Controversial uranium projects proceed near Grand Canyon, 'sacred' mountain

Posted: May 13, 2013

Written by

Manuel Quinones, Greenwire
Uranium mining near the Grand Canyon

Uranium mining will likely begin within weeks at a site in Mohave County, Ariz., near Grand Canyon National Park, the Bureau of Land Management said last week.

Toronto-based Energy Fuels Inc.'s Pinenut facility is within the 1 million acres of land that the Obama administration last year withdrew from new mining claims. But mining operations that were approved at the time of the withdrawal decision and new operations on existing mining claims were not affected by the withdrawal decision, BLM said.

Environmental groups, hoping to prevent new mining, now are asking for a new environmental review of Pinenut. The government tests for validity to make sure a claim or potential mining site has an economically recoverable mineral resource.

"The conservation groups object to the Bureau of Land Management failure to conduct a mineral examination on the mining claims or requiring a new or revised mining plan of operations before Energy Fuels Inc. resumes operations at the Pinenut mine site," the groups wrote in a petition last month.

Grand Canyon Trust, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club are also questioning the restart of the mine under a 1986 plan of operation. Extraction ceased in 1989, the groups said. And new mining could last from two to three years.

"The 1986 plan is inadequate because it does not account for the several million gallons of water in the mine shaft as of February 2012," they wrote to BLM, asking the agency to "at minimum" require a modified plan of operations.

Conservationists and American Indian leaders for years have been fighting new mining activities near the Grand Canyon that rely on old mine plans or environmental documents.

Groups, along with the Havasupai Tribe, sued the Forest Service earlier this year after it allowed Energy Fuels to reopen its Canyon mine while relying on old environmental reviews (Greenwire, March 8).

But in February, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said BLM did not violate its own guidelines or laws like the National Environmental Policy Act when it allowed Denison Mines Corp. to reopen its Arizona 1 mine. Judges last month denied a request by groups for a full-court rehearing.

Energy Fuels now owns all of Denison's U.S. assets. The company said it will begin reclamation of Arizona 1 later this year, along with the Kanab North mine site.

Mining Mount Taylor

In neighboring New Mexico, Rio Grande Resources Corp. asked state regulators to move its Mount Taylor uranium mine from "standby" to "active."

Mount Taylor, an 11,000-foot peak, the tallest in the San Mateo Mountains, is said to be sitting on one of the most significant uranium deposits in the United States. Many area American Indians consider the site to be "sacred."

Mining there ceased in the 1980s when prices crashed, but several companies are looking to restart operations amid an expected demand for nuclear power plants (Greenwire, April 26, 2011).

But with uranium prices sagging, environmentalists question Rio Grande's motives. They say the company may want to move from standby to active to avoid cleanup.

"And it is even stranger that the company has decided to change course after over a year of our clients articulating to the state that reclamation or cleanup needs to occur as a requirement to the standby permit," said New Mexico Environmental Law Center attorney Eric Jantz.

Jantz, working on behalf of groups Amigos Bravos and the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment, is asking the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department for a hearing on the request.

The per-pound price of uranium hit $50 soon after the 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex in Japan. Ux Consulting Co. LLC has the latest price at around $40.50.

Still, mining operations are moving forward around the United States. Near Mount Taylor, the Roca Honda mine, owned by Vancouver-based Strathmore Minerals Corp. and the Japanese giant Sumitomo Corp., is moving forward in the permitting process. The comment period ends this month on the Forest Service's draft environmental impact statement of that project.

"The EIS finds that, even after the implementation of recommended mitigation measures, adverse significant impacts are likely to remain in the areas of groundwater, cultural and historic resources, environmental justice, human health and safety, and legacy issued," said the document.

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