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Park Service: Uranium Mining Hurts Tourism

Above: A map showing the location of uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.

Audio

Aired 11/21/11

The mining industry and the park service debate the economics of uranium mining on land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park.

— In the last decade the price of uranium has shot up. Some of the richest uranium deposits just so happen to be on land surrounding a national treasure: the Grand Canyon. A ban on new claims is set to expire in December.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean it will. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar wants to extend the ban for another 20 years.

That’s bad news for mining companies like Vane Minerals, which have enjoyed elevated uranium prices for almost a decade.

"The uranium deposits that have been found in northern Arizona are among the highest grade deposits found and mined anywhere in the U.S.," said Kris Hefton, Chief Operating Officer for Vane Minerals.

Minerals experts estimate there’s enough uranium on land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park to replace more than 13 billion barrels of imported crude oil with nuclear power.

Republican lawmakers have sponsored legislation that would allow mining to continue.

Mining companies insist their process is safe, but park officials worry about the impact on tourism.

About 4.5 million people visit the Grand Canyon each year.

"Just the whole perception of potential contamination could deter them from coming to the park," said Martha Hahn, Grand Canyon's chief of science and resource management.

At the park, visitors can already see a plume and drill rig from one uranium mine that was grandfathered in before the temporary ban.

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