Time to lift ban on uranium mining near Grand Canyon? Deadline nears.
Obama administration must decide by midsummer whether to extend a freeze on uranium mining claims near the Grand Canyon. A recent report cites 10 national 'treasures' at risk.
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Even with the Obama administration's moratorium, one mining claim near the Grand Canyon, deemed to have existing rights, was allowed to go forward, and a mine is now in operation. Also, as many as 11 existing uranium claims near the Grand Canyon could be eligible for permits whether or not newer claims are blocked, the BLM says.Skip to next paragraph
Although the Obama administration has not blocked mining claims in other areas, such claims are just starting to reach fruition. Earlier this month, a uranium mine in Wyoming announced its opening. Other sites are expected to be developed, too, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
Congress has been watching closely. Some lawmakers have zeroed in on the 1872 Mining Law, under which the US government does not receive any mineral royalties.
Earlier this month, legislation was introduced by Reps. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, both Democrats from New Mexico, to shift regulation of uranium mining from "the antiquated 1872 Mining Law" to the Mineral Leasing Act. The latter would allow uranium mining to be managed through a competitive leasing program.
Others also worry that most of America's best uranium mining prospects – including those by the Grand Canyon – are now controlled by Canadian, Korean, Russian, and other foreign companies. In November, the NRC approved transfer of control of licenses from Uranium One USA Inc. and Uranium One Americas Inc., which are Canadian entities, to JSC Atomredmetzoloto (ARMZ), a Russian corporation.
"This transaction would give the Russian government control over a sizable portion of America's uranium production capacity," complained Sen. John Barrasso (R) of Wyoming in a December letter to President Obama. Russia has aided Iranian nuclear ambitions, he wrote.
"I remain concerned with any attempt to grant an export license to ARMZ which would allow the Russian government to ship US uranium overseas," Senator Barrasso added.
Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the NRC, assured Barrasso in a letter that ARMZ had not applied for an export license, so it could not send any US uranium overseas.
"We are now expecting as many as 16 new applications by 2013 for new recovery facilities or for expanding existing uranium recovery facilities, in addition to those we have already received," he wrote.
One key reason that new US uranium production is needed, Ms. Hill and other advocates say, is to lessen US dependence on foreign energy. About 90 percent of uranium fuel for US nuclear plants today is imported.
But according to a draft BLM study of uranium mining impacts on the Grand Canyon, such mining would do little to boost domestic uranium supplies.
"Currently there are no laws in place that would require domestic uranium to be solely purchased and consumed within the United States," the draft BLM study concluded. "Uranium mined and produced within the parcels would not necessarily move the United States toward energy independence and thus would not represent an impact to national energy resources."