Myths, Allegations & Facts — about uranium mining & nuclear energy   | Home |

Webster's provides one definition of the noun "myth" as "an ill founded belief held uncritically, especially by an interested group." We are constantly bombarded with urban myths that are little more than disinformation. The television series "Myth Busters" has disproven more than a few such myths. Many of the allegations spread by those who both oppose nuclear energy and uranium mining not only reinforce such urban myths of dubious reliability but also exaggerate or completely disregard both truth and fact. An old proverb states that "exaggeration is to make a painting of a snake and then add legs."

We exist in a  society where too many tend to embellish, gloss over or completely disregard the truth when it is more convenient to do so; when it suits their own narrow purpose. Webster's defines the noun "exaggeration" as "increasing something beyond limits; to depict extravagantly."  For many, there is little difference between those who exaggerate and those who lie.

Know the facts and know the truth.

The Past is Both the Present and the Future?

The detractors of uranium mining in the United States would have you believe that the past is both the present and the future. They point to the Cold War era of uranium mining of the 1950s and 60s when the communist scare encouraged a fear inspired rush to produce as much uranium as possible and as quickly as possible for the sake of national defense. Few would deny that this historical frenzy for uranium led to some abuses of the land.

But what these critics fail to mention is that for the past 30 years, a combination of new mining laws, enlightened attitudes and approaches, new technologies and methods of mine reclamation, close cooperation between mining companies and government regulators and the idea that good stewardship of the land is in everyone's best interest has created a new mining ethic that firmly rejects the mining methods of the past. In the 21st century, extracting the uranium we vitally need to provide the non carbon producing nuclear generated electricity for all our tomorrows, while at the same time protecting the environment, is an achievable and realistic historical fact. It has been done in the past and will be done even better in the future.

"A New Standard – Uranium Mining Reclamation" (video), produced by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Department of the Interior, details the realities of uranium mining and land reclamation in Northern Arizona as it has been done over the past few decades as well as the model that will be adhered to in the future, It presents both historical fact as well as irrefutable documentation of the actual work of many of the very same individuals still involved with uranium mining in Northern Arizona today. This video presentation from the 1990s is well worth 17 minutes of your time.

Uranium Mining on the Arizona Strip
Source: Dr. Karen Wenrich, a Certified Professional Geologist with 30 years experience studying the breccia pipe terrain across northern Arizona, with both the US Geological Survey (USGS) and as a private consultant. Excerpts of a letter dated October 22, 2009, to the Bureau of Land Management, Arizona Strip District Office.
Mining in the Arizona Strip will contaminate the water supply of millions of downstream users.
It is highly unlikely that more than five to six breccia pipe [A] mines would ever be in production at one time. Yet, over 100 naturally occurring  breccia pipes (untouched by man) are exposed today in the Grand Canyon area (see photo at right), leaching their radioactive minerals into the Grand Canyon watershed. In spite of this, there is no evidence that the water supply of millions of downstream users is contaminated with uranium from The Grand Canyon region. This natural contamination could not be replicated by the mining industry if they attempted to do so purposefully. In a field hearing about uranium mining near the Grand Canyon held by Congressman Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ and Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands of the House Natural Resources Committee) in Flagstaff, Arizona on March 28, 2007, the Kane County (Utah) commissioner, Dale Hulet, testified that the mining industry is doing the environment a favor by removing the offending metals, but if they are not allowed to mine, perhaps the entire “Grand Canyon region should be made a Superfund site."

During mining in the 1980's on the Arizona Strip by  Energy Fuels Nuclear, a “massive spill” at their Hack Canyon Mine carried ore rock eight miles down to the year-round waters of Kanab Creek.

A flash flood did clip the very edge of an ore pile and was carried a short distance, certainly not the alleged eight miles. The resultant “massive spill” was cleaned up when two Energy Fuels Nuclear employees who, using shovels and wheelbarrows, scooped up the displaced ore the next day and moved it the few hundred feet back to the ore pile.

The deactivated and reclaimed Orphan Mine located on the Arizona Strip has been polluting Horn Creek.
The single 15 year old data point to prove this allegation could not be replicated by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Water Resources Division study in 2004 (Monroe and others) that found all collected samples to contain government mandated acceptable levels of uranium for human consumption.

