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

New Uranium Boom Threatens Communities

The Bush administration and nuclear power-related companies are promoting a “nuclear renaissance” as a solution to U.S. dependency on foreign oil and to global climate change, among other things. They pushed through Congress the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which provides large subsidies for the development of new nuclear power plants in the U.S. The administration’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership announced this year envisions large expansion of nuclear power worldwide (except in a few targeted nations such as Iran).

Whether the new nuclear boom fizzles in a few years or not, one result of the rhetoric and reality of nuclear power over the past five years is the large increase (about seven times) in the price of uranium, the fuel for nuclear power plants. The price now is around what it was in the last nuclear power boom in the 1970s, when New Mexico was producing about half of the nation’s uranium.

Over the past 20 years, uranium production has been virtually non-existent in New Mexico and much of the U.S. But it has continued and, in many cases, expanded in Australia, Canada, southern Africa, and various parts of the former Soviet Union, because of the relatively cheap production prices and generally meager government regulation and underfunded citizen opposition.

A relatively small number of private and government-controlled companies now produce uranium and own or control large amounts of unmined uranium ore. Although there is no shortage of known uranium resources already identified by those companies, the skyrocketing price of uranium is attracting dozens of other companies, many of which have never actually mined uranium, looking for potentially huge profits.

In this issue, we explore three aspects of the new uranium boom. “Need or Greed?” on pages x-x, looks at the worldwide sources of uranium. The sources include mines but also large volumes from “secondary” sources, such as government-controlled uranium, especially in the U.S. and former Soviet Union, from the tens of thousands of nuclear weapons developed during the Cold War and the uranium stockpiled for further production and left from weapons development. The inescapable conclusion is that there is no shortage of uranium and no real need for the scale of mining that is impending in New Mexico and other areas with large amounts of unmined uranium.

While some companies and their stockholders may be economic winners in the new uranium boom, there are again many victims of the devastation of land and water and major health problems for people and livestock that accompanies uranium production. “The New Uranium Boom” on pages x-x examines the areas where more than a dozen companies are planning to resume uranium production in New Mexico, even though the legacy of previous uranium development has not been redressed. Concern and opposition to the proposed new mining in growing in New Mexico and various actions are being taken, including bringing together people from other states and nations to plan and implement responses.

Uranium ore must also be milled and enriched before it can be used in nuclear power plants or nuclear weapons. New Mexico is the place where European companies have succeeded in getting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to issue its first license ever for an enrichment plant. “Continuing Opposition to the New Uranium Enrichment Plant” on pages x and x describes the license and why two citizen organizations have challenged it in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

Thus, even though the “nuclear renaissance” has not occurred, its promise is attracting the greedy and already creating new victims, and further victimizing some of those still suffering from the effects of the previous “nuclear age.” Despite the power of government policy and the financial resources and greed of uranium companies, much is being done, and more will be done, to blunt the new boom.


QUOTES:

“The Navajo Nation Council finds that the mining and processing of uranium ore on the Navajo Nation and in Navajo Indian Country since the mid-1940s has created substantial and irreparable economic detriments to the Nation and its people….”

“The Navajo Nation Council finds that there is a reasonable expectation that future mining and processing of uranium will generate further economic detriments to the Navajo Nation.”

--Diné Natural Resources Protection Act of 2005

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“The Navajo Nation Council finds that the mining and processing of uranium ore on the Navajo Nation and in Navajo Indian Country since the mid-1940s has created substantial and irreparable economic detriments to the Nation and its people...”

"The Navajo Nation Council finds that there is a reasonable expectation that future mining and processing of uranium will generate further economic detriments to the Navajo Nation."
 
—Diné Natural Resources
Protection Act of 2005



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