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Uranium Mining Just Miles from the Grand Canyon National Park!

“I believe that an assumption that uranium mining will have minimal impact on springs, people and ecosystems in the Grand Canyon is unreasonable, and is not supported by past investigations, research, and data.”  
– Testimony of David K. Kreamer, Professor, Department of Geoscience, 
University of Nevada, Las Vegas (07/21/09)

Information on Recent Uranium Mining Proposals in the Grand Canyon Area

  • On June 20, 2011, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar extends a temporary mining ban until December, 2011, and recommends a 20-year ban on new mines on all federal lands in the Grand Canyon Watershed, saying, "Let us be cautious. Let us be patient. Let us be humble." Read the speech here.
  • Spikes in the price of uranium have caused thousands of new uranium claims, dozens of exploratory drilling projects, and movement to open several uranium mines on public lands immediately north and south of Grand Canyon.
  • In December 2007, the Kaibab National Forest unlawfully approved a proposal by VANE Minerals to explore for uranium in the Tusayan Ranger District using a “categorical exclusion,” the least rigorous analysis available to the agency under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The three conservation groups filed and won a lawsuit concerning this proposal in September 2008. As a result, the Forest Service is required to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before allowing any new exploration projects. 
  • In October 2008, the Forest Service initiated an EIS for a Vane Minerals proposal to explore for uranium on up to twenty-five sites on the Tusayan Ranger District. The Draft EIS for the VANE Minerals Uranium Exploratory Drilling Project is on hold until resolution of the proposed mineral withdrawal.
  • Proposed uranium development has provoked litigation, public protests, and opposition from scientists; city officials; county officials, including Coconino County; former Governor Janet Napolitano; state legislators; the Navajo Nation, and the Kaibab Paiute, Hopi, Hualapai and Havasupai tribes; the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California; and the Southern Nevada Water Authority, among others. Statewide polling conducted by Public Opinion Strategies shows Arizonans overwhelming support – by a two-to-one margin – protecting the Grand Canyon area from uranium mining. 
  • There is a legacy of contamination from uranium mining in the Southwest including 520 abandoned uranium mines throughout the Navajo Nation. The Orphan Mine in Grand Canyon National Park continues to leach radioactive waste into Horn Creek, and the Atlas Uranium Mine near Moab, Utah, is leaching radioactive waste into the Colorado River – this will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up.
  • Denison, a Canadian mining company, owns four mines in the greater Grand Canyon area:  the Canyon Mine which is south of the Grand Canyon on the Kaibab National Forest and the Arizona I, Pinenut and Kanab North Mines which are north of the canyon on the Arizona Strip. The environmental assessments for these mines were developed back in the 1980s during the last uranium rush and are seriously outdated. Denison is now working to reopen these mines without doing a new EIS. 
  • Thanks to public actions and support, on July 20, 2009, Secretary Salazar enacted a one-million-acre land segregation order, now in force, and proposed a 20-year mineral withdrawal prohibiting new mining claims and the exploration and mining of existing claims for which valid existing rights have not been established.  As a result, the Bureau of Land Management is developing an environmental assessment to determine if a twenty-year mineral withdrawal is appropriate.
  • Despite the segregation, the Bureau of Land Management has allowed mining to proceed at Arizona 1 Mine just north of Grand Canyon and in December 2009, Denison began removing ore from the mine, trucking it 300 miles to a mill near Blanding, Utah. The Bureau’s failure to update environmental reviews from 1988 provoked litigation from the three conservation groups and the Kaibab-Paiute tribe in the fall of 2009. On April 8, 2010, those same groups filed a motion in federal court in Phoenix, Arizona, for a preliminary injunction to halt mining activities.
  • The uranium produced from the Arizona 1 Mine can be sold to utilities internationally, and some will likely end up with the Korea Electric Power Corp. in South Korea, which owns about 20% of Denison Mines as of April 2009.
  • Profits from the Arizona 1 Mine are estimated at $22.2 million total by owner Denison Mines.
  • The negative impacts of large scale mining development, with the attendant noise pollution, air pollution, and traffic generated by mining activities, could seriously degrade the visitor experiences at Grand Canyon National Park. Grand Canyon National Park generates more than $687 million dollars for the northern Arizona economy each year. Adverse impacts to the Grand Canyon could hurt the area’s tourism and recreation business.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey just released studies that found radioactive contamination in every “reclaimed” uranium mine that was sampled. These initial findings confirm that mining uranium within Grand Canyon watersheds risks permanently polluting groundwater. Surface soil samples taken from a mine within the Park and other mines along its perimeter showed contamination. Samples taken from water sumps below mining shafts were highly radioactive, with levels at one site exceeding legal limits by more than 1,000 times.
  • Last year, Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) re-introduced H.R.644 Grand Canyon Watershed Protection Act, legislation that bans the establishment of new mining claims on approximately one million acres of public lands bordering Grand Canyon National Park. 
  • Commenting on the legislation, the previous Grand Canyon Superintendent, Steve Martin, said: “There should be some places that you just do not mine. Uranium is a special concern because it is both a toxic heavy metal and a source of radiation. I worry about uranium escaping into the local water, and about its effect on fish in the Colorado River at the bottom of the gorge, and on the bald eagles, California condors and bighorn sheep that depend on the Canyon’s seeps and springs. More than a third of the canyon’s species would be affected if water quality suffered.”
  • In February, 2011, a Draft Environmental Impact Statement studying the protection of 1 million acres of public land around Grand Canyon National Park from new uranium mining was released. Conservationists and tribal leaders hailed the move, citing thousands of new mining claims threatening Grand Canyon’s watersheds, fragile seeps and springs, American Indian sacred sites, critical wildlife habitat and the region’s tourism-based economy.

We still have a lot of work to do!  To find out what you can do to express support for the mineral withdrawal and the Watershed Protection Act, please contact Alicyn Gitlin at (928) 774-6514 or alicyn.gitlin@sierraclub.org

"Our view: Antiquated 1872 law puts our state treasure and other parks at risk. There is no place more sacred to Arizonans than the Grand Canyon. However, it is at risk."  - Arizona Daily Star (02/21/08)

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