PHOENIX — The lands around Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument contain a treasure that can’t be seen by the natural eye.
But it’s one powerful enough to light cities without producing pollution, drive great ships for a generation, end our dependence on fossil fuels — and blow up the world.
Deposits of uranium ore found in and around the lands surrounding the Grand Canyon are among the richest grades in North America. Those lands were placed off limits in 2012, as the Department of Interior with support from President Barack Obama found the region too environmentally sensitive to allow any mining activity for 20 years.
Former uranium mines, dating back to the World War II and the Manhattan Project, dot the landscape. Environmentalists blame these former drilling sites for poisoning wells, springs and groundwater on reservations with radioactivity. They also blame the mines for high cancer rates among Native Americans.
“Everywhere where there’s been uranium mining in Northern Arizona there’s been contamination … ground water contamination, soil contamination, contamination that has yet to be cleaned up, dating back the 1940s and 50s,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity.
He said enough damage as already been done to the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas.
But Mohave County Supervisors Buster Johnson and Gary Watson are pushing the Trump administration to open up areas around the national park to uranium mining.
“Obviously, everybody wants to protect the Grand Canyon, nobody wants to turn it into a landfill,” said Johnson, who speaks in favor of responsible mining.
Johnson contends modern mining technology and practices can extract the ore, process it, return it to the site and replace clean tailings (with all the uranium removed) to the ground, seal the drill pipe and restore the footprint of the former mine to its original state, much like the restoration requirements that open seam coal harvesting is required to do.
The footprint of a modern uranium mine will measure a scant 15 acres.
Johnson said allowing extraction of uranium will pump $28 billion into the local economy over the next 40 years.
“That employs a lot of people … these are hard working people, truck drivers and miners and all these jobs are excellent paying jobs, and they support families and they live in the community and everything does real well,” Johnson added. “There wasn’t any reason, valid reason, for the withdrawal [of mining permits].”
Mohave County, Yavapai County and counties in Utah are betting Trump’s directive to the Interior Department to review all previous administration decrees to set aside lands for preservation will mean a reversal of the mining prohibitions. Those reviews are going on now.