Villagers Dig Their Own Grave

In Hunan province, peasants have made a cottage industry out of mining uranium ore. From The Sydney Morning Herald:

The Communist Party Secretary of Goat River village is sitting on his bed, impatiently twitching his legs, as he unties the knot on an old supermarket shopping bag. Inside there is a metallic grey-black gravel substance, splotched with yellow. Jagged edges have cut small holes through the plastic, leaking a small trail of coarse, grey sand across the bedroom floor. “This is famous for being the best uranium in Hunan province,” the party secretary, Wang Yang*, says. He invites us to lift the bag and it is unexpectedly heavy.

This black-market uranium – probably uraninite, containing up to a third of uranium oxide – has been retrieved from one of 18 abandoned mine shafts in the mountains that tower above the village. A subsidiary of China National Nuclear Corporation had blocked the mine entrances with concrete and dirt when it left about 10 years ago, but local workers immediately blew them open again…

China’s nuclear industry, including the mine at Goat River, arrived with Russian technicians in the early 1950s. It was driven by the revolutionary ambitions of Chairman Mao Zedong and eager peasants from Mao’s home province of Hunan, like Chen Sicai.


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