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AZ Grants Grand Canyon–area Permits to Uranium Mining Co.

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Even as the U.S. Government is gathering input on whether to extend a two-year uranium-mining ban on one million acres around Grand Canyon national park, a Canadian firm has obtained permits from the Arizona environmental protection department to reopen three mines near the famous landmark, the Associated Press reported on March 11.

Although the company, Denison Mines Corp., will need federal approval, this preempts the U.S. Department of the Interior’s hearings on the matter. In 2009 Interior Secretary Ken Salazar blocked new mining claims on a million acres to give the department time to study whether to institute a more permanent or lengthy ban.

Now Interior is inviting public comment through the end of April to help it evaluate four proposals, the AP said. Should the department of the interior do nothing, set aside the acres for 20 years or withdraw part of the land, either 300,000 acres or 650,000 acres, from new claims? Up to 10,000 mining claims are already marked near the Grand Canyon, the AP said, with 1,100 of them uranium-mining claims near the park’s boundaries.

Two of Denison’s mines are north of the canyon, 35 miles southwest of Fredonia, and the third is south of the canyon, the AP said.

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In general, uranium mining in the Grand Canyon risks desecrating sacred sites of the Havasupai, Hualapai, Kaibab Paiute, Zuni, Hopi, and Navajo people. Moreover, said the Center for Biological Diversity, quoting a 2010 U.S. Geological Survey report, sites previously explored for uranium on public lands north of the Grand Canyon have elevated radioactivity, and at least 15 springs and five wells in the region have high concentrations of dissolved uranium, said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Even The New York Times has weighed in.

“The only sensible alternative is the most sweeping one: withdrawing one million acres around the Grand Canyon from mining and prospecting for the next 20 years,” The New York Times said in a March 11 editorial. “Restricting mining in this area would have little effect on America’s uranium supply, a vast majority of which comes from Wyoming and New Mexico.”