Should Uranium Mining Be Allowed Outside Grand Canyon National Park?

The U.S. Forest Service has issued exploration permits for a company interested in searching for uranium near Grand Canyon National Park.

Would you avoid a visit to Grand Canyon National Park if you had to drive past a uranium mine to reach the park? That's a timely question in light of the U.S. Forest Service's decision late last year to allow for exploration of the radioactive fuel within a few miles of the park.

A week ago three groups voiced their opinion when they filed a lawsuit to halt the exploration, saying the Forest Service failed to follow National Environmental Policy Act guidelines when it authorized Vane Minerals to drill test holes at up to 39 sites near the Grand Canyon. There were no hearings before the Forest Service approved the permits and no environmental review.

"Grand Canyon simply isn't the place for uranium development," said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiff groups. "Our national treasures deserve better than the calamity of an adjacent industrial zone."

Also challenging the Forest Service's decision are the Sierra Club and the Grand Canyon Trust.

In its defense, the Forest Service has said it has little power to deny uranium development under the 1872 Mining Law.

"The Grand Canyon is facing a massive uranium build-up at its southern boundary," said Sandy Bahr of Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter. "The mining law doesn't negate the Forest Service's duty to conduct detailed environmental and public reviews for new uranium development - and the Grand Canyon deserves at least that much."

On record in opposing the exploration is the Coconino (Arizona) County Board of Supervisors. In unanimously passing a resolution against uranium development close to the national park and its watersheds, the board asked the Arizona congressional delegation to initiate the permanent withdrawal from mining and mineral exploration all federal lands in the Tusayan Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest as well as lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in House Rock Valley.

According to the board, more than 2,000 uranium mining claims have been filed since 2003 in the Tusayan Ranger district. Most of those claims, it adds, are within 10 miles of the park.

"Some places should be off-limits to noise, heavy equipment traffic, drilling, and potential contamination from uranium exploration and drilling; the rim of the Grand Canyon is one of those places," said Dave Gowdey of the Grand Canyon Trust. "Congress should act now to protect the park and its surrounding public lands."

Comments

I am not sure how I feel about this... I have seen the exposed uranium mines in Capitol Reef National Park, which were made previous to the area becoming a National Park, and found it more interesting then scary. I have also seen many mines that quite honestly you would have never known, just driving by, that it was in fact an active mine. It can be done with minimal impact on the environment and on tourism (or it can a chatistrophic wasteland that brings new meaning to the term 'eye sore', on the flip side)
I am interested, however, in why all of the sudden the interest has developed to mine that particular site. We've known it was there since at least the 1970's (well, that's when I learned it was there) so why the interest now? In addition, there are other sites in the area that have an even bigger supply of uranium and are not located near any major tourist mecca's. Why that site? Why now?

No


Marylander,
Oil is 100 a barrel. Nuclear energy is an alternative energy source. If we follow the french model we will have a lot more nuke plants and be less dependent on oil. I wonder if this has something to do with it? The site selection depends on lots of things like grade of ore, ease of extraction and transport and who has the lease. Even solar will demand more mining activity to supply the raw materials necesaary for batterys, cable,etc. We may be in the process of trading oil pumps for open pit mines.
Joe

Yes...we need more nuclear!!

Those who advocate nuclear power as an excellent alternative to oil never seem to recall the issue of nuclear waste. The words "long-term storage" is entirely inadequate to explain what is needed for the used waste any increase of nuclear energy will produce. What are we talking about leaving to the seventh generation?

Perhaps what's really needed isn't a "quick fix" like nuclear energy, which is replacing one bad idea (oil) with another (nuclear). Maybe we need to create a serious, forward-looking energy policy for this nation that will get us out of this mess for the long-term.

In the meantime, mining for uranium is neither efficient nor a boon for the environmental stability of the region. The parks grow more and more isolated from the rest of the land around it and (to touch on Donne) no ecosystem is an island... encroachment usually leads to compromise.

If there isn't any visual polution, damage to the landscape, a threat to the wildlife, and finally if there isn't an increase to the air polution, then I don't see any problem with the mining. It might help put some people back to work. New Mexico, Arizona, and a few other states in the west are in dire need of fresh water, thus another way to restore jobs in that part of America, would be to build more desalination plants. This would be a win for the states needing the water, plus it would help their industry. Maybe this would be one way to keep jobs in America, rather than going to China, India, etc.

Nuclear energy proponents never bring up the waste issue, that's true. Nor do they ever mention the the vulnerability-to-terrorist-attack issue. But what no one EVER brings up about nuclear is the carbon intensity it actually requires.

