After more than 140 years of uranium mining, the Grand Canyon Trust and others are stepping up to preserve the magnificent natural canyon from the poisonous runoff of uranium mining.
Uranium/radium ore within the U. S. was first discovered in the late 19th Century in the gold mines of Colorado. Since that time, uranium has been increasingly mined in the U. S. During World War II, the Manhattan Project used American-mined uranium (along with that of other countries) to produce our first nuclear weapons. Today, mined uranium is primarily used to fuel nuclear power plants.
An unfortunate byproduct of uranium mining is dangerous uranium levels in natural aquifers, sources of water for every living thing in their vicinities. According to the U. S. Geological Survey, 15 springs and 5 wells in the Grand Canyon watershed have toxic uranium levels. The National Park Service also reports that uranium mines, whether still open or long-closed, have poisoned drinking water with uranium concentrations more than 1,000 times the safe maximum. An example of the struggle between the mining industry and conservation forces is on YouTube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOhvkAMQdVo
Counteracting the poisonous effects of uranium pollution, in 2009, the Secretary of the Interior imposed a 20-year ban on new uranium mining in the watersheds draining directly into the Grand Canyon. The ban prevents the mining of approximately 12% of Arizona’s uranium deposits.
Since that time, the uranium mining industry has lobbied and legally fought to eliminate the ban and to prevent future Secretaries of the Interior from protecting any area. The National Mining Association’s President wrote that uranium mining has a “virtually nonexistent” impact on Grand Canyon National Park.
Responding to the mounting evidence of poisonous uranium levels and to the mining industry efforts, Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona), introduced the “Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument Act,” designed to permanently extend the 20-year mining ban.
Neither side of the debate is confident in Congress’ ability to represent their interests. Consequently, the anti-mining faction is urging the President to use his powers under the 1906 Antiquities Act set aside federal lands as protected national monuments. They believe that only the President’s unilateral action can effectively stop uranium poisoning of the Grand Canyon’s watershed.
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