Grand Junction woman fights uranium mine
Grand Junction Correspondent
GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado ” Janet Johnson believes the uranium mill tailings that had been used to help build her alma mater, Grand Junction High School, contributed to the cancer in some of her classmates.
And perhaps even her leukemia.
With a deep history in Grand Junction and western Colorado, Johnson has seen uranium and its effects threaten her life and the lives of other family members and friends.
“There just seems to be a lot of people dead of cancer in that time period,” Johnson said. “There are two twins a year ahead of me in school, beautiful young women, and they’re both dead.”
For those reasons and others, Johnson will rally other Grand Junction residents to fight a proposal to reopen two underground uranium mines on the Colorado Plateau.
Canadian firm, Energy Fuels, wants to reopen the uranium mines at 30100 5/10 Road outside Gateway. According to its Web site, Energy Fuels is acquiring uranium properties on the Colorado Plateau in the Uravan Mineral Belt District and in the Arizona Strip District north of the Grand Canyon.
Mesa County commissioners will hear the request to reopen Whirlwind Mine this week. According to one of the county planners, if the company gets the proper permits, it may begin mining early next year.
One of Johnson’s concerns is John Brown Road. Uranium ore would be transported from the mine on 5/10 Road and continue down John Brown Road, a steep, narrow gravel road with drop-offs and hairpin turns.
The road is popular with recreational users, and would be a primary transport route of the ore. Once ore trucks reach Highway 141, they would travel south at a rate of one truck an hour at the peak of operations.
And while she’s never seen conclusive proof that moving uranium tailings causes cancer, Johnson doesn’t need to see proof because she’s lived it.
“My first knowledge came after I graduated from Grand Junction High School (in 1963). They were removing tailings from the high school. Everyone knew by then they were not safe there,” Johnson said.
“Where ever they have moved tailings, there is a cancer cluster,” Johnson said. “It’s so dangerous.”
Uranium mines “have horrendously radioactive waste,” Johnson said.
Where the mine’s proponents choose to mill the uranium is unclear, she said.
Another concern relates to the sparse emergency medical services in the Gateway area, supplied by a volunteer force and one ambulance, Johnson said.
If there is a forest fire, uranium mill tailings will smolder, releasing further danger into the atmosphere, she added.
Late last month, the Mesa County Planning Commission voted 7-0 to approve the proposal.
“I just feel like I can’t let this go without at least a whimper.”
“It’s not safe. It’s never been safe. This will be the fifth uranium boom on the Colorado Plateau, if I remember correctly.”