Sunday, September 20, 2015

Today's intersection: meth and plutonium

New Mexico Republicans are getting caught doing stupid stuff.
Probably the best political ad on TV in this state last year was Tim Keller’s spot, filmed in front of the Albuquerque car wash used in Breaking Bad for Walter and Skyler White’s meth money-laundering scheme. Then the ad showed a photo of Keller’s Republican opponent, Robert Aragon, over Breaking Bad’s opening logo with a yellow cloud of methamphetamine smoke as an unseen narrator blasted Aragon for past problems (none of which involved dealing methamphetamine). As I noted in a story a couple of weeks ago, beleaguered Secretary of State Dianna Duran could be the first public official to have all or part of her pension taken away from her if she is convicted of any of the 20-plus felonies included in the 64 charges she is facing. (The remaining charges are misdemeanors.) By the way, that narrator in the Keller ad was none other than Steven Michael Quezada. [excerpt, Steve Terrell, New Mexico politicos keep on breaking bad]
Republicans are Hell-bent on keeping Iran from enriching uranium but in New Mexico weapons-grade plutonium is looking for a place to go.
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Carlsbad leaders recently re-entered a long-running national debate about what the country should do with tons of surplus weapons-grade plutonium – staking opposing views. The shuttered southeast New Mexico nuclear waste repository known as WIPP has been floated as a potential final resting place for the nuclear material – an idea to which the Department of Energy has warmed in recent years and which Richardson, a former U.S. energy secretary, opposes. The U.S. has designated about 50 metric tons of surplus weapons-grade plutonium that it wants to get rid of in such a way that it cannot be accessed again for nuclear weapons – and can be kept out of the hands of terrorists, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. [Albuquerque Journal]
In a newly-completed study 78 percent of groundwater samples found with unsafe concentrations of uranium were also contaminated with nitrates from industrial agriculture.
The researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln estimate that nearly 2 million people in California and the Great Plains live over groundwater that has been contaminated with uranium, which can cause health problems. Data from roughly 275,000 samples from two of the nation's largest aquifers — the High Plains aquifer and the Central Valley aquifer in California — were examined for the study. Those two underground stockpiles supply water for irrigation and many communities rely on the aquifers for drinking water. The High Plains Aquifer stretches underneath some 174,000 square miles in parts of South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas. [Mitchell Daily Republic]
At Crow Butte near the headwaters of the White River above Crawford, Nebraska Canadian-based Cameco, Inc. has obtained rights to use 9,000 gallons of water per minute to extract raw uranium ore through 8,000 holes bored into the Ogallala and Arikaree Aquifers.

The foreign miners have already pumped about half a billion gallons of radioactive waste water into disposal wells and have rights to bury more. Two years ago Cameco, the world’s largest uranium producer, paid a million dollar fine for environmental damage in Wyoming.
In 2011, the total water stored in the aquifer was about 2.96 billion acre-feet, an overall decline of about 246 million acre-feet (or 8 percent) since pre-development. Change in water in storage from 2009 to 2011 was an overall decline of 2.8 million acre-feet. The overall average water-level decline in the aquifer was 14.2 feet from pre-development to 2011, and 0.1 foot from 2009 to 2011.
The High Plains Aquifer, also known as the Ogallala Aquifer, underlies about 112 million acres (175,000 square miles) in parts of eight states Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. The USGS, at the request of the U.S. Congress, has published reports on water-level changes in the High Plains Aquifer since 1988. Congress requested these reports in response to substantial water-level declines in large areas of the aquifer. --news release, US Geological Survey, links added.
A breach like one at the Gold King Mine in Colorado would send toxic, radioactive waste into the Oglala Lakota Nation and into the Missouri River.

Read more about indigenous action from Debra White Plume's piece at Indian Country Today.



At least one South Dakota Republican calls it the "fed's war on energy" when it's really Big Energy's war on the Earth.
Debra White Plume (Wioweya Najin Win), Executive Director of Owe Aku, is an Oglala Lakota grandmother and water rights activist who is taking on Cameco, the world’s largest producer of uranium, near her homeland on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, in South Dakota. From traveling through the lands, providing training camps, speaking engagements, strategic planning meetings, prayer circles with the Cheyenne Nation, Lakota Nation, DinĂ© Nation, Apache Nation, Annishanabe Nation (Canada), Gila River Nation and Palestinian allies, the message is out there to continue to resist, to engage, to empower, to act collectively, to never give up.
Read it here.
Powertech/Azarga proposes a uranium mine split between Fall River County and Custer County threatening water uses and availability in those areas. This project is loaded with red flags for both water and public health. The economic fate of the Black Hills is at stake. The EPA has proposed rules changes for In Situ Recovery to protect valuable water resources. They recognize that ISR activities use significant volumes of water and state "the ISR process does directly alter groundwater chemistry, posing the challenge of groundwater restoration and long-term subsurface geochemical stabilization after the ISR operational phase ends." They also acknowledge that the lixiviants used can liberate other elements, particularly heavy metals, and that the migration of these outside the production zone can potentially contaminate surrounding aquifers. [Letter, Rebecca Leas]
With uncanny accuracy Gary Heckenlaible predicted the failure of the Gilt Edge Mine south of Deadwood now a Superfund site. He was also a strong champion for reproductive rights and a valiant opponent of the Dewey Burdock uranium mine.

The President of South Dakota School of Mines is a crook.
To clinch the contract extension, Sandia labs officials hired high-priced consultants — including Heather A. Wilson, the former New Mexico congresswoman, who allegedly was paid $226,000 — to write up a “contract extension strategy.” Among the tactics allegedly suggested by Wilson was “working key influencers” by targeting then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s staff, his relatives and friends, and his former colleagues at another federal lab — all with the goal of keeping Lockheed Martin in charge of Albuquerque-based Sandia. Lockheed “engaged in deep and systemic corruption, including paying Congresswoman Heather Wilson $10,000 a month starting the day after she left office for so-called consulting services that had no written work requirements.” [Washington Post]
Wilson wants to bury radioactive waste in South Dakota.

Volcanic clays like bentonite mined near Belle Fourche make radioactive waste repositories such as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico possible. Bonus: the railroad from Belle goes right into Brookings, brought to you by Kristi Noem!

Huh, one of Heather Wilson's favorite benefactors, Albuquerque-based Valero Energy, gave Tike Mike Rounds $10,000 last cycle.
If stacked appropriately, all the used fuel we have generated in the U.S. so far would cover a single football field about 7 yards deep. Although the amount of used fuel is not much of an issue now, possible growing demand for nuclear power might test that assumption. Tasks such as replacing coal or natural gas, producing hydrogen or electricity to power vehicles, desalinating water, or actively removing carbon from the atmosphere will require a lot of carbon-free nuclear energy. But we could then reprocess the used fuel to reduce the amount of waste requiring storage in a permanent repository. [LTE, Robert McTaggart, GenXer]
Interim really means forever.

When Black Hills Corp. greases candidates like Heather Wilson while South Dakota's Board of Minerals and Environment makes conflicts of interest harder to find and the Public Utilities Commission is stacked with Republicans, the blur of the revolving door is vertiginous.

Heather Wilson is the Mike Ehrmantraut of GOP nuclear fixerhood.

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