Nygren, Fowler oppose new Grand Canyon uranium mining
Pinyon Plain Mine began production south of Grand Canyon last month
GRAND CANYON — Despite the early January startup of uranium mining within the new Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukevi National Monument, Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren and Coconino County Supervisor Lena Fowler stand firm in their opposition to it.
That was the consensus this week when Fowler and Kaibab National Forest Supervisor Nichole Branton traveled to Window Rock to discuss the start of uranium mining south of the Grand Canyon with Nygren.
On Jan. 8, Energy Fuels Resources, the owner and operator of the Pinyon Plain Mine, notified the U.S. Forest Service’s Kaibab National Forest that uranium ore had been removed and placed on the ore pad. It was the first time that ore had been taken from the mine.
Within the last year, the price of uranium has more than doubled. On Jan. 16, it broke its 16-year record to surpass $100 per pound.
The rising price motivated Energy Fuels to begin its operation with approval from the federal Environmental Protection Agency – irrespective of President Joe Biden coming within a mile of the mine last August to declare the new national monument.
The 1872 Mining Act and the earlier 1986 issuance of permits for mining allowed the mine to launch its operations despite a Navajo Nation law to prohibit uranium transport across the Nation.
On paper, the Navajo Nation’s 2012 Radioactive and Related Substances Equipment, Vehicles, Persons and Materials Transportation Act makes it illegal to haul uranium within the Navajo Nation.
However, Nygren said the law cannot be applied on state highways like U.S. 89 and U.S. 160.
“The Navajo Nation cannot stop the transport of uranium due to state and federal right of ways but the Navajo Nation Council, local government, county, and myself are against uranium mining,” he said. “I do not want uranium being transported across the Navajo Nation, and we will be looking at feasible options on our end.”
There are two routes to transport uranium ore from the Pinyon Mine across the Navajo Nation through Tuba City and Kayenta to be processed at the White Mesa Mill located on the fringes of the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation.
Uranium ore hauling has not started but a request for proposal has been issued to find hauling companies.
The Pinyon Plain Mine, formerly Canyon Uranium Mine, is located about 6 miles southeast of Tusayan, Ariz., within the Tusayan Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest. The entire mine site is 17 acres in size.
“As the Forest Service, we do not have a decision to make,” Kaibab National Forest Supervisor Nichole Branton said. “The mine was built in the 1980s and tribal consultation would have taken place before it was built. This has caught a lot of people by surprise, and we are doing the best we can to get information out to the public.”
Fowler, whose District 5 encompasses Tuba City, Kaibeto, LeChee, Coppermine, Page, Fredonia, Marble Canyon and Vermillion Cliffs, said the county has opposed uranium mining near the Grand Canyon and its watersheds for decades.
“Coconino County has always been against uranium mining, and we have supported the Navajo Nation in their cleanup efforts and advocating,” Fowler said.
Information provided by OPVP.