Saturday, September 22, 2012

A nice place for uranium mining

In January of this year, the Obama administration imposed a 20 year ban on new mining claims on Federal land near the Grand Canyon. Although roughly 3000 mining claims have already been staked in the area, officials expect fewer than a dozen mines will be developed under existing claims.

Believe it or not, there WAS a time when uranium mining was done within the walls of the Grand Canyon itself. The origin of what eventually became known as the Orphan Mine dates back to a claim for a copper mine that was filed in 1893. Although copper was only mined for a couple of years, uranium eventually was mined at the location from 1956 until 1969, and a motel (the Grand Canyon Inn) operated near the mine site until 1966. Today, the location is considered to be a potential Superfund site, and millions of dollars have been spent so far in an attempt to determine the amount of contamination present at the site. As of 2008,the cost of remediation for the surface area of the mine was determined to be $15,000,000, and the cost to deal with contamination inside the mine and in a nearby creek (which drains into the Colorado River) is unknown.

Since the parties responsible for the contamination are ducking responsibility for the clean up costs, the burden has fallen to the National Park Service, which (naturally) means that we, the taxpayers, are the folks who are actually on the hook.

In addition to the uranium mining in the Grand Canyon, extensive uranium mining was conducted on the Navajo Nation. Between 1944 and 1986, over 4,000,000 tons of uranium were mined on the reservation, leaving a legacy of death and disease. The most contaminated area is the Northeast Church Rock Mine near Gallup, New Mexico, but other areas of concern are in Mexican Hat in Utah and in Tuba City. Arizona. The U.S. Environmental Agency recently provided a grant of $200,000 to Northern Arizona University to explore ways to re-mediate some of the contamination.

Fortunately, justice eventually prevailed for the Navajo Nation. In April of 2014, a $5.15 billion settlement was announced by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Grand Canyon National Park attracts more than 4,000,000 visitors a year, and generates an estimated $3.5 billion in economic activity. In addition, 26 million Americans in 4 states rely on the Colorado river for clean drinking water.

Not everyone, naturally, is in favor of the ban. Senator John McCain of Arizona (who has close ties to the two defense contractors responsible for the Orphan Mine site) and Representative Rob Bishop of Utah both feel that the ban jeopardizes jobs for no proven reason. The most entertaining (?) individual to watch on this topic, though, is Arizona State Representative Sylvia Allen, who’s of the opinion that the earth is only 6000 years old.

She’s off a bit on her numbers, of course, since the Vishnu Basement Rocks of the Grand Canyon have been determined to be slightly less than 2 billion years old. I’ll go out on a limb and say that I would consider her to be a little, um, wacky, but she has an awful lot of company.

It is estimated that nearly 50% of the adults in American would also be considered to be believers in Young Earth creationism, which means that you are VERY LIKELY to run into a few of them on your next trip to Walmart.

In case you're wondering, the man responsible for the "young earth" theory is Archbishop of Ireland James Ussher. In 1650, he estimated that the earth was created on October 23, 4004 B.C.. His work continues to be cited today by many creationists, but even Pat Robertson now believes that the earth is actually considerably older.

My front door is less than 100 miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Uranium mines look like this:

The Grand Canyon looks like this:

Guess which one I’d rather have in my back yard?

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