Grand Canyon site of renewed mining rush
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Hang on. The uranium what?!
That's right. Renewed interest in nuclear power as a low-carbon energy source, as well as the depletion US power plant's nuclear stockpiles from the 1980, has caused prices for the radioactive metal to soar, making the Grand Canyon an attractive site for potential miners.
According to a story in Sunday's Los Angeles Times, there are now more than 1,100 uranium claims on public lands within five miles of Grand Canyon National Park. At the beginning of 2003, there were only 10 claims. Many of these claims are by overseas companies, such as Vane Minerals, a British company that was granted approval in December for exploratory drilling at seven sites near the canyon's popular South Rim.
The LA Times story describes the concerns surrounding the extraction of uranium ore near a popular tourist destination, wildlife habitat, and source of drinking water.
The energy-versus-environment debate is apparent within the Interior Department, which granted the mining claims through its Bureau of Land Management. Among the mining critics is Steve Martin, superintendent of the Grand Canyon park and an Interior Department employee himself. "There should be some places that you just do not mine," Martin said.
Uranium is "a special concern," he added, because it is both a toxic heavy metal and a source of radiation. He worries about uranium escaping into the local water, and about its effect on fish in the Colorado River at the bottom of the gorge, and on the bald eagles, California condors and bighorn sheep that depend on the canyon's seeps and springs. More than a third of the canyon's species would be affected if water quality suffered, he said.
Martin is not the only one uneasy about potential water contamination. Add to the list the Metropolitan Water District of Los Angeles, which sells wholesale water throughout Southern California from its Colorado River Aqueduct. "In addition to the public health impacts, exploration and mining of radioactive material near a drinking water source may impact the public's confidence in the safety and reliability of the water supply," the district's general manager, Jeffrey Kightlinger, wrote in March to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.