Judge Halts Uranium Mining Near Grand Canyon

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It would seem that digging for uranium near the Grand Canyon and its watersheds might be an obviously bad idea outright, but the National Forest Service didn't agree: They approved a bid by the British mining firm VANE (ha-ha) to start exploratory drilling in the Kaibab National Forest, just a few miles from the Grand Canyon.

When three conservation groups — the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, and Grand Canyon Trust — challenged the Forest Service's decision with a lawsuit, the Forest Service decided to allow uranium drilling while the case was pending. But after a day-long hearing, a federal judge finally issued an injunction to block uranium exploration until the case gets decided. Whew.

In December, reps from the Kaibab National Forest decided to allow VANE to begin exploratory drilling, citing a " a categorical exclusion," which allows for the least rigorous period of public and environmental review.

"This order stops uranium exploration on the banks of a national treasure," said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. "The Forest Service had allowed drilling to begin while the case was pending, so the order comes as a major relief. We're elated."

"The judge's decision reinforces our belief that the current uranium boom poses the most significant threat that Grand Canyon has faced in many years," said Richard Mayol, communications director of Grand Canyon Trust. "Grand Canyon just isn't the place for new uranium development."

Unfortunately, VANE's 39 drilling site represents only a handful of the thousands of new uranium claims staked on public lands surrounding the Grand Canyon. While a resolution to the case might resolve this claim, expect the debate about the canyon's uranium to go radioactive again in the near future. — Ted Alvarez

Federal judge blocks uranium company's test near Grand Canyon (AP)