I am the County Supervisor whose district includes that part of the Grand Canyon in Coconino County. I am not speaking for the Board of Supervisors, although the Board is on record as opposing further uranium claims and mining activity.
Uranium mining policies in the U.S. were put in place during the Cold War, before the health issues associated with nuclear weapons and energy production were known. As a result, the mining industry in northern Arizona was poorly regulated. Further, the industry was exempted from paying royalties for extracting public resources, unlike the coal and gas industries.
Falling prices resulted in the abrupt departure of uranium mining companies, leaving a legacy of radioactive materials and other contamination to be dealt with through remediation efforts, including on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Today, there are thousands of claims for uranium mining on both sides of the Grand Canyon. The vast majority of these do not contain a paying deposit. After an arduous analysis, Secretary of the Interior Salazar wisely decided to curtail further staking of claims in the Grand Canyon region and to permit mining only at those sites where existence of uranium was demonstrated prior to the withdrawal order.
The directive does not prohibit mining in the region, but rather prohibits expansion of the industry beyond already proven claim sites.
Uranium companies have indicated that they have enough proven claims to enable mining for several decades at the rate proposed by the industry -- approximately 3 mines at one time, employing about 100 people, who will go on to the next three mines in serial fashion. Again, this is 100 employees, not the "thousands" of jobs claimed in industry propaganda. Contrast this with the thousands of jobs in our region that support tourism.
Here are some reasons for my concern and opposition to active uranium mining in the region:
-- There is no significant economic benefit to the region -- only to the mining corporations. They pay no Federal royalties and their activities are shielded from local taxes due to their location on public lands.
-- Government entities must expend resources in providing health and safety services, as well as repairing and maintaining roads impacted by large ore trucks.
-- On the other hand, active mining around the Grand Canyon region can cause massive economic disruption and loss of tourism. This is an issue of public safety as well as business.
The minimum scenario for mining south of the Grand Canyon contained an estimate of 30,000 truckloads of ore to be transported hundreds of miles to eastern Utah. The industry stated that, in the event of an ore spill, they would shut down Highway 64, bring in a remediation team from Utah and remove two tons of soil for every ton of uranium ore spilled.
They estimated this could shut down the primary land route to the Grand Canyon for one to two weeks -- resulting in the loss of millions in revenues.
-- While it is true that a fully expended uranium-mining site would be remediated, it is also true that an unfinished mine could be mothballed indefinitely, deteriorating for several decades.
-- Virtually all the Native American tribes in the county are opposed, as are the majority of citizens.
-- There is no assurance that the refined material will stay in the U.S., making mockery of the claim that this leads to energy independence. It is highly probable that the refined "Yellow Cake" will be shipped overseas.
-- The activity is not sustainable or stable. It is not sustainable because uranium is a non-renewable resource. It is not stable because the activity is based on demand. Demand will reduce as nations move away from nuclear power due to risk and cost of power plant failure.
China and India are actively exploring alternative (and less toxic) fuels for future nuclear power plants.
-- We have no national strategy for a safe, long-term storage facility for toxic radioactive waste products, thus we are handing a millennia-long problem to our descendents in exchange for short-term gain for the few.
-- The same public lands could support a variety of renewable energy enterprises (solar, wind, bio-mass, etc.) that also produce jobs, do not permanently encumber future generations and produce power that is used exclusively in North America.
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.
Given these concerns and the absence of benefits, I support the decision of the Secretary Salazar to curtail further exploration and development of uranium-based activities in Coconino County.
Carl Taylor is the Coconino County Supervisor from District 1.