Monday, November 30, 2009

The mines: inevitable steps

Two  months ago, in the October 2 entry "Origins and Uranium", I tried to trot along with history as it was being spun out. The Hopi and the other long-time Canyon inhabitants were opposing renewed mining activity, in part by embedding their position in the long-running discourse over their origins. To me, that is a logical-enough position in debates over resource/economic exploitation, given that we advocates for the Canyon rely for legitimacy fundamentally on its existence prior to, and not needing the agency of, human beings. Priority is not the only argument, but it can be a boost.

On November 10, Denison Mines Corp., of Canada, waved its plans in the face of a hostile government and environmental advocates' legal action, announcing "it has made a production decision for its Arizona 1 uranium deposit located in north central Arizona.
The mine will be an underground operation utilizing the existing 1,252 foot deep, 2-compartment shaft and employing a combination of long hole and shrinkage stoping methods at a mining rate of 335 tons per day, four days per week. Ore will be hauled by truck approximately 315 miles to Denison's White Mesa mill located near Blanding, Utah. The ore will be batch treated in the mill when 17,000 tonnes are available for processing with U3O8 recovery expected to be 95%. Production is expected to total approximately 857,000 pounds U3O8 [330 t U]."

To take a satellite look at Denison's three Grand Canyon properties, using Google's maps, go to this ever-useful website on uranium:
The Grand Canyon area mines are Arizona 1 and Pinenut (entangled in the tributaries of Kanab Creek, 4-5 miles apart and south of Hacks Canyon) and Canyon on the south side, half a dozen miles southeast from Grand Canyon Airport. Click on the Google button to get a close-up view, and then zoom out to see just how much a part of the Grand Canyon these mines are.

More of the inevitable steps: The agencies declaring themselves helpless, and the permits (from the Arizona Dept. Env. Qual.) for the Arizona 1 mine being granted, environmental groups (Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club) are suing BLM , as reported by the AP on November 16. (It is odd to be visiting New York City, only to read about the Canyon in the morning paper and have no access to files and computer to blog about this event. Dedicated blahggers must have figured out how to keep the stream running; lazier, I just opted out for a few weeks.) And by the way, have you ever wondered why it is only the "first step" that is always taken, but never second or third or twenty-third, steps?

Further, a new (2007) voice calling for reform of the 1872 Mining [editorial interpolation: And Public Lands Desecration] Act announced itself: The Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining, a national effort of The Pew Charitable Trusts, in early November launched an ad showing a view down from Toroweap, asking "wish you were here?", and stating "the mining industry already is", which, to be exact, it isn't. Pew is interested in many pies; I would like to know more about why they are attracted to the particularly malodorous, moldy old hack of the 1872 law. I well remember Mo Udall's determination to reform it a few political generations ago. Could it be that sighting in on the Grand Canyon in the Twenty-first Century will end up as throttling to miners' arrogance as the crazed scheme to build dams in the Canyon was to that of the dam-builders and "reclamationists"?

Anyway, CBD had notified BLM of its intent to sue back in September, arguing that the environmental evaluations and operating plans for Arizona 1 were 20 years old.

The CBD release recalled that a 1984 "flash flood swept four tons of high-grade uranium ore from a uranium mine near Arizona 1 through Hack Canyon and Kanab Creek into the Colorado River and Grand Canyon National Park. The 1988 environmental assessment states that the Arizona 1 mine, which is constructed in the bottom of a wash, is prone to unplanned releases that would follow the same water course." The mine operating in 1984 was down in Hacks Canyon; it is now closed and reclaimed, although the last time I looked, power lines remained.

The latest CBD statement is here: .
Although the physical plant at Arizona 1 looks very real, the CBD release notes that it never produced ore and its previous owner went bankrupt. Another indication of how corporate miners work: Denison was bought in 2006 by International Uranium, which then took the name of its subsidiary Denison. Confused? I think we are supposed to be.

Now, although there was opposition to opening the mines originally, the current political environment is even friendlier to protection of the Grand Canyon, if the public opposition to uranium activity by the Hopi, Navajo, Kaibab Paiute, Hualapai and Havasupai, Representative Raul Grijalva, and BLM's boss Interior Secretary Salazar, is an indication. Contrariwise, the unelected governor, Republican Jan Brewer, was reported on November 2 as objecting to a ban on filing new claims. CBD says this reverses the position of the previous Democratic governor, Janet Napolitano.

 However, while "steps have been taken" by BLM toward withdrawing Grand Canyon lands from new mining activity, existing mines are not interdicted. The irony is pointed up by this quote from the July BLM notice: "The purpose of the withdrawal, if determined to be appropriate, would be to protect the Grand Canyon watershed from adverse effects of locatable hardrock mineral exploration and mining for up to a 20-year period". Surely, stalling an existing facility from digging, dumping and trucking uranium-loaded rock would be even more to the purpose. But, as I described in the earlier entry, both BLM and the Forest Service (the Canyon minesite is on the Kaibab National Forest) are still following the Bush-administration line that government should be helpless, ineffective, and incompetent--well-proven in 2001-8.

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