US to spend $1 million on abandoned uranium mines cleanup

Monument Valley is located on the southern border of Utah with northern Arizona, within the range of the Navajo Nation Reservation. (Image: Wikimedia Commons.)

The US House of Representatives has approved an amendment to an energy and water act expediting the cleanup of abandoned uranium mines across the country, particularly in the so-called Arizona Strip, which contains about 40% of the country’s reserves of the yellow metal.

Uranium was extracted there, mostly within the vast Navajo Nation reservation — from western New Mexico into Arizona and southern Utah —, for use in the government’s nuclear weapons program during the Cold War, causing extensive environmental damage.

Measure is designed to expedite inventory and assessment before a full cleanup of the sites can begin.

The measure, passed last week, allocates $1 million from a Department of Energy program designed to remediate uranium mines from Cold War nuclear weapons manufacturing. It’s designed to expedite inventory and assessment before a full cleanup of the sites can begin, which has first to be approved by the US Senate.

“Across northern Arizona uranium mining has a toxic legacy and many of my constituents continue to fight the cancers and diseases that were caused by radiation exposure decades ago,” said Arizona Democrat Tom O’Halleran, who the authored of the amendment, in a speech on the House floor last week.

“This amendment to the appropriations bill will ensure that we are doing our part to improve public health for communities who have long been forgotten in Arizona and throughout the region,” he said.

There still are over 500 abandoned uranium mines on Navajo Nation territory, but funds available to begin the clean-up process could currently only cover about 200 of them.

It’s believed a complete cleanse of the area could take decades and exceed $1 billion.

Miners and other groups with a stake in the sector have been pressing the Trump government to revoke an Obama-era rule banning the mining of uranium on public lands nearby the Grand Canyon.

According to them, such prohibition was based on “overly cautious,” speculative environmental risks. But supporters of the ban say new mining activity will likely boost the risk of contaminating plants, animals and the Colorado river — a water source for more than 30 million people.

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