Uranium - header
Michael Collier

Uranium - the resource

The Resource

Uranium - deposits

Uranium - deposits
Jędrzej Pełka

Beauty above, uranium below

Hoodoos, spires, cliffs, and canyons define the Colorado Plateau, but the landscape's beauty obscures the mining resources that lie below the surface. Uranium deposits sit deep within the inner folds of sandstone, siltstone, and mudstone layers that characterize the Southwest. Breccia pipes, one of the most common types of uranium deposits here, typically range from 100 – 400 feet in diameter and can be up to 3,000 feet deep!  

Uranium - mining

Uranium - mining

Mining Methods

Open pit mining: strips away topsoil and rock above the uranium ore 

Underground mining: extracts rock through a tunnel or other opening

Chemical dissolution: uranium ore deposits are dissolved into a solution and extracted

Uranium - milling

Uranium - milling
Mia Pepper

Milling: Yellow Cake

After uranium is mined, it must be milled to remove the uranium from the ore. At the mill, ore is crushed, ground, and treated with chemicals to dissolve the uranium into a solution. The final product, commonly referred to as “yellow cake,” is packed and shipped in casks. 

The U.S. has only one operating conventional uranium mill – the White Mesa Uranium Mill – located in southeastern Utah.

Uranium - booms and bust

Booms and busts

Uranium - atomic towns

When the uranium frenzy struck, mining towns like Moab, Utah, Grants, New Mexico, and Tuba City, Arizona, popped up across the Southwest.

To encourage a pro-nuclear culture, some atomic towns hosted "Miss Uranium" pageants and opened "Uranium Cafés" and “Uranium Drive-ins,” while others touted the benefits by wearing uranium medallions. The nation has come a long way in understanding the health and environmental threats posed by uranium, but the boom and bust cycle of uranium mining is stuck on repeat. Market prices spike; mines resume operation. Prices tank, and mines shut down. 

Uranium - boom bust graph

Years of uranium boom and bust.

Uranium - stats

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Bust – lowest uranium market price in 1989

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Years that must pass before half of any given uranium sample decays

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Tons of uranium ore mined from the Colorado Plateau 1949 – 1989

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Boom – highest uranium market price in 2007

Uranium - zombie mines

Uranium - zombie mines
Roger Clark

Zombie Mines

Uranium mines that die and come back to life are bad news for the Colorado Plateau. Federal agencies allow these "zombie mines" to open and close at will as uranium prices fluctuate, with no new permits, environmental review, or consideration of changed circumstances. The Trust and its allies are fighting zombie mining by asking the Forest Service and BLM to put time limits on mine permits and close and clean-up mine sites in a reasonable timeframe. 

Uranium - human and environmental health effects

Human & Environmental Health Effects

Uranium - surface water and groundwater

Uranium - surface water and groundwater

Water

The Lower Colorado River Basin – 40 million people and 4 million acres of farmland – depends on clean, safe water from the Colorado River. But, research shows at least one uranium mine in the watershed has contaminated an aquifer with uranium concentrations in excess of EPA drinking water standards. 

"Las Vegas residents are drinking Colorado River Water enriched with uranium." – Devar Shumway, Uranium Miner

Uranium - soils

Uranium - soils
Mitch Tobin

Soils

Uranium mining and milling contaminate soil, with cascading effects for entire ecosystems. Plants drop their leaves too early, and changes in vegetation lead to increased risk of wildfire in an already too-dry environment. The USGS has found evidence of uranium and arsenic concentrations in soil up to 10 times greater than background levels at mines near Grand Canyon National Park. 

Uranium - quote

America may have won the Cold War, but a decade after the collapse of the Sovet Union, Utah is left with a toxic legacy that has killed and sickened untold thousands of uranium miners and mill workers, contaminated water supplies for generations to come, and infected an otherwise stunning redrock landscape with millions of tons of radioactive mill tailings..."

– Jerry D. Spangler (author) and Donna Kemp Spangler (author and communications director, Utah Department of Environmental Quality)

Uranium - humans

Uranium - humans
Jake Berenguer

Human health 

Uranium is toxic to humans and accumulates in bone, liver, kidneys, and reproductive tissues. Exposure to low levels of uranium radiation can cause cancer, reduce fertility, and shorten lifespans. Radon-222, the leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, is emitted from both uranium mines and mills. 

Uranium Blog

06/14/17

The White Mesa uranium mill's expired license is up for renewal. The public has a short window to urge the state of Utah to revise the license now.

Read More
06/2/17

Raise your voice. The state of Utah considers three key licensing decisions to allow the White Mesa uranium mill to continue operating.

Read More
05/16/17

Accumulating evidence and events are debunking the belief that it's safe to mine uranium in and around the Grand Canyon.

Read More
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