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FRESNO, Calif. (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — Uranium is the stuff of nuclear fuel for power plants and atom bombs.

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It increasingly is showing in drinking water systems in major farming regions of the U.S. West — a natural though unexpected byproduct of irrigation, drought and the overpumping of natural underground water reserves.

An Associated Press investigation in California’s central farm valleys — along with the U.S. Central Plains, among the areas most affected — found authorities are doing little to inform the public at large of the risk.

Government authorities say long-term exposure to uranium can damage kidneys and raise cancer risks.

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Entities ranging from state agencies to tiny rural schools are scrambling to deal with hundreds of tainted public wells.

A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey confirms a vast amount of of uranium underground in Texas. Researchers have reportedly found a 60-million-ton concentration of unmined uranium oxide embedded in sandstone under the Texas Coastal Plain.

While some are extolling the nuclear power possibiltles others are wary. A reports by scientists at the University of Texas is questioning the long-term safety of one method of storing nuclear waste, suggesting the waste could erode through rock salt deposits and, potentially, into groundwater.

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