With minimal public notice and no formal environmental review, the Forest Service has approved a permit allowing a British mining company to explore for uranium just outside Grand Canyon National Park, less than three miles from a popular lookout over the canyon’s southern rim.
If the exploration finds rich uranium deposits, it could lead to the first mines near the canyon since the price of uranium ore plummeted nearly two decades ago. A sharp increase in uranium prices over the past three years has led individuals to stake thousands of mining claims in the Southwest, including more than 1,000 in the Kaibab National Forest, near the Grand Canyon.
To drill exploratory wells on the claims in the Kaibab forest requires Forest Service approval. Vane Minerals, the British company, received such approval for seven sites in December.
The Forest Service granted the approvals without a full-dress environmental assessment, ruling that the canyon could be “categorically excluded” from such a review because exploration would last less than a year and might not lead to mining activity.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors in Coconino County, Ariz., voted unanimously to try to block any potential uranium mines. It asked that the federal government withdraw large sections of land immediately north and south of the national park from mineral leasing.
If this moves forward, I'll be protesting full time. There are only a few places that I consider sacred, and the Grand Canyon is one of them. Uranium mining is a messy, deadly business. People are still dying from contamination left over from cold war era mining:
An L.A. Times article from November 2006 first alerted Chairman Waxman to the plight of the Navajo - not the fact that the federal government had utterly failed to address this mess for decades. As outlined in the L.A. Times article, "from 1944 to 1986, 3.9 million tons of uranium ore were chiseled and blasted from the mountains and plains. The mines provided uranium for the Manhattan project, the top-secret effort to develop an atomic bomb . . . private companies operated the mines, but the U.S. government was the sole customer. . . . As the Cold War threat gradually diminished over the next two decades, more than 1,000 mines and four processing mills on tribal land shut down." The radioactive waste and debris from these operations, however, largely remains. People live in and around uranium-contaminated areas. Livestock grazes and children play amongst radioactive waste and debris. There is a palpable threat of radioactive contamination to the ground water in many areas.
At the hearing, Edith Hood, while choking back tears, talked about the mining waste near her home in the Church Rock area, and the sickness and illnesses that plagued her and her family. These sentiments were echoed by Larry King and Ray Manygoats. Phil Harrison, although a Navajo Nation Council Delegate, testified as to his personal experience with uranium contamination. George Arthur, also a Council
Delegate, testified in his capacity as the Chairman of the Navajo Natural Resources Committee. Mr. Arthur made it clear to the Committee that enough study has been done. It was now time for the federal government to take action to address this ongoing human tragedy. Stephen Etsity, the head of the Navajo EPA, managed to bring Navajo soil (from the Tuba City area) into the hearing chambers, where he used a device to demonstrate the existence of gamma radiation.
The very thought of uranium mining at the canyon has me ready for a fight. Edward Abbey may be gone, but there are still a lot of us in Arizona who love our rugged terrain. And our Senator, John McCain, should be ashamed of himself for not fighting this.