I was going through the headlines, just waiting for something to drag me out of my lethargy, and it happened. The New York Times posted a headline reading “Uranium Exploration Near Grand Canyon”, and that excited my first bit of exercise for the day; the hair stood up on the back of my neck.
What an outrage! But, before going on, I must say it isn’t the first time they’ve mined uranium in the Kaibab National Forest, near the Grand Canyon. That stopped when the price of uranium plummeted more than two decades ago.
Now, with the resurgence of interest in building new reactors across the country, the miners and prospectors are out again. Which I find rather interesting since the United States and Russia just signed an agreement allowing Russia to sell uranium to the United States. I gotta think about that one.
But, as we speak, according to the New York Times, more than 1,000 mining claims have been staked in the Kaibab forest, many as close as three miles from a popular lookout at the canyon.
The Forest Service has dominion over the forest, and it’s reported they approved the claims after limited public notice to local officials, environmental groups and tribal governments. Then, to add insult to injury, there was no public hearing on the matter. How arrogant can one get? Then I remember, this is still the Bush administration.
In allowing companies to drill exploratory wells, the Forest Service did not require an environmental assessment, saying the drilling will take less than a year and, may not lead to mining.
The Coconino County, AZ Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to block new uranium mines, asking the federal government to, “withdraw large sections of land immediately north and south of the national park from mineral leasing.” Residents are well aware of the dangers involved, citing cancers suffered by former uranium workers and their families. Trucks and trains laden with uranium pose a risk to the environment, they say, and mining could contaminate the aquifers and streams in northern Arizona.
The Kaibab National Forest spokeswoman on this issue, Barbary McCurry, said her agency “had little choice but to allow the drilling under the 1872 mining law that governs hard-rock mining claims. The exploratory drilling is pretty minimal,” she said, adding, “Our obligation is issuing a report on the claims and their possible effects.”
McMurray also pointed out that if prospectors found uranium and sought a permit to mine, then the government would begin a full environmental analysis and environmental impact statement.
What do you think? I’m mad as hell about this. First of all, there’s a 136-year-old mining law that’s in serious need of rewriting, and just the thought of uranium mines operating within three miles of one of our national treasures is incomprehensible.
Consider this scenario: You’ve had a great vacation at the canyon, the family is in the SUV and you’re headed south on that two-lane highway that seems to go forever. Suddenly, you come upon a slow-moving truck loaded with newly-mined soil containing uranium. You have the windows down, it’s a beautiful day, but some dust is blowing off the truck, radioactive dust, and you can’t pass because of oncoming traffic. Roll up the windows, don’t take a deep breath, turn on the AC and try to get around that truck as soon as possible. And you may find more of the same as you travel south to Williams, AZ where you can get on I-40, where you may find more uranium-laden trucks. Some vacation…
I’m not saying this is going to happen tomorrow or anytime soon (hopefully never), but mining of uranium should never be allowed in the Grand Canyon area. Never.
Here we are, in an election year with a lame-duck president apparently doing all he can to add more insult to the world in which we live, and I doubt any rewriting of the 1872 mining law will take place for some time to come, if ever.
What can we do? I’ve got this lump in the pit of my stomach as I write, and I feel very sad.