As shocking as it sounds, increase global demand for nuclear reactors (whether to produce power, weapons-grade materials, or both) is shorting up demand for uranium. The result: the revitalization of a once anemic nuclear energy industry.
As Reuters reports, the uranium's spot (cash) price is up 27% since last year. Australia seems to be heaping most of the increased demand: with Uranex NL (an Australian mining company) providing China most sought-after nuclear raw materials. The world of commerce transforms world global security calculus once again!
But there are winners closer at home as well. The Toronto Star points out that a Canadian company will soon be re-opening mines in Colorado. Uranium Corp. will jump-start production at the Colorado Plateau-- which closed in the 1980s owing to weak demand. This also will apparently stretch into Utah as well.
Kathy Helms gives the best description (in the Gallop Independent), and adds another wrinkle into the recent uranium expansion:
The uranium rush is on. The question is, how long will the Navajo Nation's ban on uranium mining last when developers are coming at the Nation from all directions?
International Uranium Corp. announced this week that it is reopening its U.S. uranium/vanadium mines beginning immediately, and will stockpile the ore at its White Mesa mill in Bluff, Utah.
IUC holds conventional mining properties in the Four Corners area, located in three distinct mining districts: the Colorado Plateau, the Henry Mountains and the Arizona Strip. IUC intends to begin mining activities immediately at the Pandora, Topaz, Sunday and St. Jude mines on the Colorado Plateau, followed by two additional mines in 2007.
In searching out for the rationale behind the Navajo Nation's ban on uranium mining, I ran across this on-line forum (brought to us by Democracy Now!) with Navajo President Joe Shirley, Earl Tully of Dine Care (a Navajo environmental organization), and radio correspondent Amy Goodman.
Key highlights of the discussion:
-"...it [uranium mining] has killed many of my medicine people, and because of that, there are some of the ceremonies that they used to know that we don't know anymore. It has killed a lot of elderly. It has killed a lot of young..."
-"One of the things here is that I think in many cases race is not the issue, but income. It is -- you know, again I will go back to the average E.P.A. penalties and clean-up by race is very, very different. The people of colors are highly impacted in a sense that they do not receive adequate just compensation as in white communities."
-"As far as the RECA [Radiation Exposure Compensation Act] is concerned, you know, before the amendment was made, $100,000 was considered the adequate, I guess, compensation for a particular person who had filed. And $100,000, you take the average cost of 30% for a lawyer. So the family would only get $70,000. And when you spread that around it's not going to go too far. And I think one of the areas of RECA is to boost that up to $150,000. "
From an article written in 'In Motion Magazine', the Bureau of Navajo Affairs now lists 2,450 Native Americans eligible for Federal funds owing to uranium poisoning. This doesn't include 412 victims who died before funds were made available.
Clearly there are costs to the expanding nuclear industry: whether on the level of global security, or small-scale-- but extremely tragic-- health threats. Such a wide array of issues keeps the nuclear issue not only one of business profits, but inter-governmental conflict: with local, state, federal and even extra-federal US entities all vying to see their viewpoint win out.
The one aspect, most pressing in my view, is whether or not mining methods have been developed that significantly lessen or eliminate threats to workers or near-by inhabitants. This part of the story has been one I've had trouble tracking down-- but I'll hopefully report to you soon on it.
But regardless of the fullness of this particular story, its clear that the faucets of the nuclear issue, whether pertaining to health risks, weaponization concerns, or American race relations, are as numerous as they are contentious. And the future promises only their simultaneous sharpening and proliferation.