The Grand Canyon Area is Next for Uranium Exploration

grand-canyon-mather1.jpgI 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.

1 thought on “The Grand Canyon Area is Next for Uranium Exploration”

  1. A) Write to your Congresspeople and State Senators. Request that they work to repeal or amend the “Mining Law of 1872 (May 10, 1872), as amended (30 U.S.C. 22-54)”. There are three Representatives who are working on a bill which would reform the archaic law; they are Nick Rahall (D-WV), Christopher Shays (R-CT), and Jay Inslee (D-WA). Ask your Congresspeople to co-sponsor the Rahall-Shays-Inslee bill.

    B) Transportation of uranium ore and other fissionable materials cannot take place in open-container vehicles. All such materials *must* be transported in closed containers, per U.S. Department of Transportation regulations at Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations. These containers also have to be impervious to radiation. Yes, there are always a few who try to skirt the law, but we aren’t talking about illegal surreptitious dumping of a few barrels of toxic waste; this is truck traffic, and law enforcement agencies know where it all comes from and where it is going. While it is possible to bribe everyone in the chain, it is almost-certainly cheaper to just follow the law. I seriously doubt that you will ever be driving along behind a truck carrying uranium ore and have dust from the ore blow onto your car. Please do your homework (the above citations, in both A) and B), are easily found on the Web) before writing emotion-laden diatribes. Things are bad enough without waving red flags; there are enough urban legends on without adding more to the pile. My feeling is that you damaged an otherwise well-written article with that “scenario paragraph”.

    C) I *do* find it curious that there is a call to re-open uranium mining in the U.S. at the same time that we have opened the door to Russian fissionables. This is a classic “the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing” situation, and is a hallmark of Washington, D.C., no matter who is in the White House nor who is in control of Congress. When you write to your Representatives in D.C., you might also ask them if they are aware of this dichotomy. There is *one* thing to be said, however, for mining uranium in the U.S.; our environmental laws are almost-certainly better than Russian ones are. And trucking uranium ore a hundred kilometers or so is definitely better than shipping it several thousand klicks overseas: as if our oceans don’t already have enough problems. One hopes that the ships which would carry the stuff have undergone the latest testing and safety upgrades, but if you’ve ever spent time on board a ship that isn’t a cruise vessel (I have), you’ll know that even the best of them get a little leaky and creaky over time; salt water is pretty corrosive. If we need uranium ore (and we *do* need it; anyone who has read my previous comments knows that I support nuclear power generation, they know why I support it and they know that I believe [and my believe is backed by my knowledge and education] that nuclear power is far safer than most other means of mass-generation of electricity), I think I’d rather see us mine it “in house” than bring it in from across the globe. It’s a matter of degree. The fact is that it really shouldn’t make a difference how long the path is from mine to mill; if the containers are built correctly, you should be able to build your house with them, and never be affected by the radiation inside. But in practical reality, as the saying goes, “Feculence Happens.” The shorter the path, the less chance for human (or even natural) screw-ups.

    D) Of course, I really don’t think that we need to mine new uranium at all – there are legitimate, if less-economical, options – but that’s another issue entirely.

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