Each Extraction Exacts Environmental Expense
CRYING EARTH, RISE UP
Every grade-school child learns that all life on Earth requires three sustainable, basic building blocks: pure, clean liquid water; specific combinations of essential chemicals; and safe, reliable energy. These combined components balance all life cycles in our biome. Some children also learn that ALL life-forms have purpose and deserve environmental equity. Unfortunately, a few grown-up humans strive to control all life-forms, and in the process risk our children’s continued existence. When we, as a society of consumers, mine the Earth for energy resources, we disrupt the chemical balance of the flora, fauna, and flows that sustain us. Conservation controversy continues to pit fossil fuel usage against alternative energy sources; but, truth be told, there is no “lesser” of these necessary (?) evils. We, as a society of innovators, must recognize that every extraction exacts environmental expense!
Considering energy resource extractions at a local level, Pennsylvanians have historically practiced the traditional mining of solid coal to burn as fuel. More recently local industry hosts modern hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for natural gas, also for fuel. We have been bombarded with reasons why extracting and burning coal contaminates our environment, and we are guilted with copies of carbon consciousness manifestos. Alternately, we have been infused with indemnifying information regarding the true impacts of fracking. Most people in our region accept the extreme consequences of energy extractions as abnormalities that happen someplace else – away from here; and rightfully so. However, every region of our world has its own energy extraction consequences.
In and around the Black Hills of South Dakota, uranium extraction and processing to power nuclear energy facilities has reigned as the region’s Greatest Devastator of life’s three basic building blocks. The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) website cites rules (and defers to the regulatory gaps) regarding uranium extraction. The NRC relies upon these rules to provide all stakeholders a voice in nuclear power planning, policy, and lawmaking. The NRC, as overseer of the nuclear power industry, describes the In Situ Uranium Leach Mining extraction method, stating that various solutions are used to leach the uranium from the rock. In South Dakota that injection fluid is “native groundwater fortified with oxygen and carbon dioxide.” This raises the questions: exactly what is “native groundwater”? and where does the used, contaminated water go? The documentary “Crying Earth, Rise Up” answers these questions, and more.
Water that is clean and pure is our first, most basic need. Yesterday’s rain has been Earth-filtered and purified, then settled deep in the Earth and stored as groundwater to sustain centuries of tomorrows. But, nuclear energy relies upon the in situ uranium leach mining that disrupts this process. Radioactive water is neither clean nor pure. Below, Winona LaDuke, of the Lakota Nation, summarizes this lethal nuclear energy issue.
To understand the current status of these water woes, I contacted Lilias Jarding, of the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance, and posed the following questions:
1.) Has the documentary “Crying Earth, Rise Up” increased public awareness or decreased uranium contamination/poisoning there?
2.) Are all people negatively impacted by uranium being heard? helped? healed?
3.) The NRC website indicates no uranium mining in South Dakota, have the abandoned mines been remediated?
“Here are the answers to your questions:
“‘Crying Earth, Rise Up’ has increased public awareness in our area, but so far it hasn’t impacted uranium contamination.
“Second, whether people who are negatively impacted by uranium mining are heard or helped has depended somewhat on where those people are. The federal government came in in the 1980s and cleaned up the old uranium mill in the town of Edgemont, which is an old mining town in far southwestern South Dakota that has a population that is primarily white. On the Pine Ridge Reservation, which is about 60 miles away, the federal government has been in the process of building new water systems for about 20 years now. People are slowly getting clean water. However, at the same time, the Crow Butte Mine in northwestern Nebraska is still operating and is upstream from the Reservation. As far as I know, there have been no medical services focused on people who have been impacted.
“And to address your third question, there are around 170 old uranium mines and prospects in western South Dakota. About 100 are in the Black Hills, and the rest are in Harding County in the far northwest corner of the state. About a handful of the mines in the Black Hills have been cleaned up by the state. However, large mines remain, including the Darrow Pit Mine, which is about 1 mile square. In Harding County, the federal government is currently cleaning up some of the mining area. Powertech/Azarga, a small uranium mining company, has been trying to get permits for a mine north of Edgemont.”
Would we, here in Pennsylvania, allow our families to be impacted in such a way as this? I think not! – or do we?
I have great admiration, empathy, respect, and hope for, and gratitude to Lilias Jarding, Winona LaDuke, Debra WhitePlume (header pic), and the Crying Earth, Rise Up Family for presenting their plight so eloquently. Thanks!
For more information and investigation I suggest starting with:
The trailer for the documentary Crying Earth Rise Up!
Caveat Emptor of alternative energy resources, please!