Although the water table is well below the mine there are perched water tables within the level of the mines.
These perched water tables are small and generally contain water that is not fit for human consumption due to the high levels of salinity. It is highly unlikely that mining would be able to increase the salinity and metal content of these waters. Many of these water tables have already been depleted while others were naturally drained by dissection from the adjacent canyons.

Ten Myths About Nuclear Energy

Myth No. 1
Americans get most of their yearly radiation dose from nuclear power plants.
We are surrounded by naturally occurring radiation. Only 0.005% of the average American's yearly radiation dose comes from nuclear power; 100 times less than we get from coal[1],  200 times less than a cross-country flight, and about the same as eating 1 banana per year [2]. Note: You can calculate your own yearly personal radiation dose online on this U.S. Environmental Protection Agency web page.

Myth No. 2
A nuclear reactor can explode like a nuclear bomb.
It is impossible for a reactor to explode like a nuclear weapon; these weapons contain very special materials in very particular configurations, neither of which are present in a nuclear reactor.

Myth No. 3
Nuclear energy is bad for the environment.
Nuclear reactors emit no greenhouse gasses during operation. Over their full lifetimes, they result in comparable emissions to renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar.[3] Nuclear energy requires less land use than most other forms of energy.

Myth No. 4
Nuclear energy is not safe.
Nuclear energy is as safe or safer than any other form of energy available. No member of the public has ever been injured or killed in the entire 50 year history of commercial nuclear power in the United States. In fact, recent studies have shown that it is safer to work in a nuclear power plant than an office. [4]

Myth No. 5
There is no solution for huge amounts of nuclear waste being generated.
All of the used nuclear fuel generated in every nuclear plant in the past 50 years would fill a football field to a depth of less than 10 yards, and 96 % of this "waste" can be recycled. [5]  Deep geologic burial has been shown to be safe and effective means of used fuel disposition, and Yucca Mountain has been deemed a technically sound burial site by the Department of Energy.

Myth No. 6
Most Americans don't support nuclear power.
The results of a Gallup poll released March 22, 2010, shows that overall support for nuclear power has climbed to a new high of 62%, the highest since Gallup began asking about this topic in 1994.

Myth No. 7
An American "Chernobyl" would kill thousands of people.
A Chernobyl type accident could not have happened anywhere outside of the Soviet Union because this type of reactor was never built or operated in the United States. The known fatalities during the Chernobyl accident were mostly emergency first responders.[7] Of the people known to have received a high radiation dose, the increase in cancer incidence is too small to measure due to other causes of cancer such as air pollution and tobacco use.

Myth No. 8
Nuclear waste cannot be safely transported.
Used fuel is being safely shipped by truck, rail, and cargo ship today. To date, thousands of shipments have been transported in almost all areas in the country with no leaks or cracks of the specially designed casks. [8]

Myth No. 9
Used nuclear fuel is deadly for 10,000 years.
Used nuclear fuel can be recycled to make new fuel and byproducts. [9] Most of the waste from this process will require a storage time of less than 300 years. Finally, less than 1% is radioactive for 10,000 years. This portion is not much more radioactive than some things found in nature, and can be easily shielded to protect humans and wildlife.

Myth No. 10
Nuclear energy can't reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
Nuclear generated electricity powers electric trains and subway cars as well as autos today. In the near term, nuclear power can provide electricity for expanded mass transit and plug-in hybrid cars. In the longer term, nuclear power can directly reduce our dependence on foreign oil by producing hydrogen for fuel cells and synthetic liquid fuels.

[A] Breccia pipes are vertical cylindrical bodies of broken sedimentary rock (breccia), formed in fissures of underlying limestone. Over thousands, if not millions of years, mineralizing fluids flowed upward into this broken sedimentary structure. Uraninite, a uranium ore mineral, accumulated within the permeable column of broken rock, forming a cylindrical, vertical and relatively compact stationary structure.
[1] National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements No. 92 and 95
[2] CDR Handbook on Radiation Measurement and Protection
[3] P.J. Meier, "Life-Cycle Assessment of Electricity Generation Systems and Applications for Climate Change Policy Analysis," 2002
[4] Nuclear Energy Institute
[5] K.S. Krane, Introductory Nuclear Physics, John Wiley and Sons, 1988
[7] Chernobyl Forum reports 20-year findings, offers recommendations, Nuclear News, October, 2005
[8] Department of Energy Fact Sheet
[9] K.S. Krane, Introductory Nuclear Physics, John Wiley and Sons, 1988
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