Long sidelined because of safety and health concerns, nuclear power is regaining a prominent place in U.S. energy plans, thanks to worry about climate change stemming from the use of fossil fuels.
And while nuclear power is hailed by its backers as a clean source of energy, its return to prominence is dredging up long-standing fears about radiation hazards.
An example, as reported by The New York Times, is Colorado’s Paradox Valley, a small collection of hamlets with about 2,000 people near the proposed site of a new uranium mill.
If approved next month by Colorado authorities, the Piñon ridge mill will process ore from uranium mines that have been closed for decades. That prospect has deeply divided residents of Paradox Valley and beyond.
“They say it’s going to be different this time around,” said Craig Pirazzi, a member of the Paradox Valley Sustainability Association, which opposes Piñon Ridge. “But our opposition to this proposal is based on the performance of historic uranium mining, because that’s all we have to go on — and that record is not good.”
Nuclear power has been the cause of infamous incidents like the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters, and exposure to uranium and other radioactive substances has caused cancer in mine and mill workers.
Others say the mill, with its 300 jobs, would provide a much needed economic boost, and that the safety concerns are overblown.
“They’re saying not in my backyard — now how big is their backyard?” said George Glasier, who, in addition to being a founder, stockholder, and consultant of Energy Fuels, the company that proposed Piñon Ridge, is also a local rancher.
The debate has broken down largely along geographic and socioeconomic lines, with residents of the wealthy resort town Telluride, roughly an hour from the proposed site of the mill, providing much of the opposition, while residents of small nearby towns like Naturita are more open to the risks.
“People from Telluride don’t have any business around here,” said Michelle Mathews, a school janitor in Naturita and a supporter of the Piñon Ridge proposal. “Not everyone wants to drive to Telluride to clean hotel rooms.”