secure any future for us at all, but merely prolongs the inevitable whereby we fight over the very things that are killing us in the name of economic stability-lifestyle.

Brigham Young said: “The resources of the earth are being placed out of our reach by an irreversible process of buying short-term prosperity on promissory notes that science will never be able to make good.”

He was, in my opinion, the first documented environmentalist of the predominant culture of the great state of Utah. We should listen and heed his caution.

See you out there.

[email protected]

Copyright 2011 St. George News. This material may not be published or rewritten without written consent.

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  • GneissRocks September 12, 2011 at 7:13 am

    Dallas Hyland is a freelance writer, photographer, and aspiring documentary filmmaker. Seems to me that he ought to focus on the fine detail of filmmaking and leave this opinionated style of journalism behind. This was a very boring article with TMI to keep a reader interested.

    • Human September 12, 2011 at 7:42 am

      I disagree, this was a good, well thought out piece. Too many people in this area are afraid of opposing points of view. It is refreshing to see someone willing to point out the emporer has no clothes.

  • Dan Lester September 12, 2011 at 7:59 am

    How can you call yourself a blogger when your blog contains four posts and none in the last ten months.

    • Bob September 12, 2011 at 10:48 am

      Why the personal attack? Do the contents of the article make you uncomfortable?

      • Dan Lester September 12, 2011 at 11:15 pm

        Not a personal attack. However, claiming to be a blogger with four ancient posts is like saying you’re a lawyer after finishing first semester of law school. I’ve written some blog posts on occasion but would certainly not claim to be a blogger.

  • Dan Lester September 12, 2011 at 8:15 am

    If you wanted to scare me you could have found a more shocking picture, perhaps of large open pits billowing dust instead of a nothing picture of essentially desert. I also could do without the nonsense about hopelessness as our earth falls into a dying sun. As a retired professor at a research university I can say this would get a D in an undergraduate class.

  • tyler September 12, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    Not a bad story, Dallas, but come on, everything in our environment causes cancer from the materials of our homes to the sunlight. This planet is virtually a ball of cancer-causing agents, which, in deep, I wonder if for sure there really is a god or master creator, why most elements kill us. I could go on and on, but I won’t.

  • tyler September 12, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Btw, interesting that I just learned that there was even uranium mining going on in our own backyard-scary, what else is going on close to home?

    • Dan Lester September 12, 2011 at 11:27 pm

      Uranium mining, like any other mineral extraction, doesn’t have to be scary. But to keep up on things in the area read this website and other resources. You might start with http://www.blm.gov/ut/st/en.html and note the lead item.

  • Not a Mormon September 12, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    Come on Dallas! You can do better than this!
    Good story about the Uranium and the environment, but bringing up Bring’em Young? Why did you have to ruin a perfectly good article by referencing that Mormon kook? The Army had to be sent in to invade this state when he wanted to be its theocratic dictator. You could have quoted any of countless numbers of scientists, activists, and normal people without sinking to the lowest common denominator to try to pull in Mormon readers.
    For shame!

    • also not a mormon September 12, 2011 at 8:21 pm

      I think the writer was noting the irony between not only commsioners who listen to science that supports them while ignoring science that opposes them, but also between the local leaders who listen to their prophet when it suits them and ignor the fact that he was a staunch conservationist. It was a subtle but direct poke in the eye.

    • Dan Lester September 12, 2011 at 11:19 pm

      I’m an episcopalian but don’t mind the quote from BY. It is an interesting but meaningless historical footnote. And by the way, where is the footnote? Where and when did he say it, and in what context?

      • also not a mormon September 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

        Surely a retired professor knows the difference between a research paper and an opinion editorial. Besides blogger etiquette and grading rubrics do you have anything of an educated nature to say with regard to this article?

  • Mike September 12, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    Yeah, I’m sure many of you have noticed how many products “Are known to the State of California to cause cancer” (just about all of them). Interestingly, having studied and worked at a previously-mentioned “research institution,” I know how easy it is to find evidence to support almost ANY theory I want. We can all find out own “experts” to back up whatever we want, and if we can’t then we can just do what Dallas did here and put our own spin on a fairly neutral expert opinion. Given that this is the first that many of us have heard about this Uranium-mining issue, I’m wondering first if it’s really a big deal or if it’s just another reason for all the tree-huggers to attract some attention to themselves. If it’s not Uranium, it will be something else… and maybe one of them will get at itch to start arguing that all the Uranium in the soil is leeching into groundwater so we SHOULD start the mining again at a faster rate.

    Anyway, the point is that there isn’t a point… right? Or at least one that isn’t critical right now. Gather up your picket signs and get in line for the next one… Radon gas? Soil erosion? Desert tortoises? Let me know.

  • Christina Macpherson September 12, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    What a great article!
    How rarely do we read anything about the Faustian bargain being made by society – as it pursues technologies such as the nuclear fuel cycle – to provide power and money for present people – selling out the health and environment of future people.
    A new book – “The Coming Disruption”, by Paul Gilding sets out his thesis that it is only a matter of time before ecological crisis and economic crisis meld into one great crisis.
    Our society puts the economy first and tacking on a bit of concern about our environment last . It’s the wrong way round.
    The environment, soil, air, water – these are the true basis of our economy.

    • Not a Mormon September 13, 2011 at 3:53 pm

      Oooh, so it’ll be like Mad Max, hopefully with a Thunderdome.

      And touché alsonotamormon, I am still learning all the wacky nuances.

  • September September 13, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    The article didn’t bother me as some people have noted. I’m just wondering why the author thinks it should have anything to do with Brigham Young. Brigham Young would probably say “what is Uranium?”.

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