TUSAYAN, Ariz. – The controversial Canyon Mine, located just six miles from Grand Canyon’s South Rim, is filling with surplus water after a wet winter. In an effort to dispose of the water from the bottom of the mine shaft, mine owner Energy Fuels Resources (USA) Inc. is trucking the contaminated water to the White Mesa Mill uranium processing facility near Blanding, Utah and spraying it, into the air and on the adjacent Kaibab National Forest, in an attempt to evaporate it. The Plan of Operations requires that all excess water be retained in holding ponds and be treated on-site.
Simultaneously, Energy Fuels has allowed state environmental permits intended to help protect groundwater to expire.
Communities on the Navajo Nation along the haul route from Canyon Mine to the White Mesa Mill were not formally notified of hazardous materials being transported. The route traverses 300 miles, with approximately 180 miles going through Navajo Nation and the Ute Mountain Ute community south of the Mill. The Navajo Nation has a law that restricts transport of radioactive materials, including uranium ore, “over, under or across Navajo Indian Country”; however, Navajo does not have jurisdiction over the state roads of the haul route. Trucks are marked “non-potable water” and at least one truck observed had a placard misidentifying the contents as petroleum products.
Indigenous peoples are not just concerned about the transport, but also Red Butte, a designated Traditional Cultural Property and sacred site, near the mine, as well as risks to precious water resources, possibility of accidents, lack of emergency response, and impacts to human health, plants, and wildlife.
“As Navajo Nation, we have dealt with uranium since the cold war and still dealing with mines left behind by irresponsible people….the last thing we need is for another mine transferring it though our communities….No Haul!” said Milton Tso, Cameron Chapter President.
The U.S. Forest Service did not require Energy Fuels to update its 1986 Plan of Operations to reflect any new information or technology when it began drilling after nearly 30 years on “standby,” where the mine sat and was nonoperational. Now, before the mine has even removed any uranium ore, they seem to be out of compliance with their Plan.
Furthermore, Energy Fuels allowed its permits for the on-site storage of physical material that has been removed from the mineshaft to expire in August 2016. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has not received any paperwork from the company for the renewal of the permits.
“This is unacceptable and just confirms many of our concerns about this mine. The mining industry has been saying that mining is cleaner and safer than it used to be, but now the shaft of the mine has been flooded and they had to develop a contingency plan before they’ve even started removing ore. We should not trust this mine or this mining company so close to one of the world’s natural wonders. They’re putting the waters of Grand Canyon at risk,” said Sierra Club’s Alicyn Gitlin.
Energy Fuels has drilled the shaft to approximately 1,400 feet and has intercepted high-grade uranium ore, although extraction has not yet begun. The water being trucked and sprayed into the air from the mine’s holding pond reportedly contains three times the safe limit of dissolved uranium for drinking water. But it is not known how much of that water has made its way off the mine site. Given the complex hydrology of Grand Canyon, it is also unknown if contaminated water is infiltrating from the unfinished mine shaft into the region’s groundwater, which feeds seeps and springs in Grand Canyon.
“This is another prime example of environmental racism, to allow unregulated transport of radioactive liquids in unmarked trucks through communities and without notifying the public or any of the surrounding indigenous nations. We have a right to know, at the very least, so proper preparations and emergency response are in place in case of a spill or accident,” said Leona Morgan with Haul No!, an indigenous-led initiative concerned about uranium transport.