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Creative Commons Edubucher
Quelccaya Ice Cap, June 2010, by Edubucher, CC-BY-SA-3.0 via wikipedia

The Quelccaya icecap, the largest tropical icecap in the world is totally surrounded by Open Pit Uranium Mining Concessions (most, or all, held by Canadian Macusani Yellowcake). Their web site now claims that they hold over 1,000 km2 of uranium mining concessions. That is over 386 square miles, 100,000 hectares, 247,105 acres proposed for open pit uranium mining, in the homeland of the indigenous Quechua people; heartland of alpaca herding-farming, home to art work dating from 8,000 BC to Colonial Times, which documents the importance of the Alpaca and its ancestors to the people of the Macusani-Corani Area for over 10,000 years.
Photo by Donkeet, CC-BY-SA-3.0, via wikipedia

Quelccaya lies to the west of Macusani and Corani. On April 4, 2013, it was called a “Rosetta Stone” by Dr. Lonnie Thompson of Ohio State U, who, with his wife, Ellen, has spent decades studying it. Ice cores, from the Quelccaya Ice Cap, provide a year by year “Rosetta Stone” key, over an almost 1,800 year period, with which to compare histories from the world’s tropics and subtropics. This allows researchers to better understand both historical and today’s climate changes. http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/icerosetta.htm

Quelccaya ice cap is back in the news, due to new research by Dr. Thompson and others. What is still not in the news is the nearby proposed open pit uranium, lead and silver mines, which not only endanger the ice cap, but would destroy the ancient rock art, which is supposed to be protected. The most advanced project seems to be the Bear Creek Silver mine, which is actually a silver, lead, and zinc mine. The Canadian Bear Creek Mining company sued and won, regarding another Peruvian mining concession, alleging that the company’s civil rights had been violated, because the people didn’t want an open pit mine polluting their drinking water! [1] In today’s world, foreign mining companies have rights, but people and the environment have no rights, it seems.

Reuters has one of the most beautifully written pieces that they’ve published, which discusses the recent findings that the silver processing method brought by Spain to the Americas, “belched lead dust and other pollutants“, which reached as far as 500 miles (800 km) away to the Quelcayya Ice Cap. How far then will uranium and lead dust from the proposed open pit uranium, lead and silver mines, on the Macusani-Corani Plateau fly? And, with what impact on the people, alpacas, endangered species, and the ice cap?
Peruvian ice cap harbors evidence of conquistadors’ avarice
Posted:Mon, 09 Feb 2015 18:39:48 -0500
WASHINGTON, Feb 9 (Reuters) – After vanquishing the Inca Empire with superior weapons and a touch of treachery, the Spanish conquistadors sought to satisfy their lust for riches by forcing multitudes of native people to toil in silver mines in dire conditions that claimed many lives.

The new study, found that “…atmospheric emissions of a variety of toxic trace elements in South America started to have a widespread environmental impact around A.D. 1540 … when colonial metallurgy began to pollute the Andean atmosphere.” In “Widespread pollution of the South American atmosphere predates the industrial revolution by 240 y.” Chiara Ugliettia Paolo Gabriellia, Colin A. Cooke, Paul Vallelonga, and Lonnie G. Thompson http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/02/03/1421119112

Unfortunately, conditions have improved little. If anything they are worse, with a shift to mechanized open pit mining. At least one mining company has made cheap promises, such as a Fairgrounds for Alpaca, in the Macusani-Corani region. What good is this, if there is no land for the Alpaca to graze and they are poisoned by uranium and lead? Our research on the topic, two years ago, found that the government and Catholic Church abandoned the area, and only a charity or two help the poor, leaving them at the mercy of whatever they can get from the mining companies. The bitter winter in 2013, where many alpaca died and roofs collapsed, could but have exacerbated their desperation.[2] Moreover, the modern-day mining conquistadors, still full of avarice and still lusting for easy riches, have sped up the laying to waste of the environment, with mechanized surface mining, and continue to disrespect the indigenous peoples, especially in the colonial settler states of the Americas, including the US and Canada, along with Australia. African leaders destroy their own environment, with outside help. Putin and friends continue to lay waste to the lands of Russia’s indigenous peoples, as well.

