The Taala Hooghan Info Center was full of much information, about many topics. One of the topics that quickly got my attention was the fact that there is uranium mining in The Grand Canyon – but I soon realized the situation is much more dire than that.
Not only do we want to contaminate this incredible natural wonder. We also are in danger of contaminating the water that runs through and feeds several large communities like LA and Phoenix. We have already killed many Indigenous people with the contamination from the mines.
It is not only at The Grand Canyon there is Uranium mining, but also on the Navajo Tribal lands. There is a lot of pollution that comes in the wake of the uranium mining, and several communities on the Tribal lands can’t drink their water due to past uranium mining. The courts have put it on the companies to “clean up the contamination”, but of course, it is impossible to remove all the nuclear waste, and while attempts have been made it is not enough to make the drinking water safe.
This is the more appalling given how dry the Arizona High Desert is – and how impactful the current drought is on all the communities here – but most desperately felt on the Tribal Lands, where most haul in their own water. I am not sure if us city slickers can truly imagine a life style where every single drop of water we need for drinking, cooking, washing ourselves or cleaning must be hauled in from a city sometimes a couple of hours drive away.
Currently the US government has placed a ban on any new mines within one million acres around the Grand Canyon. The 20 year ban does not include previously held permits so mining activities are underway at several mines around the Canyon. These current mining activities compound the impacts of abandoned mines and mills that continue to pollute water that flows into the Colorado River endangering the drinking water for millions of people – including people in such large cities as Phoenix and Los Angeles.
In 2012 Obama enacted a moratorium on mining uranium in the Grand Canyon watershed due to concerns of contaminating the Colorado River water, but existing mines were grandfathered in. This means the Energy Fuels mine is currently safe from that moratorium.
Uranium has been mined in Arizona since the late 1940’s, and the Navajo people have often been the workers in the mines – with horrific ongoing results to their health. The uranium mines near the Grand Canyon are currently owned by Energy Fuels Resources Inc., who bought the mines from Denison Mining Corp. Energy fuels has been greatly impacted by several lawsuits against their operations, federal laws slowly being put in place and falling uranium prices. This means they have currently stopped mining the Canyon mine which is near Red Butte, a site sacred to the Havasupai Nation. They have also closed their white mesa extraction plant – which is the only uranium extraction plant in the US. This is of course great news, but Energy Fuels can start their operations at any time.
A 20 year ban on mining uranium near the Grand Canyon is currently being considered by the administration, but has not yet been ruled on. If that 20 year ban is enacted it is unclear if the current mines will be grand fathered in and still allowed.
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