Lawmakers want strict limits on uranium leach mining
By STEVEN K. PAULSON
Associated Press Writer
Article Last Updated: 01/16/2008 04:55:09 PM MST
DENVER—Colorado lawmakers want to put strict limits on companies that want to leach-mine for uranium, saying the industry is booming in the West and current laws are inadequate to protect the environment. Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, and other lawmakers introduced a bill Wednesday that would require miners to prove that they will restore groundwater aquifers to their pre-mining quality before they are allowed to use the in-situ leach mining technique.
That process injects chemicals into aquifers to leach out radioactive uranium ore. It can release arsenic, selenium, uranium and other toxic chemicals, poisoning groundwater and the landscape.
The bill would also require mining companies to show that technology exists to clean up any pollution that results from mining.
Kefalas said hundreds of new mining claims are expected as the price of uranium soars.
Robin Davis, who has an 80-acre ranch near Nunn, said she's worried that the newly formed Powertech Uranium Corp. will contaminate her water supplies and destroy her dreams of setting up a nature program for school children.
"We are scared that the mine will make our kids sick and contaminate our drinking water," she said.
She also is worried it will harm her horses and livestock.
Powertech said it has shown that an in-situ mining operation in Weld County would be safe. Officials said they still plan to apply for a mining permit by the end of the year.
"The regulatory process requires us to study the geology for five quarters, to ensure the nature and safety of our proposed project," said Richard Blubaugh, vice president of environmental, health and safety resources for Powertech.
Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, said uranium mining in other states has resulted in radioactive pollution that couldn't be cleaned up when the mining ended. He's worried that the same will happen to mines being considered in Weld, Fremont, Grant, Moffat and Teller counties.
"We're on the verge of a new mining boom in Colorado, but it could leave behind a toxic legacy. This is not an effort to stop uranium mining in Colorado," he said.
A second bill would require that residents be informed about mining being considered in their neighborhoods.
Lawmakers said Colorado learned a lesson when pollution from the Summitville gold mine killed a 17-mile stretch of the Alamosa River. The cleanup cost taxpayers more than $200 million.