Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU)
Citizens’ Inquiry on the Impacts of the Uranium Cycle
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URANIUM SPEAKS

by Peggy Land

[A word of explanation: As a Physiotherapist and potential cottage property owner in the Lanark area, I have concerns about potential health and environmental impacts of uranium mining, and so will not resume my search for property there until a moratorium is in place. It seems appropriate to give Uranium itself a voice at this much- needed Citizenís Inquiry.]

I am the voice of uranium, known to some as Capital U on the periodic table. Please hear what I have to say.

I have kept quiet for billions of years, minding my own business on this planet. My appearance is unremarkable, as a whitish black metallic chemical element, occurring quite commonly in low concentrations in soil, water and rock. But looks can be deceiving. Iím a lot heavier than you might think, Iím almost twice as dense as lead and therein lies a hint of my power.

My natural role is to provide the main source of heat inside the earth, causing convection and continental drift and helping to keep the Earthís surface liquid. You might think that would be enough. If only!

Relatively recently, about one hundred years ago it was discovered that I am also weakly radioactive. That means that as I bio-degrade very slowly, heat is released, and so are alpha particles that are a highly ionizing form of particle radiation, but more about that later.

What you really need to know about me is that I hate to be disturbed, and Iím not kidding about this. I go into an absolute rage when I am messed with, and that rage itself has been exploited for many purposes at great cost to the planet and all of its inhabitants, which not only makes me more angry, but ultimately very sad.

There are sixteen variations of uranium isotopes- we are like long-lived siblings. We all decay very slowly. U-235 is pretty fragile and can be split apart relatively easily, and thatís when it has a real tantrum know as nuclear fission. When just one uranium atom splits it can release neutrons that can split more atoms. When this happens over and over again, many millions of times, a very large amount of heat is produced from a relatively small amount of uranium.

The first use of nuclear fission was for nuclear bombs. When Einstein realized its potential for weaponry, he warned that ďthe survivors would be the envy of the deadĒ. Thatís because even if one survived the enormous heat from a nuclear blast, radiation burns and poisoning from the alpha particles ingested or inhaled are very painful and worse, the damage can be passed on through many generations due to the legacy of chromosomal damage. Nuclear weaponry is now the biggest threat to the survival of the humans on the planet, as its potential use amongst countries with nuclear bombs has been called utterly mad or Mutually Assured Destruction. I just call it theft and abuse of my power.

The second use has been for generating electricity. Nuclear reactors generate heat without giving off greenhouse gases, to create steam to keep generators moving. This sounds promising but the hidden costs are staggering. At every stage of production of nuclear power from uranium mining to transportation of wastes, tremendous amounts of greenhouse gases are required, hastening global warming.

The reach of Alpha particles released from the radon gas at mining sites is wide. There have been eighty dam failures of containment ponds in Canada so far. Who will tend and monitor those containment ponds with their slews of toxic and persistent poisons five hundred years from now? Livestock and wildlife in the areas of uranium mining and milling operations have become contaminated through air and water radioactive pollution. Half of the citizens tested in the area surrounding the uranium processing facility at Port Hope tested positive for uranium itself. Once the uranium has been used for energy generation, its waste products remain highly radioactive.

There is no reliable plan for long term storage because permanent containment is such a very long-term challenge, it is virtually untested and untestable. Even if wastes could be stored deeply underground, they will have to be closely monitored for groundwater leakage and re-packaged every sixty years or so for ten thousand years.

How could all this be worth it when most people in Ontario could easily reduce our heavy reliance on nuclear power for electricity consumption? We could conserve and eliminate 25% of the total used without suffering, and electricity could be generated using wind and solar and low impact hydro to make up another 25%, all of this long before more nuclear plants can ever be built and up and running.

The third use has been to selectively destroy cancer cells within the human body, as nuclear medicine. Ironically, the more uranium that is mined, the more nuclear medicine will be needed for lung cancer treatment in uranium miners and for other cancers in uranium workers and for citizens exposed downstream and downwind of mining and processing facilities.

There seems to be no logic to my exploitation, only short term profit to greedy investors.

I did hear humans talking sense once though and I wish they had taken the advice given to them by the Great Spirit. After the Great Flood, humans had climbed to higher ground, an area bounded by four mountain tops, known as the Four Corners. The Great Spirit told them they could then go their ways and live out their destinies as four nations, each responsible for and to respect one of the four elements, the Black Nation to care for the water; the Yellow Nation to care for the air; the White Nation to care for the fire. The Red Nation was instructed to care-take the Earth, to hold fast to traditional ways, and to protect Four Corners at all costs, and without violence. They were told that there is great power under the land. If this power were allowed to escape, it would result in great destruction.

Unfortunately, that advice was ignored. Those White people never could get enough fire power. Ironically, the Black Mesa and Big Mountain which are within the boundaries of the Four Corners contained some of the richest deposits of uranium and coal in the world. Their mining has devastated the environment and made the people very sick. The same thing has happened in Ontario where the Serpent River Band peoples are very sick from the effects of uranium mining just upstream at Elliot Lake, and the land and water polluted forever.

So heed my warnings and those to the First People of the Earth from the Great Spirit, and spare yourselves more of my never ending rage!!!!