Friday, October 8, 2010

Uranium Reports: Balance, Sanity and Outrage

Three recent published reports dealing with uranium provide unexpected balance from a hugely unlikely source, an unexpected note of sanity from another surprising source and a new entrant in what I call the uranium-genocide genre.
The New Yorker magazine is the hugely unlikely source. In the September 13 issue it provides have a thorough and balanced consideration of having a uranium mill in the neighborhood around communities in western Montrose County, Colorado, near Utah. At eight pages, the article isn’t the issue’s longest, but it appears first, indicating the editors think it is important.
For one seeking balance, the title isn’t promising, “The Uranium Widows: Why would a community want to return to milling a radioactive element?” But Peter Hessler, the writer, starts with a resident of Paradox, Colorado, who has been around the local uranium all her life and is just fine with a proposed new mill. “For outsiders, this reaction is puzzling,” Hessler writes.
The area’s uranium history is nearly 100 years long. Through the 1950s, “there was essentially no regulation. Most mines lacked proper ventilation,” Hessler says. Then very high radon concentrations were discovered and Hessler makes a key point. “Miners liked their cigarettes underground, where radioactive particles attached to the smoke and were drawn deep into the lungs.”
Hessler mentions the late Stewart Udall, father of present New Mexico Senator Tom Udall. “Udall represented, among others, families of Navajo Indians who died after mining in terrible conditions in New Mexico; in Udall’s words, the government ‘has needlessly sacrificed the lives of (the Navajo miners) in the name of national security.’” The Udall statement begs to be taken apart because the victimization has become the received wisdom. Were the miners really “sacrificed?”
In Colorado, the widows don’t see the men as victims, rather that they chose a high risk, well paying occupation. And they smoked.
Hessler talked to environmentalists opposed to the mill proposed for Paradox. In the conversations, he says, “I noticed a vagueness with regard to scientific issues.”
Fascinating. Find an abstract at To get the full article online, you will have to subscribe.
Sanity came from The New Mexican in late August. The August 224 story began, “Nature, not Los Alamos National Laboratory, is currently the biggest source of uranium contamination in water around Española, Pojoaque, Nambé and Santa Fe.” The next day an editorial noted that uranium in the water was a known situation and said, “Nor is there any cause for alarm; caution, yes; panic no.” If a resident has a concern, get the water tested.
Panic or at least outrage over history is the contribution from a new book, “Yellow Dirt, An American Story of a Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed.” Judy Pasternak is a Los Angeles Times reporter who attended a 2003 meeting in Albuquerque of environmental agencies on the topic uranium related health and environmental issues. Pasternak was outraged at what she heard. A series of articles and the book resulted. The headline on the Albuquerque Journal’s September 26 book review said, “Deadly Earth. Book details uranium mining’s poisoning of the Navajos and their land.”
You get the idea of why I put this one in the uranium / genocide genre.

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