According to a study by the Oxford Policy Group, nuclear power emits a lot more CO2 than is commonly believed and, more importantly, CO2 emissions from nuclear power will increase over time. This is due to the carbon impact of the entire life-cycle of nuclear power production, including extracting increasingly low-grade uranium ore from the earth's crust (which involves a sequence of physical and chemical processes that use energy and produce CO2), but also, transportation to plants and long-term maintenance of waste.

When the entire life-cycle is considered, in fact nuclear energy's emissions falls somewhere between renewables and fossil fuels (depending on the quality of the ore that is being extracted). It is most certainly NOT a "clean energy" source, as industry has already brainwashed many of you into believing, and parroting here. Go here to obtain the Oxford report: http://www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/publications/briefing_papers/
secureenergy.php.

There is no easy way out of global warming, folks. Instead of crying for more nuclear -- itself a dirty source of fuel -- start looking at your own energy consumption -- your SUVs, your McMansions, your long commute to work, and your diet. Making the seemingly difficult choices now could very well save us from catastrophic climate change not too far in the future (or your 2.3 kids' futures) -- when our choices will be very, very limited, and all available options will be even more painful.

First I have to comment on Amy's post. Amy makes it sound like nuclear is somewhere in the middle of CO2 producing compared to renewables and fossile fuels. Which renewables, which fossile fuels? I agree that nuclear is not zero CO2, but it is at the very low end of the scale. Any Bio-fuel is a CO2 emmiter and largely so. Solar Power is a CO2 emmiter for the same reason AMY says about nuclear. You have to mine the metals, glass, materials to make it. The plant life of solar is on the order of 20 to 30 years and then you have to replace it...more CO2. Then there is that sticky point for solar of covering a lot of the available land area for power generation. It is all relative and you have to find the best mix of enrgy sources and balance the down side.

As to the Grand Canyon and these uranium mines, how many people know that there was a uranium mine IN the Grand Canyon that was operated from just back of the rim. It was on the South rim IN THE PARK! The Orphan mine was operated by tram for several years and then the mining company sunk a deep shaft away from the rim edge and worked the uranium deposit thru a crosscut. This was in the park right near one of the senic overlooks.

The reason there is such interest in uranium North and South of the Grand Canyon is the mineralized breccia pipe formations that the uranium is found in. There are thousands of breccia pipes, but only a relative few will have minable grades of uranium in them. However, if there is minable uranium in the pipe, then the mine would be worth 100 to
400 million dollars. The uranium breccia pipe deposits have the highest percentages of uranium of all the uranium deposits in the US. They are also the most compact deposits and the most economical to mine. Wikipedia has an article about mineralized breccia pipes here... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arizona_breccia_pipe_uranium_mineralization

I drive the road to the Grand Canyon frequently. Vistors to the Canyon go up Hwy 64 thru Valle and Tusyan or on Hwy 180 to Hwy 64 and to the Canyon. None of the areas being explored are next to the road or visible from the Park. Visitors will never see any mine that might go into operation. The footprint of a breccia pipe mine is very small and the land is restored to its original state after the mine is closed. This has been done for two of the breccia pipe mines that were fully mined out. You cannot even tell there was a mine there now.

Obviously I am Pro-Nuclear......but I am also pro Solar, Semi-pro wind(Wind farms are UGLY UGLY UGLY), and so I beleive that there would be little impact from breccia pipe mining near the Grand Canyon. There were breccia pipe mines working in this area for years before the crash of uranium prices and they were found to have minimum impact on the enviornment.

If you are ANTI-Nuclear, then any kind of uranium mining is BAD and the Grand Canyon is a convenient rallying point.

Go to google Earth and look at the land South of the Grand Canyon in the Kaibab National Forest. Not too much there. Few people go there. There is a breccia pipe mine not too far to the East of Hwy 64. See if you can find it. Was it easy to find??

I agree with you to a point: Extractive Energy Sources such as uranium mining also produce air pollution in their logistics, i.e., ore extraction, ore processing, ore transport.

It is highly unlikely that mainstream society will voluntarily reduce their contribution to polluting our environment, recycling has only a small part, while conservation, although the greatest means to reduce pollution, is not being considered by mainstream anti-pollution groups.

Nuclear energy is definitely not a solution to climate change; instead nuclear energy has subverted the climate change mania as a perverted marketing strategy imbued with sad images of drowning polar bears.

An update on this post - on April 4, a U.S. District Court in Arizona blocked further drilling for uranium mining until the Forest Service completes additional environmental analysis. This is a victory for the conservation groups involved (and for the Park). See http://www.grandcanyontrust.org/press/press_releases/default.php.

The New York Times had an interesting take on this as well, arguing the ease with which the uranium drilling was approved argues for Congress to move ahead with the long-delayed updating of the aged Mining Law of 1872. See http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/14/opinion/14thu3.htm.