MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations


Sometimes we at SRIC (and many of our long-time supporters and friends) take for granted our understanding of words we use every day that concern environmental issues. Some of these words may not be familiar to all our readers. We are including a glossary in each issue to help all our readers become more familiar with environmental words and phrases. Please let us know if there are other terms you would like explained.

Groundwater bearing layer of rock or sand; the primary source of potable water in arid and semi-arid areas.
Debris waste
heterogeneous waste; includes all waste designated for WIPP that is not homogeneous solids or soils and gravels.
badges used to measure an individual's level of exposure to radioactive elements.
Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining is a citizen group formed in 1994 to oppose new uranium mines in Crownpoint and Church Rock communities in New Mexico.
in in situ leaching, the term for a contaminant; the spread of sulfuric acid from a "controlled" underground area to outside boundaries (i.e. a communities water supply).
Geologic faults
areas underground which are measures of an areas instability with regards to earthquake activity, water pathways, etc.
Hardrock mines
Mines that extract legally defined "hardrock" minerals, such as gold, silver, copper, lead, nickel, molybdenum and uranium. Coal mines are not "hardrock" mines because coal is not a hardrock mineral as defined by the federal General Mining Law of 1872.
Headspace gas
gases that are produced inside a nuclear waste container that accumulate underneath the lid.
In situ leach mining
Type of mining in which a chemical solution (usually made up of water, dissolved in oxygen and sodium bicarbonate) is pumped into the ground through rock so that uranium or any other valuable element (such as copper) reacts with the solutuion (through oxidization) and can be pumped to the surface so that the uranium can be extracted from the rock.
a uranium in situ leach mining operation in Russia, just north of Mongolia near Lake Baikal.
a naturally occurring trace element mined for use primarily in hardening steel and cast iron. In and of itself, molybdenum is not a toxic substance. The environmental concern is how it is mined, where it is mined, and the subsequent effects on the communities in which it is mined.
the Russian Ministry for Atomic Energy.
A wholly owned subsidiary of the oil company, Unocal, that operates one of the nation's largest molybdenum mine near Questa, New Mexico.
National Environmental Policy Act, passed by Congress in 1969.
polycholorinated pyphenyls (PCBs)
A class of organic compounds used in a variety of industrial applications, including as insulation fluids in electrical transformers; EPA has classified most PCBs as human carcinogens. In 1976, Congress prohibited manufacturing of PCBs in the U.S.
remote-handled waste, which cannot be directly handled by people because its high radioactivity would cause health effects.
Spent Fuel
fuel rods that have been used in nuclear power plants, usually from one to two years. They are highly radioactive and must be heavily shielded to contain the radioactivity.
Russian for "forest."
A generic term for wastes or residues of rock from mining or milling operations that typically contain high concentrations of heavy metals. Tailings are composed of sand-sized particles consolidated in large piles containing millions of tons of wastes and often covering hundreds of acres of land at mining and milling sites.
Transuranic radioactive wastes which contain plutonium, americium, and other radionuclides beyond uranium on the periodic table. Many TRU wastes also contain some hazardous chemical constituents, and are called mixed wastes.
shipping containers for contact-handled TRU wastes.
The heaviest naturally occurring trace element and also a naturally occurring radioactive element which spontaneously "decays" into lighter elements. Uranium was originally mined for use as the principal component of atomic bombs. Since about 1971, it has been mined exclusively for use as fuel in nuclear power reactors.
Yucca Mountain
site in southern Nevada selected by Congress in 1987 as the only location to be investigated as the nation's spent nuclear fuel and high level radioactive waste disposal facility.
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, located 26 miles east of Carlsbad, New Mexico, that is the nation's, and the world's, first and only underground storage place for plutonium-contaminated wastes that come from producing nuclear weapons.

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"Federal policy…has been to assure that "waste management problems shall not be deferred to other generations," and many environmental groups have shared the same view. Geological burial - at first glance anyway - looks like an ideal way to accomplish that since, after all, it "removes" the wastes from the environment and solves the problem once and for all. But in many ways entombment does just the opposite. It deliberately poisons a portion of the natural world for an endless stretch of time and in doing so it not only leaves future generations with thousands of tons of the most dangerous rubbish imaginable on their hands but makes it as difficult as the state of our technology permits for them to deal with it. We cannot promise our children - never mind those who will follow hundreds or thousands of years hence - that they will be safe from the wastes. And so long as that is so, we are not taking the problem out of their hands so much as we are taking the solution out of their hands."
Kai Erikson in
"Out of Sight, Out of Our Minds"
The New York Times Magazine
March 6, 1994.

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