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The numbers, released in 2011 as part of an ongoing EPA effort to assess uranium mine sites, are part of the framework for the debate over whether uranium mining is safe in the region and whether it should continue.

As often happens when there’s disagreement about the use of federal lands, the fate of the leasing program ended up in court.

Between 19, southwest Colorado produced about 7.2 million pounds of uranium.

Pursuing mine reclamation could potentially employ more people than the mining itself, Thurston said.Even at inactive mines, floods could release harmful radiation into the Dolores River, EPA cautioned in its 2011 analysis.For starters, the scattered piles of waste rock need to be covered with soil and planted with native vegetation.That reduces weathering and helps prevent fugitive emissions to the air that are the most likely source of exposure for people hiking or working nearby.She said mine operators should also be held accountable for managing water flows on their lands to make sure none of the pollution reaches nearby streams or ponds.

Using berms to direct flows and settling ponds on the mine tracts are simple measures that would prevent radioactive pollution from reaching rivers, she explained.

When you look at a map showing the density of abandoned uranium mines in the West, a slice of southwestern Colorado stands out like a little glowing core, with the highest concentration of uranium mines in the country clustered along the wild canyon country Dolores River.

Much to the dismay of environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists, mining at some of those sites could resume any time now that the U. Department of Energy last month extended a leasing program covering 25,000 acres in the area.

But those rules have never really been enforced, he said.

Thurston said it wouldn’t take all that much to do basic cleanups that could reduce the risk of accidental exposure to radiation.

Those sediments could end up settling down in deeper pools and in river-bottom silt, potentially to the detriment of water bugs and plants that form the basis of the food chain.