Monday, July 26, 2010

A nuclear paradox - Uranium Mill

29 June 2010

PARADOX, Colo: A proposal to build the nation's first uranium mill in 25 years has divided the community there between those who see good jobs and a stable economy and neighbors fearful of uranium's history of health impacts, environmental harm and unstable prices.

Uranium has been a boom and bust industry in Western Colorado, where communities still struggle in the wake of the last bust in the early 1980s.

But this is not a tidy story, with camps cleanly divided between those who reap benefit and those who see harm. Many in the valley have seen both sides: The lure of a steady paycheck, the devastating effects of ill health and premature death.

Milling town of Uravan, the town was evacuated in 1984 due to extensive radioactive contamination. After becoming a federal Superfund clean-up site in 1986, the site was reclaimed in 2008 at a cost of $127 million, paid for Vanadium Corp.'s owner, Union Carbide Corporation. In August 2009, a federal appeals court ruled against past residents of the mill town who sought compensation for their illnesses, siding with Union Carbide.

The Cotter uranium mill in Cañon City, Colo., (another federal Superfund clean-up site) has had 99 violations in the last 10 years, according to the group Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste. Leaking tailings ponds have contaminated area groundwater.

Tourism and renewable energy development will bring safer, more stable economic growth, opponents say. A 2009 study by the Sonoran Institute [PDF] predicts that uranium development could hinder tourism in the nearby resort town of Gateway, Colo., by degrading natural and scenic resources.

One family who left the area knows well the paradox uranium has brought to the region. They lived in Uravan in the 1960s and paid a tragic price for living in the old mill town. Three daughters died of cancer.

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