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Uranium is creeping into Nebraska water supplies, worrying experts

Yanqi Xu

Marty Stange kept adding the worrisome maps to a file folder on his desk. Hastings’ veteran environmental supervisor gathered the maps from a 200-square-mile area surrounding the city, aerial photos marked with dots whose size indicates how much uranium is found in the water supply... Hastings’ own wells – those used to supply drinking water to city residents – saw significant jumps in uranium and radiation, too, levels nearing the limit set for safe drinking water.... Weber and her team suspect nitrate, at levels near the 10-parts-per-million legal limit, releases uranium into the state’s groundwater, which provides drinking water for roughly 85% of Nebraskans... Nebraska’s median nitrate level has doubled since 1978, in part because of limited regulations from state and local governments... How much uranium ends up in water hinges on several factors: geology, the water’s alkalinity, pH and what other chemicals exist in the water... Pumping water out of the ground for irrigation, drinking and other use can introduce oxygen and nitrate into the aquifer, Snow explained. Nitrate, largely from commercial fertilizers and manure, may then prompt the release of uranium by assisting in converting solid uranium to a state more poised to jump off the aquifer sediments and dissolve into water... It costs Grand Island roughly a million dollars each year to remove uranium from its water supply.