Mining, Nuclear Power, and Parks in the Balance

Ratcliffe Power Plant, Nottinghamshire U.K.; Alan Zomerfeld Photographer

The Ratcliffe Nuclear Power Plant, Nottinghamshire U.K. As worldwide demand for clean nuclear power increases, mining claims for uranium and other material have boomed in the western United States. Many of these claims are being staked very close to the sensitive areas just outside of national parks. This has led to a plea for updated mining laws, which in present condition have remained nearly unchanged since 1872.

You may have heard, the earth is warming up. How do we keep it from overheating? The consensus seems to be, stop using fossil fuels like coal and gas for power, and switch to clean renewables like wind, solar, and increasingly nuclear. Speculators have positioned themselves to take advantage of this new clean energy demand, and our national parks may be at risk with nuclear power.

High prices for uranium and other metals sparked by growing worldwide demand has helped fuel a surge in mining claims, some very close to national parks. According to the report, "Mining Law Threatens Grand Canyon, Other National Treasures", mining interests and speculators have staked 815 claims within five miles of Grand Canyon National Park, 805 of them since January 2003. At Death Valley, there are nearly 1,700 claims within 5 miles, and at Arches the total is 869. Across the West, more than 50,000 claims were staked from last September to this May alone. Claims in Colorado and Utah have jumped more than 200 percent since 2003.

The close proximity of mining claims to parks is worrisome. The source of the threat is an antiquated federal statute that remains fundamentally unchanged since it was signed by Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. The law provides special status to mining on many public lands, almost always giving it priority over every other form of recreation and conservation.

The 1872 mining law allows mining companies, foreign and domestic, to take valuable resources from public lands without taxpayer compensation, unlike oil, gas and coal industries that have been paying royalties to the federal treasury since the 1920s. In addition, estimates indicate taxpayers will need to pay $32 billion or more to clean up toxic waste released by the industry. According to the report, one claim on the north side of Grand Canyon could involve helicopters hauling extracted radioactive material through an air-space already crowded with commercial tourist overflights of the park.

"Our national parks are threatened by a law written before the light bulb was invented," said Jane Danowitz, Director of the Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining. "The surge of new claims within a stone's throw of the Grand Canyon and other national treasures should serve as a wake-up call to Congress that it's high time to modernize this antiquated law."

The producers of this study, the Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining and the Environmental Working Group, are working with Congressman Nick Rahall to reform this ancient mining law. Rahall is seeking to protect sensitive areas from mining claims, as well as add cleanup provisions for abandoned mines.

On the Web -
New York Times : Unchanged (for the Worse) Since 1872
Yahoo! News : Uranium boosts mining claims increase

Related -
Pombo's Proposal: Mining on Parks' Doorsteps?