The Obama Administration has given the go ahead for Energy Fuels Resources to reopen a mine located six miles south of the popular South Rim entrance, despite claims by environmental groups and local tribes that the Administration’s withdrawal of lands from mineral entry prevents any new mines from going forward.
The Canadian company and Administration have said that the withdrawal doesn’t apply to mines with valid, pre-existing rights. Indeed, the Administration has said that up to 11 uranium mines could proceed under Obama’s withdrawal. Development began on the Canyon mine over 20 years ago, but ceased due to depressed uranium prices. The original rights to mine were granted after the US Forest Service conducted an environmental study over 25 years ago, in 1986. The Forest Service recently reaffirmed this previous approval, and Energy Fuels has proceeded with development based on this approval.
Several environmental groups, including Grand Canyon Trust, the Sierra Club, and the Centre for Biological Diversity, have now filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service, claiming that the study is badly outdated and should no longer apply.
Curtis H Moore, a spokesman for Energy Fuels Resources, says that “the Forest Service looked at that review with modern eyes and determined that it's adequate”
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The problem that the lawsuit is highlighting is that, once the uranium is extracted from the ground and exposed to water and the air it can become mobilized in groundwater. In addition, uranium mines produce radon gas, a toxic substance that was not regulated back in 1986. However, the EPA regulates radon under a separate permit that Energy Fuels will be required to obtain.
After the second world war uranium mines were common in the south-west, but since then nearly all of the mines have closed down as uranium demand and price dropped. The uranium market has recovered somewhat, and some companies are looking to reopen old mines. The outcome of the case against the Forest Service will determine whether or not these mines are able to open using previously issued permits; the result could affect up to 11 uranium mines inside the 2011 withdrawal area.
By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com