USA: Court upholds uranium mining ban around Grand Canyon but allows nearby mine

Bildschirmfoto 2017-12-15 um 22.44.15The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on Tuesday upheld a 20-year ban on uranium mining around Grand Canyon National Park but ruled in a separate case that a uranium company could open a mine nearby.

The two unanimous rulings by the three-judge panel came as the Trump administration considers lifting the ban, in place since 2012, as part of a broader effort to boost domestic energy production and promote the mining of critical minerals in the United States. A House Natural Resources subcommittee held a hearing Tuesday in which Republicans warned against putting federal lands off-limits to mining.

The 2012 ban blocked new mining claims and placed restrictions on mine development on existing claims in a million-acre area around the Grand Canyon park, though the Interior Department indicated that up to 11 claims could proceed. The appellate court ruled that imposing a freeze on new claims “for a limited period will permit more careful, longer-term study of the uncertain effects of uranium mining in the area and better-informed decision making in the future.”

(source: washington post)


The case of Canyon (Uranium) Mine, Energy Fuels / Energy Fuels Resources, the Havasupai People and Native Nations

Brief History

In the 1980ies, a company called Energy Fuels Nuclear located a breccia-pipe uranium deposit  near Red Butte, south of the Grand Canyon, in vicinity to the Havasupai Canyon, in Kaibab National Forest.

Plans to build a uranium mine were launched, and were met by fierce resistance form the Havasupai who live (partially) in the nearby Havasupai Canyon, a side canyon of the Grand Canyon, as well as by other Native nations in the area (Hualapai, and others) and by conservation organisations.

Although an area was fenced off, a mine headframe was set up and shaft sunk to a certain depth. Processing of the uranium ore was planned to take place at White Mesa (Uranium) Mill in Blanding, Utah, some 300 miles away, since it was the only uranium processing plant in the area. (Now, in 2017, this mill is the only uranium processing plant left in the US.)

Energy Fuels Nuclear had contracts with Swiss nuclear companies to sell uranium for their nuclear power plants, evoking (joint) activities of the Swiss anti-nuclear movement and Swiss human rights / indigenous support groups, protests against the mine and company, endangering the Havasupai’s watershed and thus their means of existence as well as infringing on Red Butte area, a place of spiritual meaning to the Havasupai people.

At that time, no uranium ore was mined or processed in the end.

The uranium price plunged, and in the early 1990ies, Energy Fuels Nuclear – sold to new owners – went bankrupt. EFN’s bankruptcy was the biggest bankruptcy in the state of Colorado. [The Price of Nuclear Power: Uranium Communities and Environmental Justice, by Stephanie A. Malin Rutgers University Press, 21 May 2015]

One of the former employees (and co-owners?) of Energy Fuels Nuclear, George Glasier – who had left EFN before its bankruptcy – started Energy Fuels in 2005, using the “good name” of Energy Fuels in a new company (with no relations company-wise to the ‘deceased’ Energy Fuels Nuclear)

Energy Fuels’ Team …

In 2016, April 15, Energy Fuels – according to their website - announced the appointment of Mark Chalmers as ‘Chief Operating Officer’

Chalmers is not unknown in the uranium business:  Graduated from the University of Arizona, he had worked for Energy Fuels Nuclear – the company who had tried to start Canyon Mine in the 1980ies, and for CAMECO, the big Canadian uranium miners now under scrutiny for potential tax evasion (of up to 2 billion Can$). He had been appointed “General Manager Production” of PALADIN, an Australian-based company with subsidiaries in Malawi and Namibia, running Kayalekera Uranium Mine in Malawi and Langer-Heinrich-Uranium Mine in Namibia, in 2011.

Kayalekera Uranium Project had been heavily opposed by environmental, human rights and church groups from its start in 2009, it has had a number of fatal accidents and other problems. Workers on strike for better wages were confronted with police firing teargas at them. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food slammed Malawi’s deal with PALADIN in 2013, currently, a civil rights groups is suing PALADIN for "not prioritizing the welfare of its employees".

On 21, May 2014, the mine was mothballed due to the low price of uranium, Leaving behind environmental problems. ["Impact of the Kayalekera Uranium Mine, Malawi", Feb. 22, 2015]

In 2016, Chalmers became part of the Energy Fuels team with a special reference to his former activities where he achieved “significant increases in production while reducing operating costs”.

Uranium Ban in the Grand Canyon area

Just to note briefly here, in 2012, a BAN on uranium miming in the Grand Canyon area for the next 20 years was established during Obama’s presidency, and put in place by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. The ban does not apply to existing mines and claims, however, and thus, Canyon Mine is not effected by the ban.

The ban was welcomed by Native Nations / indigenous peoples, conservation organisations and also by small businesses (many depending on tourism), it was opposed by the mining industry and its lobby organisations.

Current situation

Canyon Mine, Arizona, is currently owned by Energy Fuels / Energy Fuels Resources. The company wants to restart the mine, has, however, met resistance from the Havasupai people, conservation organisations such as Grand Canyon Trust and others, and from other Native Nations such as the Utah Navajo, for ex. Utah Nine Bikeyah, Bear Ears Coalition etc.

In regard to processing the uranium ore, the situation is still the same as in the 1980ies: The company plans to transport uranium ore from the mine site to the US’s only operation uranium mill, White Mesa Mill in Blanding / Utah, some 300 miles away.

The mill is controversial, currently it is not processing uranium and obviously serves rather as a storage for all kinds of toxic waste. There are reports of environmental violations. When the Mill was built many years ago, obviously no consent of the Indigenous peoples of the area was asked or given, and some sources say that burial sites were desecrated when the mill was built.

The transport of uranium ore is also matter of strong controversy: The city of Flagstaff, on the transportation route, passed a resolution against uranium transportation, and renewed its nuclearfree status in Nov. 2017. Although this may not be legally binding (since the authority lies with the US Department of Transportation), it is still a clear sign against uranium transport through the city.

The company found another route, however, there are also difficulties with this route.
Native initiatives like "Haul No!" try to stop / prevent the transportation of uranium ore.

The Latest: Trump cuts Bear Ears National Monument – Energy Fuels pushed him (?)

Days ago, President Trump cut Bear Ears National Monument by 85%. The Washing Post reported: "Uranium firm urged Trump officials to shrink Bears Ears National Monument".

Days later, The Salt Lake Tribune (Utah) published another article, giving a number of details and quoting letters from Energy Fuels executive’s to the DoE – Department of Energy etc.

Bear Ears National Monuments borders the Utah White Mesa uranium Mill …

Court Decisions Dec. 15, 2017:  
Ban upheld – but Canyon Mine allowed to go ahead

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld a lower-court ruling keeping a ban on uranium mining around the Grand Canyon, but also upheld a separate decision allowing a uranium mine nearby to open. The decisions by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, related to cases argued last December, come as Congress and the Trump administration seek to expand mineral extraction on public lands." (link to the source)

read more:

A two-minute overview of uranium mining at the Grand Canyon: