Uranium exploration at Grand Canyon approved

The US Forest Service, with minimal public notice and no formal environmental review, has approved a permit allowing the UK's Vane Minerals company to explore for uranium in the Kaibab National Forest just outside the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park. The site is less than three miles from a popular lookout over the canyon's southern rim. If deposits are found, it could lead to the first mines near the canyon since the price of uranium ore tumbled two decades ago. The Forest Service ruled that the canyon could be "categorically excluded" from a full environmental review because exploration would last less than a year and might not lead to mining activity. (Denver Post, Feb. 7)

See our last post on the global uranium wars and the struggle over public lands.

  1. “The Cold War Threat to the Navajo”
    A fairly amazing editorial from the New York Times Feb. 12. Of course, the only reason they can get away with saying this is because the Cold War is over. Better late than never.

    It is alarming that the nuclear power industry is talking about resuming uranium mining near a Navajo reservation. A mining company has applied for permits for a new mine on privately owned land in New Mexico just outside the reservation’s formal boundaries but within what is commonly known as Navajo Indian Country. Regulators must not allow this to proceed until the enormous damage inflicted by past mining operations has been fully addressed.

    Residents of the Navajo Nation are haunted by radiation threats from more than a thousand gaping mine sites abandoned after the cold war arms race. After decades of uranium mining — and accumulating evidence of spikes of cancer and other diseases — mining companies walked away from their cleanup responsibilities.

    The federal government has also shamefully failed its tribal trust obligation to deal with what Representative Henry Waxman has aptly termed “an American tragedy.”

    The California Democrat is investigating a history of shocking neglect that would not be tolerated elsewhere. Among the horrors: shifting mountains of uranium tailings; open mines leaching contaminated rain into drinking water tables; wind-blown radioactive dust; home construction from uranium mine slabs; and even the grim spectacle of children playing in radioactive swimming holes and ground pits.

    Tribal elders finally forbade mining, alarmed at the sudden rise in cancer deaths. Federal help across the years has been sporadic at best, with only half the mines ever sealed. Prodded into action by Congressional hearings and detailed reports in The Los Angeles Times, a half-dozen agencies are now vowing stronger remedies, including the resumption of long-stalled toxic testing. Far greater resolve is called for. The House oversight committee is rightly demanding a coordinated five-year remediation plan from the agencies most involved.

    The government must finally honor its obligation to seal the mines and deal with their myriad dangers. Talk of opening even one new mine — which could, of course, lead to others — adds grave insult to the severe injury already done.