Mining claims in the West have more than doubled in the past five years, including a rash of claims staked near national parks.
The Los Angeles Times recently reported that on public land within five miles of the Grand Canyon there are more than 1,100 uranium mining claims, up from 10 claims five years ago.
Mining so close to the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River, which runs through the canyon, is a serious concern. Mining would not only scar the area but also leave it with a toxic legacy. Uranium is a heavy metal and is radioactive and, because many of the claims are in flood zones, it could easily be carried into the river.
Last month a federal judge put a temporary halt to exploratory drilling on seven sites near the canyon's South Rim because of concerns about flooding, which could be catastrophic.
The river is the source of water for more than 18 million people in Arizona, California and Nevada and is used to irrigate more than 1 million acres of farmland. The river feeds Lake Mead, which provides about 90 percent of Southern Nevada's water supply.
The rush to mine uranium has been stoked by the Bush administration, which is championing new nuclear power plants. The mining companies see a potential payday, but it would be at the expense of those living downstream.
Already the Colorado River has been victimized by uranium mining done to support the nuclear industry. The former Atlas mine was established in the 1950s on the banks of the Colorado River near Moab, Utah. What is left of the mine is about 12 million cubic yards of uranium tailings and contaminated soil, which have leached into the river and the ground water for decades.
Letting such a thing happen to the Grand Canyon would be unconscionable. To protect the park and public health, Congress should step in and find a way to stop these mining claims from moving forward.
© Las Vegas Sun, 2008