Uranium mining is permanently harming the Grand Canyon.
The abandoned Orphan Mine is polluting Horn Creek within Grand Canyon National Park — and has already cost taxpayers $15 million dollars for just the first phase of remediating surface contamination.
In 2012, the Secretary of the Interior issued a 20-year ban on all new uranium claims on public lands adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park (please see video). However, four mines that opened during the 1980s are exempt from the ban.
All four mines closed in the 1990s when uranium ore prices dropped; but by 2012, three had reopened, then one closed again at the end of 2013. “Zombie” mines die and then come back years later due to fluctuations in uranium prices. These long periods of dormancy are causing unforeseen and unaddressed damage to soil, water, wildlife, and traditional cultural properties.
Canyon Mine is located in the Kaibab National Forest, six miles from the South Rim entrance to Grand Canyon National Park. It is within the groundwater basin that provides Havasupai people with their sole source of drinking water and the Red Butte “traditional cultural property,” which is sacred to Havasupai and Zuni people.
Arizona 1, Pinenut, and Kanab North uranium mines are located north of Grand Canyon in the Kanab Creek watershed, administered by the BLM. Pinenut pumps highly polluted groundwater into an uncovered surface pond used by birds and other wildlife. Kanab North is irradiating surrounding soil, and its contaminated containment pond is used by raptors, small mammals, and songbirds. All of these mines cause dust and noise pollution in one of the most remote areas in the U.S.
Uranium mining is permanently harming aquifers that feed Grand Canyon springs and streams. Water samples summarized by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in 2010 showed that 15 springs and 5 wells contained dissolved uranium concentrations in excess of EPA standards for drinking water. The USGS report concluded that these contaminated sites “are related to mining processes.” In 2013, the National Park Service said that the “regional aquifer groundwater wells at the Canyon, Pinenut, and Hermit mines as well as the sumps at the base of Pigeon and Hermit mines have all exhibited dissolved uranium concentrations in excess of drinking water standards (30 micrograms per liter), with sump concentrations at Hermit Mine exceeding 36,000 micrograms per liter.”
Today, the Park Service advises against “drinking and bathing” in the Little Colorado River, Kanab Creek, and other Grand Canyon waters where “excessive radionuclides” have been found.
Twenty-year ban on new mining claims
On January 9, 2012, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar ordered a 20-year moratorium on thousands of new mining claims that threaten to industrialize watersheds, which drain directly into Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. The ban was achieved through an unprecedented and formidable coalition of tribal, business, and civic leaders, hunting, fishing, ranching, and conservation groups, water, wildlife, city, and county officials, and nearly 300,000 individuals who commented favorably on the proposed moratorium.
The decision culminates a successful, 4-year campaign that the Trust initiated in response to a surge in new mining activity as uranium prices began to soar in 2006. Please see our chronicle that summarizes many of the actions, events, and articles that are shaping the future of uranium mining on public land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park.
As Coconino County Supervisor Carl Taylor summarized, “Uranium mining benefits only the corporations that promote it. It does not assure energy independence. It poses a very high probability of negatively impacting safe tourism in the area. It generates practically no revenue benefit to local economies while saddling local governments with uncompensated health and safety services to the mines.” Please see his entire op-ed and Grand Canyon Trust program director Roger Clark’s op-ed, published in the Arizona Republic.