Culture or Only Destruction?

While the European ancestors of most mining CEOs were most probably flinging the contents of chamber pots from village windows to land on hapless passersby, the Peruvian Quechua-Incas had basic plumbing in the Middle Ages. Even the Alpacas use communal dung heaps, likely due to 5,000 years of training by the Quechua. The indigenous inhabitants of Skara Brae in Orkney, Scotland, another area which has been targeted for uranium mining, and has been subjected to radionuclide pollution from nearby Dounreay, had water and a toilet in each house over 5,000 years ago. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skara_Brae

Now all, or almost all, uranium mining concessions belong to Macusani Yellowcake. At the time that our maps were made, there were 900 km2 proposed as open pit (surface) uranium mining and tailings dams. Now Macusani Yellowcake claims over 1,000 km2, which is over 247,105 acres, 100,000 hectares, or over 386 square miles of devastation! One acre is a lot; one hectare is more. This is 247,105 acres and 100,000 ha. This excludes the Bear Creek Silver-Lead mining concession. We aren’t talking here of underground workings, which leave the surface in place for grazing, and which could leave the rock art in place, but rather destruction of the surface, for a very low grade deposit.
Map 1 of Macusani Mining Area v2
Overlay Ice YellowcakeQuelccaya Ice Cap 2010

How would uranium mining impact the Quelccaya icecap?

What difference does surrounding Quelccaya icecap with uranium mining make? Much! Most obvious is that open pit uranium mining would make it inaccessible and/or unsafe for those who would want to visit as tourists or for research. Less obvious is the impact that it will have on speeding up the melting of this icecap and its component glaciers. How can this be so? It’s got to do with reflectivity, called “albedo”. Albedo for fresh snow is about 0.9 and for charcoal, about 0.04, with deep shadowed cavities approaching zero. The presence of mining dust can lower glacier surface reflectivity (albedo) significantly, with an increase in melting (ablation). Additionally, the fine dust can be moved by surface meltwater and reduce albedo on nearby cleaner ice surfaces. The total impact of the fine dust on melting of the glacier surface would be higher because this redistribution changes the surface morphology. See: http://iahs.info/redbooks/a264/iahs_264_0043.pdf
The predominant trade winds for this area would be east to west, meaning that dust from most of the mining will fall upon the icecap, and perhaps into nearby Lake Sibinacocha (and other smaller lakes), which lies to the west. In El Nino years when the wind flips directions then dust from the prospects between Quelccaya and Macusani will fall upon the inhabitants of Corani and Macusani and anything to the east.

Uranium dust has a special characteristic, which no one speaks of, besides radioactivity, and that is its pyrophoric nature. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a notice dealing with the pyrophoricity in the context of transportation in May 1980: “From time to time NRC has received reports of transportation incidents involving shipment of uranium in a pyrophoric form (capable of sponataneous ignition). These forms generally include finely divided metallic saw turnings and chips, sawdust, and abrasive saw sludge. Moisture…is usually present on the finely divided material, contributing to its reactivity…Although the exact reaction kinetics of finely divided pyrophoric metals is not well understood, past industry experience has indicated that extreme care must be exercised in the proper storage and transportation of such pyrophoric forms of uranium so as to preclude spontaneous ignition. /Fires resulting are extremely difficult to extinguish using such conventional fire extinguishing agents as CO2, foam, and dry chemical. Water, if used in very large volumes or by total immersion can be effective. Water used as a fine spray, however, can be extremely dangerous, actually causing a more violent reaction due to the radiolytic breakdown of the water from the extremely high temperatures. Further, such fires also create an inhalation hazard due to the disperson of airborne uranium as particulate matter.http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/gen-comm/info-notices/1980/in80025.html

Although the spontaneous combustion risk of uranium mining dust might be less at high altitudes, landing on the damp ice and snow would seemingly enhance the risk. It also would seem that any burning dust would melt the icecap even faster than regular dust. Another governmental document discusses the risk of disposal of uranium mining wastes due to its potential flammability. This video shows the non-spontaneous combustion of uranium when stroked over a metal file: http://youtu.be/6o72Ya56SQk

Does it matter if this glacier melts or melts faster?

