Despite the fact that Obama banned requests to mine for uranium in the Grand Canyon national park last year, Energy Fuels Resources is set to go ahead and reopen an old mine located just six miles from the popular South Rim entrance.
The Canadian company has said that Obama’s latest ban doesn’t apply to its mine because it still has mining rights from when the mine was closed over 20 years ago. These rights were granted after a US Forest Service conducted an environmental study over 25 years ago, in 1986.
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Centre for Biological Diversity, have now filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service, claiming that the study is badly outdated and should no longer apply.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 Resources, says that “the Forest Service looked at that review with modern eyes and determined that it's adequate. And 1986 was not that long ago.”
The problem that the lawsuit is highlighting is that, according to the EPA, once the uranium is extracted from the ground and exposed to water and the air it can produce radon gas, a toxic substance that was not regulated back in 1986.
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 is now booming once more and many companies are looking to reopen old mines. The outcome of the case against the Forest Service will determine whether or not old mines are able to open using old permits; the result will affect over 3,000 mines in the Grand Canyon area.