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Uranium Mining in the Grand Canyon and the Colorado Plateau: What's the Big Deal - Part 2

Uranium mine currently in operation 6 miles from the rim of the Grand Canyon.Uranium mine currently in operation 6 miles from the rim of the Grand Canyon.


Fast forward to early March of 2011. At the time, I was the city manager of the City of Sedona, and the Grand Canyon Trust approached me and requested that the City adopt a resolution in support of a twenty-year withdrawal of a million acres surrounding the Grand Canyon from mining activities in order to protect the Canyon against future mining operations.

The Grand Canyon Trust was formed in 1985 to protect and restore the Grand Canyon and the Colorado Plateau. Their request to the City of Sedona was triggered by an action that Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar was considering, to withdraw over one million acres of land surrounding the Grand Canyon from mining activities for a twenty-year period of time. In 2009, Salazar had issued a two-year segregation order limiting new mining claims and the Department of the Interior spent the following two years evaluating a twenty-year withdrawal, and Salazar was requesting public input on the proposed action.

Since 2003, thousands of new mining claims have been filed north, south, east and west of the Grand Canyon and most of the new claims were within ten miles of the rim of the Grand Canyon. In 2005, the price per pound for uranium ore was $7 and by 2011, the price for the ore stood at over $50. The steep rise in the value of uranium ore had triggered an explosion of new mining claims around the Grand Canyon. At the time, the request of the Grand Canyon Trust seemed to be a no-brainer decision. After my first-hand experience with the irreparable damage to the groundwater feeding Horn Creek, caused by the Orphan Mine uranium operation, I thought that no one in their right mind could possibly be opposed to this resolution.  

I approached the Mayor and told him that the City needed to get this resolution on a City Council agenda and adopted before the federal comment period expired in April 2011.  But, he had a different idea. In his opinion, in order to be fair to both sides, he decided that he wanted to invite a representative from the mining industry to the meeting along with representatives from the Grand Canyon Trust, to more or less debate the issues, then let the City Council make up its own mind. In fairness to the Mayor, I realized that he was probably correct. However, the necessary outcome of this process seemed obvious to me, and I couldn't imagine any other outcome than adoption of the resolution. But the City Council needed to hear both sides of the story and make its own decision.
Pitchblende uranium orePitchblende uranium ore photo courtesy of Wikipedia.org.So, Roger Clark, Air and Energy Program Director at the Grand Canyon Trust was present at the meeting to speak on behalf of the Grand Canyon Trust. Also present was Pam Hill, Executive Director of the American Clean Energy Resources Trust (ACERT), whose intended purpose is to educate the public and elected officials about their belief that continued uranium exploration, mining, and processing around the Grand Canyon is not only necessary, but safe. Kris Hefton, Chief Operating Officer of Vane Materials was at the meeting as well.  Vane Materials is a Tucson-based company that provides mining and exploration services and has been active in uranium mining in Arizona. Hefton even brought a chunk of uranium ore about the size of a large softball to the City Council meeting to demonstrate how harmless it was to humans (and no, I'm not joking).

After about an hour of Clark explaining the reasons why uranium mining around the Grand Canyon was a bad idea, and Hill and Hefton discussing the importance of uranium mining to the economy and clean energy, and the safety of mining operations to the environment and surrounding communities, the Sedona City Council voted 6-1 to adopt the resolution supporting Secretary of Interior Salazar’s proposal to withdraw one million acres of federal public lands from mining for twenty years. Of course, I couldn't be happier.  

Eventually, a large and diverse group of organizations, including chambers of commerce, environmental organizations, tourism-related businesses, and state, county, and local government organizations also adopted similar resolutions and statements of support. Finally, in early 2012, Secretary Salazar issued the withdrawal.

So, maybe you're thinking: "Great! This ends the threat to the Canyon from uranium mining and everything will be fine." Not really. There are a number of existing serious threats posed by uranium mining operations and processing facilities around the Grand Canyon and the Colorado Plateau that are not covered by Salazar’s 2012 action. Let’s visit some of these threats.



Continued next week: The Canyon Mine and other uranium mining operations threatening the Grand Canyon and the Colorado Plateau.

Learn more about the Grand Canyon Trust.

Facts About Uranium

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uraninite

Energy.gov: http://www.energy.gov/ne/nuclear-fuel-facts-uranium

Tags: uranium mining

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