Questions from the Crate: Uranium Has To Come from Somewhere

Nuclear power plants are fueled by uranium. That uranium has to come from somewhere.

Fourteen years ago I clipped an Associated Press article from the Monterey County Herald. With haunting effect, journalist Deborah Hastings sketches the legacy that uranium mining left for the Navajo people of the four corners area of the US.

“Navajo uranium miners seek more federal aid,” [July 30, 2000] touches only briefly on on the legal maze that confronted sick miners in their quest for some kind of compensation. But the article makes abundantely clear that these men, seeking a way to support their families in an area where there were few jobs, were never told about the dangers of chronic exposure to radiation.

In 1940 they were offered $45 a week to pull yellow rock out of the ground. The war effort needed this rock, so they could be proud of being patriotic while putting more food on their children’s plates. But the miners weren’t issued any protective gear. They worked all day in poorly ventilated shafts filled with radioactive dust, and drank water that trickled through the mines. These conditions continued for decades.

By the year 2000, over 400 miners on one reservation had died of lung disease.

“Recently declassified documents,” writes Hastings, “show the government knew from the start it was playing with poison but concealed the dangers.”

So my questions:

These men who were not told that their job would entail working closely with poison, with no protection — what kind of compensation have their families received from the companies and country that deceived them?

How much uranium does the US produce now? How are the miners protected?

Are mountains of mine tailings still leaking radioactive materials into rivers and ground water?

I’ve heard Australia is now the big producer of uranium. What are conditions like for the miners there?

Do we want to know? Or is it easier to rely on nuclear power if we don’t?

About Deanne E. Gwinn

Writer: screenplays, fiction, poetry
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