To mine or not to mine, that is the question. Put aside unsettled discussion that nuclear power is so important we must mine uranium. The decision to mine uranium boils down to one core focus: jobs.
The film “Uranium Drive-In” visits a rural part of western Colorado where job prospects dwindled into a regime of poverty. With low prices for uranium, mines shut down as did surrounding businesses. People in little Colorado towns like Naturita listen to promises from Energy Fuels, a corporation looking to rekindle uranium operations. Hopeful locals can’t help reeling from the environmentalist antics 50 miles away in well-off Telluride.
Is the core focus jobs? Telluride’s Sheep Mountain Alliance emphasizes proper oversight of things like contaminated air, ground, and water concerns. Why does some tourist town auxiliary have to stick its nose where good rural folks are trying to put some food and dignity on their tables?
Although it is fair to say that Uranium companies have ignored, obfuscated, and lied about hazards and human costs in the past, it is also fair to say that regulations and awareness are much improved now. Is it possible that the decision about whether and how much workers should risk their lives is between those struggling townspeople and the company offering the only decent money most of them will ever see?
“Uranium Drive-In” presents a fairly balanced piece of gray Americana. Whatever side you think carries the tone, this documentary draws you into one version of an economic underpinning radiating across contemporary America.
Distilled from conversation with the director of “Uranium Drive-In”
Chuck Jaffee: The people hoping for jobs connected to uranium mining, do you think they feel gambling their lives and health is a decent hand to play or are they mostly in denial about how likely and serious the risks are?
Suzan Beraza: It’s both. It’s a willingness to be a sacrificial lamb in order make their family and community survive. One couple just had a sense of fate about having lost a brother and a father, both young. They talk like it’s just their time to go.
CJ: How fair is it to say that the situation you document is sufficiently remote and sufficiently subject to regulation that outsiders to these local particulars should go bother somebody else?
SB: Somebody needs to hold regulators and the industry’s feet to fire. Without activists, things get sloppy and ignored.
CJ: As a filmmaker, an outsider, how did you get people to accept your presence?
SB: I spent time with them. They came to realize that my intentions were good, that I wanted to tell their story honestly, without twisting their words or bending their ideas.
CJ: Documentaries can take an advocacy stance or act more like detached observation. Where do you see yourself as a filmmaker?
SB: Foremost, I’m a storyteller, even when I’m also an activist. You have to have a story and characters to make a film that speaks to the general public.
CJ: How important do you think nuclear power is to a sustainable future?
SB: I’ve heard strong arguments on both sides. We have this insatiable thirst for energy. I’d like to believe we could power the future with alternative energy. I don’t think we can even with nuclear.