Uranium is being mined near the Grand Canyon as prices rise and the US pushes for more nuclear power – Science News (Trending Perfect)


The largest U.S. uranium producer is ramping up work just south of Grand Canyon National Park on a long-disputed project that has been largely dormant since the 1980s.

The action unfolds against a backdrop of global instability and growing demand that is driving uranium prices higher.

The Biden administration and dozens of other countries have pledged to triple the capacity of the virus Nuclear energy around the world In their fight against Climate changeTo ensure that uranium remains a key commodity for decades, the government is offering incentives to develop the next generation of nuclear reactors and new policies target Russia's influence over the supply chain.

But as the United States pursues its nuclear energy potential, environmentalists and Native American leaders remain fearful of the consequences for communities near mining and milling sites in the West and are demanding better regulatory oversight.

Producers say today's uranium production is different from decades ago when the country was racing to build its nuclear arsenal. These efforts faded during World War II and the Cold War A legacy of death, disease and pollution On the Navajo Nation and in other communities across the country, making any new ore development difficult for many.

New mining is taking place at the Pinyon Plain Mine near the entrance to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon within limits Bag Nwavjo Etah Kukf National Monument Which was set by President Joe Biden in August. The work was allowed to proceed because Energy Fuels Inc. You have valid existing rights.

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Low impact with no risk to groundwater is how Energy Fuels spokesman Curtis Moore describes the project.

The mine will cover just 17 acres (6.8 hectares) and operate for three to six years, producing at least 2 million pounds (about 907,000 kilograms) of uranium — enough to power Arizona for at least a year using carbon-neutral materials. Electricity said.

“As global expectations for clean, carbon-free nuclear energy strengthen and the United States moves away from Russian uranium supplies, demand for domestically sourced uranium is growing,” Moore said.

Energy Fuels, which also processes two other mines in Colorado and Wyoming, has produced about two-thirds of the uranium in the United States in the past five years. In 2022, the company was awarded a contract to sell $18.5 million of uranium concentrate to the U.S. government to help establish the country's strategic reserve for when supplies might be cut off.

The ore extracted from the Pinyon Plain mine will be transported to the Energy Fuels mill in White Mesa, Utah, the only mill of its kind in the United States.

Amid the growing appetite for uranium, a coalition of Native Americans testified before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in late February, calling on the commission to pressure the US government to reform outdated mining laws and prevent further exploitation of marginalized communities.

Carlita Tilosi, who served for years on the Havasupai Tribal Council, said she and others wrote countless letters to state and federal agencies and sat through hours of meetings with organizers and lawmakers. Her tribe's reservation is located in a gorge off the Grand Canyon.

“We have been diligently involved in the consultation processes,” she said. “They hear our voices. There is no response.”

A group of hydrology and geology professors and nuclear observers were sent Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs A letter in January, asking it to reconsider permits granted by state environmental regulators that cleared the way for the mine. She has not yet responded and her office declined to respond to questions from The Associated Press.

Lawyers for Energy Fuels said in a letter to state officials that reopening the permits would be an inappropriate attempt to sidestep Arizona's administrative procedures and rights that protect permit holders from “such politicized actions.”

The environmentalists' request follows an appeal weeks ago from the Havasupai Tribe saying mining at the foot of Red Butte would harm one of the tribe's most sacred sites. Called Wii'i Gdwiisa by the Havasupai tribe, this landmark is central to tribal creation stories and also holds significance to the Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni peoples.

“We must acknowledge with heavy hearts that our greatest fear has come true,” the Havasupai said in a statement in January, reflecting fears that mining would impact water supplies, wildlife, plants and geology across the Colorado Plateau.

The Colorado River that flows through the Grand Canyon and its tributaries is vital to millions of people throughout the West. For the Havasupai Tribe, the water comes from aquifers below the mine.

US Geological Survey recently In partnership with the Havasupai Tribe To study the potential for contamination which could include exposure through inhalation and ingestion of traditional foods and medicines, handling of animal skins or absorption through aggregated face and body paint materials.