Yes, both for the communities and for the world. Firstly for the world, icecaps reflect heat back away from earth, so without them more heat will stay on earth. They reflect about 80% of the heat back into space. For all of those who think about going to sit on top of a glacier on a hot sunny day, the cooling effect should come as no surprise.

According to the USGS, they have a very direct effect on the water cycle and on weather patterns. Icecaps, glaciers, and permanent snow account for about 69.7% of fresh water in the world. They are of critical importance in providing water supply for the villages below them. Without them the streams will dry up and there will be no water in the drier parts of the year. The mining itself also uses up water. Accelerating melting means that the water will run out more quickly.

As well, the melting water will take the radioactive and other contaminants (e.g. lead) more quickly down the mountain, into the streams (and aquifers) of the villages and ultimately into the Amazon. According to Thompson (2007), as the Qori Kalis glacier (of Quelccaya ice cap) “retreated, a massively deep lake formed at its margin, high up a valley it has been contained by a natural dam.” In March of 2006, “a massive chunk of the glacier broke off, tumbled downhill and splashed into that lake, sending a wall of water over the dam and cascading down into the valley.http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/qorigone.htm If the dam gives way totally, it could be catastrophic.

Accelerating melting means an acceleration of these processes and the increased risk of catastrophic failure of either a natural dam or of part of the mountain slope, which can send water and/or debris downhill washing away everything in its path. Open pit mining around the base of the mountain and of the edges of the glacier itself will increase slope instability and can, in and of itself, cause catastrophic slope failure, i.e. a major avalanche which can send water, ice and rocks hurling and destroying all in its path. The dynamite used could set this off, and even the constant movement of heavy mining trucks can do so. Mining means tailings dams, which can also fail.
Profile Corani to QuelccayaProfile Macusani to Quelccaya
The removal of vegetation increases the risk of slope failure because the vegetation helps to absorb excess water and release it gradually, the roots help hold the soil together and vegetation can provide natural barriers to landslides. There have been many historic instances of this, including the April 29, 1903, Frank Slide in Alberta Canada (112 years ago).[3]

In this case the mountain was unstable due to mining and freezing water in cracks expanded initiating the slide. The landslide roared down a valley, through town and up the other side of the valley, killing 66 people. Another mining related disaster was the 1680 landslide of Plurs (then Switzerland and now Italy), which killed between 1,000 and 2,500 people. It was caused by weakening of the lower parts of the mountain by careless mining and water infiltration. An estimated 1,000 people were killed in a gigantic landslide that destroyed the Peruvian mining village of Chungar after a mountain lake burst its banks, in March 1971. In April of 1974, 750 people were presumed dead after similar landslides wiped out two more villages high in the Andes. In January of 1962 the edge of a giant glacier on the slopes of an extinct volcano broke apart and hurled down the mountain. The ice bloc weighed about 6 million tons and traveled 9 1/2 miles in 7 minutes. It destroyed 9 towns and 7 small villages. 4,000 people and 10,000 farm animals were killed and crops destroyed. Two towns were completely buried under 40 ft. of ice, mud, trees, boulders and other deris. These are but a few examples. They are not infrequent. More recently, in 2013, Rio Tinto owned Kennecott’s Bingham Canyon Open Pit Copper Mine experienced massive landslides. The larger one was the largest non-volcanic landslide to occur in North America.[3]

