We should know soon what the federal decision will be on uranium mining around the Grand Canyon. Federal officials are expected to rule this month on a petition that could eventually lead to uranium mining around the Grand Canyon again, which conservation advocates warn could irreparably pollute the region's limited groundwater supply.
Should there be any uranium mining in the U.S.? Does it have to be around the Grand Canyon if we say yes? What happens if we say no? Should we be using nuclear power at all?
In 2007 during the last price spike for uranium ore, over 10,000 mining claims were filed in what we refer to as Grand Canyon country. In 2012 a moratorium was placed on uranium mining on more than 1 million acres near the national park for 20 years so the US Geological Survey could study the impacts of uranium mining to water and wildlife and people.
From 1950-1980 the U.S. was the world’s leading producer of uranium. But U.S. uranium ore is a lower grade and more expensive to mine than in Australia and Canada. When prices for uranium fall, many mines in the U.S. simply shut down.
The issues for those who are pro-mining include, of course, jobs and the fact that the U.S. currently is dependent on foreign sources for 90 percent of the uranium needed for U.S. power production.
But when those foreign sources are Canada and Australia is it really a national security issue? You can make the case, I suppose, but last I checked Canada and Australia are friends of ours.
The U.S. uranium mining companies want the federal government to mandate that energy producers purchase a minimum of 25 percent of their uranium from US sources. OK, fine, but does the Grand Canyon need to be one of the sources of that 25 percent? Should there be uranium mining in the U.S.? Sure. Let’s let Wyoming and other states take that role.
Do we need uranium mining around the Grand Canyon? Why? In such an arid state where groundwater is so important, why take the risk of polluting it? Are 1,100 mining jobs worth the risk?
If we say the Grand Canyon is off-limits, then Canada and Australia can continue to ship to the U.S., the balance of our uranium needs that Wyoming and other states cannot supply.
Should we even be using nuclear power generation? I have long held that one of the unintended consequences of the environmental movement’s aversion to nuclear power, with all its problems, was that it forced the use of more fossil fuel use for power generation, which led to more air pollution than we needed to have. With nuclear energy providing 20 percent of U.S. electricity needs, how much cleaner would our air be if, like France, nuclear provided 40 percent of our power needs? How many more U.S. rivers could have been free flowing instead of dammed?
There are always trade-offs – we need to make wise ones.