Uranium mining opponent speaks out

BELFIELD -- Uranium is a popular topic of conversation in southwest North Dakota as of late, one that causes concern for several residents in the area.

BELFIELD -- Uranium is a popular topic of conversation in southwest North Dakota as of late, one that causes concern for several residents in the area.

In an effort to better understand the risks associated with uranium mining, the Badlands Area Resources Council organized a public meeting in Belfield's Memorial Hall on Wednesday.

They invited Dr. Lilias Jarding, an opponent of uranium mining, to speak at the meeting and educate those in attendance on the potential results of uranium mining.

"We know that there is one permit application to mine uranium in the area with the probability of more in the future," chair of the BARC, Linda Weiss said. "We want to bring information to the public on the impacts of such mining, especially on groundwater, to the local residents from a landowner's perspective."

Jarding has a Ph.D. in political science from Colorado State University, with a focus in environmental policy and is a member of Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction, a group that actively advocates for the elimination of uranium mining.


One way the group seeks to achieve their goal is by educating people on the risks associated with uranium.

Jarding made her stance on uranium mining clear, whether it is in situ leach, open pit or underground mining.

"It's unsafe," Jarding said, in reference specifically to in situ leach uranium mining. "It's a process that cannot be made safe because of the radiation that is released."

In her presentation, Jarding pointed out that uranium is immobile in its basic form, but when introduced to the extraction liquid used in situ leach mining and water, it becomes mobile.

After being disturbed, uranium is a danger at every point in the production process according to Jarding.

"At every step of the process where uranium is involved, radiation is released," Jarding said.

There is no risk of uranium radiation exposure through skin contact, because the element's radiation can not travel through an individual's skin. The risk comes from possible inhalation, or ingestion.

Jarding said once the uranium is disturbed it is difficult to prevent it from contaminating nearby groundwater.


Sources of contamination Jarding listed included; holes created in the rock, underground water movement, failure of piping and retention pond failures.

Along with groundwater contamination, there is also exposure to other dangerous heavy metals that are exposed during mining, such as, arsenic, selenium, lead and molybdenum.

"Maybe the company gets the uranium out, but there's still other heavy metals left in there," Jarding said. "There is a need for watching these operations very carefully, to have a third party looking at how they do things."

Before the end of her presentation and opening the floor to questions, Jarding mention what individuals can do if they are concerned about uranium mining in their area.

The first step? Educating one's self.

"Here you have the option of knowing what's going on," Jarding said. "So start asking questions."

Numerous questions from the audience centered around the central premise that if the uranium is already in the water supply, then why is it a problem if mining is done again.

Mining was conducted in Billings and Slope counties in the 1960s and some ground and well water has traces of uranium in it.


Jarding said it was important to know what the states' regulations were in regards to acceptable levels of uranium in water, but added more mining could lead to unsafe levels in the water.

Asked if push came to shove, if she would suggest one type of uranium mining over the other, Jarding said there are other options.

"We do have better options," Jarding said. "Especially here in North Dakota, where you are in the Saudi Arabia of winds."

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