This is, of course, a seismic zone which means that either tailings dams or natural dams formed by melting glaciers could fail due to an earthquake, inducing landslides and washing radioactive and other waste everywhere. Additionally this whole mining area is a caldera of a dormant or extinct volcano (unfortunately we cannot find its name). Although you can read in wikipedia that there are no active volcanoes in South American between latitudes 3 south and 15 south, this is false. The northernmost volcano which we have found classified as active, in Peru, is the Quimsachata volcano, which is at about latitude 14 south. Quimsachata volcano is much closer to the Quelccaya-Corani-Macusani area (about 50km; 31 miles away), than Quimsachata volcano is to the next closest active volcano (about 90 miles; 145 km away). Researchers believe that the melting of ice caps and glaciers may activate dormant volcanoes. This has to do, in part, with the pressure which the ice exerts on the volcano. For details see: http://pages.uoregon.edu/bindeman/GeyerBindeman.pdf Obviously, this is only a potential problem if the volcano is only dormant and not extinct – something which is not always easy to ascertain.

In addition to uranium mining, there is Bear Creek Mining, which claims to be a silver, lead and zinc concession. This is bad enough, but it seems obvious that if all of the neighboring concessions have uranium, then the Bear Creek concessions would have at least some. The fact that there are no special distinctions between uranium and other mining in Peru makes their mining for uranium more probable. Bearcreek’s CEO, Andrew Swarthout, used to be Exploration Manager for Kennecott Mexico. Kennecott was accused ca 1999 of illegally mining uranium in Mexico. It is not clear if he was there when this happened, however.

Largest Concentration of Art from the Archaic Period in the Americas Endangered by Open Pit Uranium, Lead, Silver Mining

Open pit uranium mining over more than 1,000 km2. Now if that is not crazy enough on its own, it turns out that it will endanger both the Corani-Macusani Rock Art and, as we have seen, the largest tropical icecap in the world: Quelccaya. There has been shockingly little discussion of this. Yet this is big news and a big problem. It is so BIG that we continue to wonder why and how it is not getting much attention.

Bear Creek Mining, which wants to run a silver-lead-zinc open pit mine in the Macusani area, reports having given contributions to help with Alpaca farming. They or another company were to help pay for an Alpaca fairground, too. What good is this if the Alpacas are poisoned and have no place to graze?

The same year that the Rock Art was designated as National Cultural Patrimony by Peru, mining companies started exploring for uranium! No joke! This is too ridiculous: “In 2005, mining companies began exploring the potential to develop operations in the districts where about 90 percent of the rock-art sites are found. Despite designating the sites as national patrimony that same year, the Peruvian government continued to distribute mining rights because the pictographs have not been mapped and a protective zone has yet to be established. Without intervention, open-pit mining will result in the destruction of the Macusani-Corani rock-art sites.http://www.wmf.org/project/macusani-corani-rock-art

With the Corani-Macusani Rock Art, we are not simply talking about encroaching upon and endangering the site. Because we are speaking of proposed open pit (open cast) surface mining over most of the area where the Rock Art exists, we are speaking of actually digging up the entire site!

The rock art is an integral part of the landscape of “rock forests” and caves. Hence, it cannot be moved, as we suspect that the mining companies will suggest. To do mining at Corani-Macusani, will not endanger but will destroy this site, even before it has been thoroughly studied and understood.

A highway was recently completed in the area, which opens up the possibility of eco-tourism and research. Unfortunately, it also facilitates access by the mining companies.

Although we believe that all uranium mining is bad, mining ultra low grade on the Macusani-Corani Plateau makes this project even more ridiculous. This project has nothing but downsides. When they speak of resource size they are speaking of the over 1,000 km2 which they plan to dig up! Their Corachapi Project is the only one with an NI 43-101 “Measured Resource” and 77% of the ore is at 42 ppm (parts per million) uranium. The ppm uranium appear comparable to average volcanic rock or byproducts to copper mining. More recently they acquired Minergia concessions from Cameco, which has Tantamaco reportedly has 332.81 ppm or 0.033% U308. Still a very poor grade. That is zero point zero thirty-three percent. Compare to the Cigar Lake uranium mine at almost 18% U308. We will let the reader see if the property that they acquired from Vena Resources is any better. That uranium mining giant, Cameco, sold its property, instead of buying others, appears indicative of the poor quality of the uranium concessions in this area, now held by Macusani Yellowcake.

