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We need to learn more about uranium mining

We need to learn more about uranium mining

by Charmaine White Face

That old saying, "When something looks better than it should, it’s probably not" holds true for this whole idea of In Situ Leach uranium mining. South Dakota and Wyoming better take a long, hard look at this venture, if they decide once again to stick their hands in this rattlesnake den. And if time is of the essence, meaning uranium prices are rising now so we have to do this quickly, begs the question of "If uranium is going to be so desperately needed, won’t it be needed tomorrow as well as today and the price will be even higher?"

This push to immediately jump into In Situ Leach uranium mining should cause everyone in this Region including Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana, to say "Slow down! Let’s take a deeper look at this." (Pun intended.) A deep, hard look needs to be taken particularly when the companies coming in are from Canada. Remember, South Dakota taxpayers are paying for the cleanup of that abandoned gold mine in the Black Hills that was abandoned by a Canadian company. That’s not to say all companies from Canada are bad, but a former refrigerator company jumping into uranium mining makes one wonder what are their intentions.

The uranium mining companies that want to stick long pipes into the ground in the Black Hills and all around this region keep saying their process will not hurt the aquifers. They say the uranium is in a confined area so the aquifers won’t be contaminated with the poison they will put down there to liquefy the uranium. They say the wastes will be put back in the ground. The poison they put in, mixed with whatever was liquefied will be put back in the ground. ( The wastes have been exposed to nuclear radiation just by containing uranium and will still contain some radioactive products or properties. The waste will be pushed back into the ground in long pipes, but where will they go is the question.)

Since my mind is from Missouri, I had to test this out, to see if something in a confined area, if punctured, wouldn‘t leak into the surrounding area.. Taking an impermeable container, in this case a ziplock baggie containing food coloring, I put it in a glass of water and punctured it once with a needle, only once. Yup. The impermeable layer punctured by a needle bled that food coloring out all over in the glass of water. Maybe that’s why all over the world where In Situ Leach mining has been allowed to happen, the aquifers are permanently destroyed.

In Konigstein, Germany, an underground uranium mine was changed to an In Situ Leach mine and finally stopped in 1990. There is still 1.9 million cubic meters of contaminated water within the mining zone and 850 million liters in the recovery plant. The mines are within the aquifer that supplies the water for the city of Dresden. In Straz pod Ralskem, Czech Republic, the contaminated ground water escaped outside the mining zone both horizontally and vertically extending over an area of about 15 square miles.

After the aquifer was destroyed in Goliad, TX, the state legislature just lowered the water standards so the uranium company could say they didn’t do anything wrong. Quoting a page from the internet by Gavin Mudd for SEA-US, "The only site where ISL has been trialled (with sulphuric acid ) at a small field scale is at Casper in Wyoming, America. A detailed review by the Wyoming and federal environmental regulators of the trial proved to be a damning indictment of the ISL technique, as the groundwater of the site was not rehabilitated to pre-trial quality and standards had to be relaxed in order to consider the area restored. At the Irigary ISL mine also in Wyoming, there were repeated problems of solutions escaping, site accidents and shut downs. The mine was abandoned in 1981 by the Wyoming Mineral Corporation (subsidiary of Westinghouse)."

They must do things differently in Texas and Wyoming. Not like South Dakota where our annual rainfall makes us prize all the water whether it’s underground or on the surface. I sincerely hope the South Dakota legislature remembers this and doesn’t lower the groundwater standards in the future to meet the needs of uranium mining companies and their poisoning the aquifers.

We also prize artesian wells. Because of all the uplifts in this region, (there must have been some tremendous earthquakes at one time), it is not unusual to find that an aquifer that is 600 feet down in some place will be trickling out its’ water in another. The Lakota formation, for example, which happens to lie within the Inyan Kara aquifer and which is slated for In Situ Leach mining, happens to peek out in a couple of artesian wells which empty into the Cheyenne River. How many ranchers’ cattle and horses drink from that River? How many deer, antelope, elk, geese, fish, turtles, and frogs also drink or live in that River?

A few years ago when heap leach mining for gold was the fad, former Governor Mickelson placed a moratorium on mining until the issue could be studied. When the moratorium was lifted, heap leach mining happened and still proved to be harmful to the water. A gold mine was abandoned leaving local residents to pick up the tab, and the runoff ditch still doesn’t even grow moss.

If nuclear energy is the way to go, then the price of uranium will stay high. There are already too many abandoned surface uranium mines in the state now that will cost a small country’s budget to get cleaned up. How do you clean up and aquifer? You don’t. Monitor wells only tell you how far out the pollution is going, they don’t stop it. They Cheyenne River is already polluted by uranium coming from Wyoming. Let’s don’t add to that problem by polluting the aquifers that empty into that poor River. It would be in the best interest of South Dakota if Governor Mike Rounds would institute a moratorium on all uranium mining in the state, and especially In Situ Leach mining, until it can be proven that this kind of mining is safe to all things. Right now, my mind is still from Missouri.


Charmaine White Face, (Zumila Wobaga) Coordinator for Defenders of the Black Hills, is a former science and biology instructor, author, and political commentator. White Face may be reached at
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Mission Statement

"Defenders of the Black Hills is a group of volunteers without racial or tribal boundaries whose mission is to preserve, protect, and restore the environment of the 1851 and 1868 Treaty Territories, Treaties made between the United States and the Great Sioux Nation."

Speaking about radioactive fallout, the late President John F. Kennedy said,

"Even then, the number of children and grandchildren with cancer in their bones, with leukemia in their blood, or with poison in their lungs might seem statistically small to some, in comparison with natural health hazards. But this is not a natural health hazard and it is not a statistical issue. The loss of even one human life, or the malformation of even one baby who may be born long after we are gone, should be of concern to us all. Our children and grandchildren are not merely statistics toward which we can be indifferent."

July 26, 1963 upon signing the ban on above ground nuclear tests