It's the new Texas gold run Ã¢â¬" the search for uranium.
Just a pound of it brings top dollar on the market and could help to wean the United States off its foreign oil dependence. However, opponents say it could threaten the environment around San Antonio.
The exploration is on in South Texas, fueled by a 700 percent surge in the price of energy. Only this time, it's not oil Ã¢â¬" it's uranium. And not everyone is thrilled with the boom.
Just next door, a third-generation family farm has its chores, like keeping the livestock fed and watered.
"Always have more than what you can possibly do in a day," Craig Duderstadt said.
Drinking water, the Duderstadts say, shouldn't become a chore.
"Things aren't like they used to be. Used to never even think when you made a glass of tea, when you turn the shower on, stick your face up in the water. You think about it now," Luann Duderstadt said.
The Duderstadts are concerned about their new neighbor Ã¢â¬" Uranium Energy Corporation Ã¢â¬" leasing some 2,000-acres of open ranchland and drilling more than five dozen test wells.
The Duderstadts say theirs is a fear based on studies that link health risks to nearby uranium mining. They are having their wells tested, creating a baseline of what's in the water. Insurance, they say, against what they fear in the future Ã¢â¬" contamination.
"If they do decide to mine over there, we won't be able to live here. I would not feel safe living here. It's only a quarter of a mile as the crow flies," Luann Duderstadt said.
"The industry will make promises about operating in a pristine condition. The industry doesn't, and the citizens are left with the cleanup later," attorney Sandra McKenzie said.
In-situ mining uses water to free up uranium from its deposits. It's then drawn up to the surface and collected. The wastes Ã¢â¬" the arsenic, radium, and other heavy metals Ã¢â¬" are then pumped back down into an underground storage area. Doing it this way eliminates the large piles of toxic byproducts that South Texas has seen decades before.
A government marker resembling a tombstone rests where some 7 millions tons of radioactive waste Ã¢â¬" the byproduct of uranium mining Ã¢â¬" is buried. Abandoned buildings, uranium mills and warning signs are the legacy left behind from the first time uranium was dug up near Goliad County in the 1970s.
It was the death of cattle that first alerted authorities of the dangers of radioactive waste, which scientists traced to contaminated creeks from which the animals drank. However, this time around it's not just surface water, but the Gulf Coast Aquifer that concerns residents.
The mining company says despite drilling through the aquifer to the uranium below it, there will be no mixing with the drinking water.
"We're monitoring above, below and surrounding our ore body," said Harry Anthony, with Uranium Energy Corporation. "There's never been a well Ã¢â¬" public or private Ã¢â¬" contaminated by this process."
Others are skeptical.
"You can't be assured that it's going to stay in the formation that you're mining," said Art Dohmann, with the Goliad County Groundwater Conservation District. "It may move into another formation, that you're not even monitoring."
"You're probably getting more radiation watching your television set then if you came out here and worked in our facility," Anthony said.
When it comes to profiting from its search for this alternative fuel, the mining company admits it's a gamble but says it's a worthy one.
"One pound of uranium could supply the electrical needs of a general household for about two years," Anthony said.
But for some, it's a gamble on their health, and that of their aquifer.
"San Antonio is looking for water in Goliad and Victoria. And if our water is polluted here, or not only polluted but reduced because of the mining activities, that's less that we can share with the urban areas," McKenzie said.
"We have children and grandchildren, and we couldn't take the risk Ã¢â¬" no matter how safe they try to convince us that this would be," Luann Duderstadt said.
Uranium Energy Corporation is seeking permits to operate. The company estimates there's 5 million pounds of uranium to recover there. That's enough to satisfy Goliad County's energy needs for nearly 4,000 years.
- 182 Health
- 183 Environment