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Activists Warn US Lawmakers of Uranium Mining Perils


A Greenpeace activist attempts to disrupt a nuclear waste transportation effort in France. A French physicist and a US actor have joined representatives of indigenous peoples from Africa, Australia and the United States to send US lawmakers a stark warning about the dangers of uranium mining. (AFP)

WASHINGTON - A French physicist and a US actor have joined representatives of indigenous peoples from Africa, Australia and the United States to send US lawmakers a stark warning about the dangers of uranium mining.

"We want US lawmakers to understand that uranium mining is highly pollutant and that there is currently no scientific answer to the question of radioactive waste containment," Bruno Chareyron of France's CRIIRAD laboratory, which measures radioactivity in the environment, told AFP Friday.

"We want them to know that the information they are given by the mining companies is not wholly reliable," he said.

Representatives of the Tuareg nomads of Niger, Native Americans and Australian aborigines told of the ravages of uranium mining on their communities.

In Niger, French company Areva has been mining uranium for more than 40 years with "no regard for the environment, people's health, animals," Sidi-Amar Taoua, a Tuareg who has lived for seven years in the United States, told AFP.

"Uranium mining has impacted every area and sparked a war between the Tuareg who took up arms to defend their land, and the government, which is complicit with Areva," he said.

Areva announced last month that it has applied for US government approval to build a two billion dollar uranium enrichment plant in the northwestern state of Idaho.

The project would be the French state-controlled group's first uranium enrichment plant in the United States.

Native American lands in the southwestern United States have been the site of more than 1,300 uranium mines. Although most have been closed, the mines' legacy includes contaminated drinking water and illnesses from cancer to kidney disease, said Native American environmental activist Manny Pino.


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"In this process of nuclear renaissance, it's almost like the federal government is ignoring the historical legacy of uranium mining in the past and prioritizing the economic benefits of nuclear power in the future at the expense of our land, our water and our people," he said.

Mitch, an aboriginal militant against radioactive waste dumps and uranium mining in Australia, currently the world's biggest producer of the mineral, said: "Short term monetary gain will leave us with long-term deadly waste for generations to come."

Uranium mining saw a long boom period in the United States between the 1940s and 1980s, before coming to a near halt in the 1990s as prices paid for the mineral plummeted.

In 2005, as uranium prices were starting to climb upwards again, the Navajo passed a law banning the mining or processing of uranium on their lands.

But when the price of the mineral peaked at around 140 dollars a pound in 2007, mining companies descended "like vultures" on uranium-rich areas, 70 percent of which are situated on land inhabited by low-income indigenous communities, said James Cromwell, the actor who played George H.W. Bush in the film "W."

As oil and gas prices spiked last year, nuclear power gained ground as an attractive energy option to ensure US energy independence.

Then secretary of the interior Dirk Kempthorne authorized uranium exploration near the Grand Canyon, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

"There's a lot of activity. When uranium prices went up we saw proposals for exploration all over the place," said Sandy Bahr of environmental group the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon chapter.

In January, Arizona lawmaker Raul Grijalva introduced a bill in Congress that would permanently withdraw from mineral extraction one million acres of public lands in watersheds surrounding the Grand Canyon.

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