Conservation groups are urging Arizona regulators to deny a key permit for a uranium mine near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. They say it threatens the area’s environment and tribal water resources. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.
In recent years water has continuously flowed from a shallow aquifer into the Pinyon Plain Mine, formerly known as the Canyon Mine. It’s then pumped to the surface and evaporated onsite. Environmental groups say the millions of gallons a year that enter the shaft contain high levels toxins. They worry deeper aquifers that feed springs in the Grand Canyon and serve as the Havasupai Tribe’s sole water source could be contaminated.
The Grand Canyon Trust and others are calling on the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to deny the mine’s aquifer protection permit and permanently close it.
"The main risk is that when water is oxygenated and it comes into contact with uranium ore it will take up that uranium and other mineralized deposits like arsenic. And that will allow uranium that wouldn’t have otherwise traveled to travel," says the Trust's Energy Director Amber Reimondo.
The mine’s owner, Energy Fuels Resources, however, denies that it’s a threat to groundwater. A spokesperson says what does flow into the shaft is a relatively small amount and unconnected to larger, deeper aquifers. The mine is currently on standby and has yet to produce ore commercially. A public comment period is open through Aug. 7.