Legal challenges aim to stop Binion's simple mine It has been repeatedly rejected by the courtsSenior officials in the Biden administration are reticent to express their opinion beyond speaking generally about efforts to improve consultation with Native American tribes.

It represents another front in an ongoing battle over energy development and sacred lands, where the tribes live nevada and Arizona They are fighting the federal government over lithium mining and siting of renewable energy transmission lines.

The Pinyon Plain Mine, formerly known as the Canyon Mine, was permitted in 1984. Because it retained existing rights, the mine was effectively ready for legal operation despite the Obama administration's 20-year moratorium on uranium mining in the Grand Canyon area. In 2012.

The U.S. Forest Service in 2012 reaffirmed an environmental impact statement prepared for the mine years earlier, and state regulators have signed off on allowing air and aquifer protections within the past two years.

“We work extremely hard to do our work to the highest standards,” Moore said. “It is upsetting to be vilified as we are. The things we do are backed by science and regulators.”

The regional aquifers that feed the springs at the bottom of the Grand Canyon are deep — about 1,000 feet (304 meters) below the mine — and separated by nearly impenetrable rock, Moore said.

State regulators also said the geology of the area is expected to provide an element of natural protection against water from the site migrating toward the Grand Canyon.

Environmental reviews conducted as part of the permitting process concluded that operating the mine would not impact visitors to the national park, area residents, or groundwater or springs associated with the park. However, environmentalists say the mine raises a larger question about how willing the Biden administration is to adopt pro-nuclear policies.

During the Trump administration, the US Department of Commerce issued a 2019 report He described local production as essential for national security, noting the need to preserve the nuclear arsenal and keep commercial nuclear reactors supplied with fuel to generate electricity. At that point, nuclear reactors provided approximately 20% of the electricity consumed in the United States

The Biden administration is staying the course. It is in the midst of a multi-billion-dollar modernization of the country's nuclear defense capabilities, and US Department of Energy On Wednesday it was shown Loan worth $1.5 billion to power plant owners in Michigan to restart the shuttered facility, which would be the first of its kind in the United States

The push for more nuclear power and to allow mining near the Grand Canyon “makes a mockery of the administration's environmental justice rhetoric,” said Taylor MacKinnon, southwest director of the Center for Biological Diversity.

“It is literally a black eye for the Biden administration,” he said.

Using nuclear power to reach emissions targets is difficult in the western U.S. From the Navajo Nation to the Ute Mountain and Ogalla Lakota homelands, tribal communities suffer from a deep mistrust of uranium companies and the federal government, where abandoned mines and associated pollution have yet to be resolved. Cleaned.

A complex of mines on the Navajo Nation was recently added to Federal Superfund List. The eastern edge of the reserve is also home to the largest radiation accident in US history. In 1979, more than 93 million gallons (350 million liters) of radioactive and acidic slurry spilled from a waste disposal pond, contaminating water supplies, livestock and communities downstream. It was three times the radiation released by the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania just three months earlier.

Terracita Kiana of the Red Water Pond Road Community Association choked while testifying before the Human Rights Commission in Washington, D.C., saying federal regulators had proposed keeping the contaminated soil at the site rather than removing it.

“It's really unfair that we have to deal with this, that my children have to deal with this, and then later on, my grandchildren have to deal with this,” she said. “Why does the government feel like we can be disposed of? It's not.”

There is bipartisan support in Congress for nuclear power, but some lawmakers who come from pollution-plagued communities are holding their ground.

Congresswoman Cori Bush of Missouri said during a Congress meeting in January Lawmakers cannot talk about expanding nuclear power in the United States without first addressing the impacts that nuclear waste has had on minority communities. Bush pointed to her neighborhood in St. Louis, where waste was left behind from the uranium refining process required by the top-secret Manhattan Project.

“We have a responsibility to fix our mistakes and learn from them, before we risk exposing any other communities to the same exposure,” she said.

Brian Montoya reported from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Associated Press writer Walter Perry in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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