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America's Radioactive Civil War

The Controversy

History

The Technical side

Citizen Struggles

Conclusion

References & Links


Comments & questions to:
aehrmann@macalester.edu



America's Radioactive Civil War

A long list of victims have suffered due to advances in the nuclear industry.  The most obvious human losses have resulted from the deployment of nuclear weapons,  but unfortunately, many people have also suffered for reasons other than bombs.    Every step of the nuclear fuel cycle: mining, processing, transporting, utilization in nuclear reactors, testing, reprocessing, and waste disposal pose serious threats.   The publics perception of both nuclear fuel and nuclear weapons usually focus on the outcome (the atomic bomb or electricity) of each technology.  The purpose of this website is to explore the nuclear issue from its root.  Both nuclear fuel and weapons require large amounts of uranium, therefore the first step to either technology is uranium mining.  

    The most densely concentrated and easily extracted uranium in the United States exists in the Colorado Plateau.  The Colorado Plateau is a 120,000 square mile region encompassing parts of Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico.  This area also contains the 25,000 square mile Navajo Nation, as well as many other Indian reservations.  The Natives were forced into this region because the barren land had little value to European settlers in the 1800's.  With the onset of the nuclear age (late 1940's), the wasteland  became a land of treasure because the US government created a demand for uranium which lead people to dig up all the ore they could find.  Issues of Indian sovereignty have resonated science Europeans set foot in the America's; the nuclear industries demand for uranium is the current battlefield of this five century long conflict.  When analyzing the controversies between the Native Nations, and the uranium mining industry in the four corners region (Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico), many consequences of nuclear power arise.

    These impacts are imperative to examine today because the demand for uranium  is on the rise again, due to the growing demand for nuclear energy.  Nuclear energy may seem like a plausible solution to global warming when one analyzes the outcome (lots of energy and little carbon emissions), but the inputs to the system must be considered as well.  This project is titled "America's Radioactive Civil War" because  Native Americans are dying due to the inputs required to bring power into millions of homes across America.  A majority of Americans enjoy the benefits of the outputs of nuclear energy, but are uneducated on how their energy is produced.   A radioactive war is currently under way in America, this war is between the nuclear industry and the people bearing the consequences.  Our energy system is interconnected and practically every American on the grid gets some electricity from nuclear energy.   Currently, nuclear energy is the second largest provider of electricity in America behind coal.  Many people argue that nuclear energy is the power of the future because it emits less carbon that coal.  This is true, but before America moves to a nuclear based energy production system, people must become aware of the consequences  their energy consumption produces. When viewing the outputs of nuclear energy this production system can seem rational, but when one considers the inputs required to produce nuclear energy, the cost of nuclear power quickly outweigh the benefits.  

Conflicts of environmental justice, between indigenous communities and energy resource extraction are apparent all over the globe.  I have focused this web page on nuclear energy because it is extremely dangerous, and uranium mines are currently reopening due to a demand for nuclear power.  The Navajo Nation provides a great case study because of the high density of mines; there are 1100 abandoned mines on the reservation.  The following pages aim at addressing the consequences experienced by local inhabitants in the American Southwest due to uranium mining over the past 60 years, as well as how affected citizens have confronted these concerns, because if we don't learn from the mistakes of our immediate history, tragety may once again repeat itself.  
    


crane mining

 Crane digging an open pit uranium mine.




















Map of the navajo nation

 Map of the Navajo Nation, with key towns and uranium mining areas marked in black.




















"As long as there are no

answers to cancer, we

should’t have uranium

mining on the

Navajo Nation,”

    -Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr.

   

Last updated:  5/4/2007

 


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Comments and questions to aehrmann@macalester.edu