Uranium mining, milling, and nuclear testing carries with it serious health and environmental dangers. Native American communities have unequally suffered the burden of these consequences since the beginning of U.S. uranium operations
Nuclear power is currently being marketed as a solution to the energy crisis and global warming. This has spawned an increase in the demand and price of uranium, which has resulted in a global growth of mines at an alarming pace. Mines in the United States, which have been closed since the end of the cold war, are now being considered for reopening. These past mines caused serious health and environmental damage to the surrounding peoples and lands, and many of the mines’ radioactive waste has still not been properly cleaned up. The continuation of these mines’ operations would mean devastation for the local peoples.
Nuclear power is not a solution for anything, and causes more harm than good. The problems that it and uranium mining creates are vast, and carries with it long term consequences.
- Nuclear power is not in any way energy efficient. Each step in the “nuclear chain” including the mining, milling and enrichment of uranium, the construction of nuclear power plants, and the treatment and storage of nuclear waste are incredibly energy intensive- and much of this energy is supplied by fossil fuels. In comparison to wind energy, nuclear power releases 3-4 times more CO2 per unit of energy produced taking account of the whole fuel cycle.
- Uranium mining poses huge health risks to its workers, the majority of whom are Native Americans employed in the low paying mining positions. They are exposed to dust and radioactive radon gas, presenting a lung cancer hazard. For example, in the United States 87% of lung cancer cases are a result of smoking. Among underground uranium miners however, it is estimated that 70% of lung cancer deaths in non-smoking miners and 40% of lung cancer deaths in smoking miners are due to exposure to radon progeny.
- Mining causes serious environmental and health damage to surrounding land and populations. During mining operations, large volumes of contaminated water are pumped out of the mine and released to rivers and lakes, spreading into the environment. Ventilation of the mines releases radioactive dust and radon gas, increasing the lung cancer risk of residents living nearby. Piles of so-called waste rock often contain elevated concentrations of radionuclides when compared to normal rock. These piles continue to threaten people and the environment after the shutdown of mines due to their release of radon gas and seepage water containing radioactive and toxic materials .
The above problems caused by uranium mining are just a fraction of its negative impacts. The Native American populations which have come in contact with uranium related activity have suffered disproportionately. The number of people to truly benefit from uranium mining is very slim in comparison to the large amount of peoples it harms. This is a case of environmental racism, where the lands and health of Native Americans are destroyed by profit seeking exploits of the government and corporations.