At an “open hearing” held at Rocky Mountain National Park today, Colorado U.S. Sen. Mark Udall repeated his support of a national energy plan that would increase use of nuclear power as a way to combat global warming. Udall and U.S. Sen. John McCain blitzed the park this morning, taking a brief tour while reporters trailed along in a bus. Photographers snapped shots of the men gathered with park personnel around one of the state’s millions of red-brown lodge-pole pine trees. The trees, which color whole mountainsides across Colorado, are dying from beetle infestation brought by warming temperatures.
Udall is a strong proponent of the state’s New Energy sector and is seen as a friend to the green movement in the state. His advancement of nuclear power, however, has alarmed environmentalists, who see the risks posed by uranium mining and nuclear power plant construction as far outweighing any benefits to be derived from expanding the contemporary nuclear industry.
Keith Hay, energy advocate for Denver-based Environment Colorado, has argued against the inclusion of nuclear power as a part of any clean-energy discussion. Hay told the Colorado Independent in May that there was “a strong push by southern Democrats to include nuclear and clean coal in the renewable energy standard” but that environmentalists thought any such tack was misguided at best.
“Anyone who has seen the front end of uranium mining for nuclear knows that it is in no way clean.”
Udall falls into a group of green leaders turned by the climate change debate into nuclear supporters.
Stewart Brand, the famous founder of the environmentalist Whole Earth Catalog, made a splash in 2007 by endorsing nuclear power. He claimed that the problem of learning to deal with deadly radioactive nuclear waste was a more acceptable problem to pass on to future generations than was global warming.
But Brand was taken to task by detractors who ran the numbers. Groups such as TreeHugger and the Pembina Institute found that the cost and carbon generated in uranium mining, milling, refining, conversion and fuel fabrication are extremely high, to say nothing of the costs and carbon generated in erecting new nuclear power plants.
Colorado is one of five uranium-producing states in the West and has a long history of producing weapons-grade uranium. A recent boom in mining claims, which has waned a bit in recent months following a drop in prices, has focused mostly on states such as Utah and Arizona, where activists have been fighting new claims near national parks, including the Grand Canyon, Arches and Canyonlands.
Earlier this month, McCain led a congressional junket to the Grand Canyon that included Udall and former Colorado senator and now Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Salazar recently called a timeout on new uranium mining claims on public lands near the Grand Canyon while the administration considers withdrawing up to 1 million acres of national forest from potential uranium mining. The timeout also comes as Congress considers revamping a national mining law put in place in 1872. A revised version would provide hard-rock mining royalties and create a fund for pollution cleanup.
Several uranium mining claims have been filed near the proposed Dolores River Canyon Wilderness Area along the high desert cliffs of a river known for the scenic rafting and kayaking that runs from the San Juan Mountains to the border of Utah.
The nuclear-energy industry is gaining some traction in Colorado, not just among those like Udall seeking to combat climate change, but also among those who envision nuclear plants powering the oil shale industry on Colorado’s Western Slope.