Reflecting on nuclear crises doesn't leave clear answers

 

Southeast Utah - It's another magnificent day here in the remote pinyon/juniper backcountry; the recent  afternoon rains have cooled the air and sharpened the views of Canyonlands and the Abajo mountains off in the distance. As a freshly arrived, part-time resident, I'm keenly appreciative of the ambient sounds of this region: the wind (gentle today), the various bird calls, and most of all, the near-total absence of human-generated noise such as that in the bustling city where I live most of the time.  One sound, however, sometimes punctuates the

profound quiet around here - the distant but steady hum of a small uranium mine a few miles away.

Last September in this blog I wrote about my ambivalence  - shared by many -- regarding uranium mining in the West. I was and am perfectly willing to admit that my paucity of technical knowledge may unfairly color my views, yet subsequent studying of relevant impact statements and learning a good deal more about the mining and milling processes hardly lessened my discomfort. Likewise, I sought to understand longtime residents' views on mining, but there, too, reactions are mixed, both among Anglos and Native Americans. On the one hand, the mines and the White Mesa Mill in Blanding, Utah, provide good-paying jobs and other boosts  to the otherwise anemic local economy; on the other hand, radiation exposure from midcentury milling activities caused much injury and death and spurred ongoing political activism  by those affected and their families and neighbors.

Of course, one major event has added significantly to this debate: the horrifying Tsunami-caused nuclear accident at Fukushima, Japan, on March 11th. I wondered how this accident would reverberate here in the American West - would the value of Uranium drop, causing mines to shut down? Would permits be denied? Would opinions here change regarding the future of nuclear power as they have in Germany and elsewhere, and what would be the human costs of all of this?

What I found, once again, is that there are no easy answers, no smug sound bytes to be had. Uranium prices have indeed fallen and remain volatile , yet companies such as Colorado Goldfields  and Laramide Resources  recently purchased mines near here. Paradoxically, both mining and mine clean-up (in Moab and on the Navajo Reservation) are still major employers. It seems as though, when it comes to uranium, we can't live with it and we can't live without it. However, as a closing thought, I'll mention a significant impending date: July 16th marks the anniversary  of both the first nuclear test at the Trinity site in New Mexico in 1945 and the Church Rock radiation spill disaster in the same state in 1979. Regardless of what the future of nuclear energy holds for us in the West, we need to remember the hard, terrible lessons of the past: we've had our own Fukushimas.

Essays in the A Just West blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.

Jackie Wheeler teaches writing and environmental rhetoric at Arizona State University.

Image courtesy Flickr user Michal Brcak

High Country News Classifieds
  • GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS MANAGER
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a Government Affairs Manager to support our legislative and administrative advocacy efforts in Colorado. This new, mid-level position will report...
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance, a leading grassroots conservation advocacy organization for over 30 years, seeks a passionate, dynamic, organized, and technology-savvy communications professional to help...
  • OPERATIONS AND FINANCE MANAGER
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness, a national grassroots organization led by women, seeks a resourceful, self-motivated, team player to serve as Operations and Finance Manager....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    ORGANIZATIONAL BACKGROUND Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) fosters community stewardship, education and awareness of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...
  • WYOMING STATE DIRECTOR
    Save the World ... or at least a piece of it! Join The Nature Conservancy and make a tangible and lasting impact by creating a...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR FOR AN ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCACY NON-PROFIT NEAR YOSEMITE
    Demanding, but rewarding, advocacy work on forest, water, wildland, and wildlife issues. Applicants should have experience dealing with land management planning, public speaking, grassroots organizing,...
  • NEW AGRARIAN APPRENTICESHIP
    Quivira Coalition's 2020 New Agrarian Apprenticeships in Regenerative Ranching and Farming -Apprenticeships run 4/20 - 11/20 Applications accepted 10/15/19 - 12/1/19 NAP partners with skilled...
  • PHILANTHROPY DIRECTOR AT WILDERNESS WORKSHOP
    Wilderness Workshop seeks a full time Philanthropy Director to raise funds for our team. Learn more: www.wildernessworkshop.org
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT WITH WESTERN RESOURCE ADVOCATES
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks an enthusiastic and organized problem solver to join our growing team as an Executive Assistant. The Executive Assistant is instrumental...
  • WYOMING OUTDOOR COUNCIL
    Two positions: Development Director OR Development Writer, Communications Director. Full job descriptions at https://wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org/careers.
  • CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
    Great Land Trust seeks to hire a Conservation Project Manager. Position is full-time, based in Anchorage, Alaska. First review of applications will be on October...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eagle Valley Land Trust Executive Director Position Description Summary of Position: The Executive Director, working with and reporting to the Board of Directors, has overall...
  • FINANCE & LOGISTICS COORDINATOR
    The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, founded in 1928 as an independent nonprofit organization, is a biological field station located near Crested Butte, Colorado. Our primary...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    See Full Job Description
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Position: Development Coordinator Responsible to: Executive Director Time Commitment: 15-20 hours per week, or as otherwise agreed upon General Description: The Development Coordinator assists the...
  • EDUCATION CENTER MANAGER
    Friends of Cedar Mesa seeks a full-time Education Manager for the Bears Ears Education Center to provide day to day operational and administrative oversight. See...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED SCP SOUTHWEST REGIONAL DIRECTOR
    Seeking to hire an experienced advocate/manager to oversee the organization's sportsmen/women-driven advocacy in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Open until filled
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    for northern AZ collaborative conservation ranchlands group
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Partners are seeking an experienced and energetic Executive Director who is excited about the opportunity to lead our growing organization! A full description of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country News Seeks an Executive Director to advance its mission, grow its audience and influence, and strategically and sustainably guide the organization through a...