I am the Coconino County supervisor whose district includes a portion of the Grand Canyon. I do not speak for the Board of Supervisors, although the board is on record as opposing further uranium claims and mining activity, as are virtually all the Native American tribes in the county and the majority of citizens.
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.
Today, there are thousands of claims for uranium mining on both sides of the Grand Canyon. After an arduous analysis, Secretary of the Interior Ken 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.
I’m not an environmentalist and I don’t understand all of the environmental issues, but I do understand that we get 5 million people coming to the Grand Canyon every year. Tourism is not compatible with mining or with the mining trucks transporting uranium to be processed in Utah, and generally running the risk of despoiling this national treasure.
This is an issue of public safety as well as business. Moreover:
• 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.
• Local government entities must expend taxpayer resources in providing health and safety services, as well as repairing and maintaining roads impacted by large ore trucks.
• While it is true that a fully expended uranium-mining site would be remediated — that is, hazards would be removed, it is also true that an unfinished mine could be mothballed indefinitely, deteriorating for several decades.
• There is no assurance that the refined material will stay in the U.S., making mockery of the claim that mining here 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.
Given these concerns and the absence of benefits, I support the decision of Salazar to curtail further exploration and new development of uranium-based activities in Coconino County.
— Carl Taylor represents District 1 on the Coconino County Board of Supervisors.