Environmental Scientist. Writer. Mother.

High Desert Journal

Excerpt from “Clean”

…Seven years ago, right before I left my job in New Mexico, my office mate told me that one of the mining companies had inquired about obtaining a permit to reopen one of the dormant uranium sites near Grants.  They wanted to to in-situ-leach (ISL) mining.  Mining where the ore rock is left in place and the uranium is removed by dissolving it and then pumping the pregnant solution —a sort of uranium broth— to the surface for recovery.  Among industry leaders, ISL mining is regarded as an “environmentally friendly” method of mineral extraction.  But for someone who had worked so hard to protect ground water in the desert, it made my stomach drop.

“You’re kidding,” I said. “Isn’t uranium still too cheap to be worth the trouble?”

We looked at each other, our eyes having seen the coal mines and coal-fired generating stations in the Four-Corners area, the open pit mines and copper smelter tailings near Silver City.  The rhythm of the grasshopper oil field pumps littering the plains of New Mexico’s southeastern corner.  We had traveled the state time and time again for our work, seen firsthand what becomes of a place as rich in natural resources as New Mexico is.  We knew the impact of these industries more than we cared to.  And we knew that what seemed to matter most was their impact on the economy of that poor, poor state.  We both saw what was coming.

My office mate shrugged.  “Haven’t you heard?” he said. “Nuclear power is clean.”

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