What can you do?

Currently the prices of metals, including uranium, has dropped. Hopefully this means that these projects are not moving forward. If people stop buying metallic jewelry and stop using nuclear power, the mining companies will go away.

Don’t invest in mining stocks. Not only is it unethical, but they are subject to speculative booms and busts, where you can lose lots of money. Additionally, many, or most, Penney Stocks seem to exist strictly to take money.

Buy only renewable jewelry made of plant based plastics, hemp, cotton, etc, if you must have jewelry. Don’t buy anymore metallic jewelry. Avoid metal products; recycle metal cans; lids, etc. Although there is better and worse mining, all mining is devastating to the environment and metallic jewelry is not a necessity. Buy alpaca products, preferably from the Macusani, Peru, area.

Most importantly, 2015 is the year to shut down the nuclear industry. No nuclear power stations and no nuclear subs will be no uranium mining. It also means less nuclear waste and fewer radionuclides leaking into the air and water. Radionuclides from Fukushima still being dumped into the Pacific ocean is already too much, as is existing nuclear waste.

Although the nuclear industry slightly pre-dates the testing and dropping of the atomic bombs, 70 years after the first use of atomic bombs, 2015, is a very good year to shut the industry down. Educate friends and family. Spread the word. Make the campaign your own.

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also. (Matthew 19-20, ASV, 1901)
70 Years is Enough Campaign:  Nuclear Energy is Nuclear War Everyday

Notes, References, Resources

The Quelccaya Ice Cap is the largest glaciated area in the tropics. Located in the Cordillera Oriental section of the Andes mountains of Peru, the ice cap is at an average altitude of 5,470 meters (17,950 feet) and spans an area of 44 square kilometers (17 square miles).http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quelccaya_Ice_Cap

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Ana_mine_(Peru)
[2] The only or one of the only charities helping the local people. The web site explains their plight: http://quechuabenefit.org
Peru snow state of emergency extended to more regions” 1 September 2013 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-23916217
Bitter winters for Peru’s alpaca farmers combating climate change: Stud alpacas and mini-reservoirs to irrigate new crops are helping farmers on Peru’s Altiplano to protect their herds in the face of fluctuating weatherhttp://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/dec/24/peru-alpaca-farmers-climate-change

How can they grow hay for alpaca if the surface of the land is a huge open pit uranium, lead and silver mine?

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Slide http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piuro http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bingham_Canyon_Mine http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landslide#Historical_landslides http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2001/ofr-01-0276/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yanawayin_Lake#Landslide http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_landslides http://www.scienceclarified. com/landforms/Faults-to-Mountains/Landslide-and-Other-Gravity-Movements.html
[Last accessed when original articles were written in 2013, with the exception of the Bingham Canyon article, which was accessed today.]

Additional References and Resources
Our original posts on the topic, on which this blog post is based. They are written in a daily log form. They include our original translations from Spanish, which to our knowledge only exist here. References both within and at end. Any references not found in this blog post should be found here in these older posts: https://miningawareness.wordpress.com/2013/04/21/margaret-thatcher-buscores-dale-schultz-macusani-yellowcake-and-the-uranium-poisoning-of-alpacas/ https://miningawareness.wordpress.com/2013/05/04/in-peril-10000-yr-old-rock-art-largest-tropical-ice-cap-and-all-life-due-to-proposed-uranium-other-mining-at-macusani-corani-peru/ https://miningawareness.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/no-bounds-to-stupidity-10000-year-old-rock-art-quelccaya-icecap-andean-communities-and-more-imperilled-by-uranium-other-mining-in-peru-part-iii-of-a-series/