Mining companies have recently cut back uranium production around the Grand Canyon National Park because the price has dropped 25 percent in the last year.
But this week Energy Fuels announced it will keep mining at one site near the park and stockpile the ore to sell later.
Northern Arizona has the highest-grade uranium deposits in the country. The ore is conveniently contained underground in what are called “breccia pipes.”
While Energy Fuels waits for the market to recover, it plans to store uranium at the Pinenut Mine.
That has Roger Clark of the Grand Canyon Trust worried.
“The cumulative effects of uranium ore of contaminated water both on the surface and in the mine shaft potentially is polluting the aquifer beneath it,” Clark said. “All of those things are cumulative effects that were not anticipated by the original federal environmental review, which really needs to be redone.”
That review was done about three decades ago. In 2012 the federal government banned new mining near the park so it could investigate uranium’s impact on the environment.
Energy Fuels spokesman Curtis Moore said the mine will remain heavily regulated.
“The regulations require us to actually have a synthetic-lined ore pad that we put the ore on top of. That way nothing can get into the groundwater,” Moore said. “That ore pad is connected to our synthetically lined evaporation pond.”
Despite these regulations the U.S. Geological Survey found nearby springs and wells contained uranium levels that exceeded EPA standards. More water monitoring needs to be done to link that contamination to operating mines.