You’re Not Supposed to Mine the Grand Canyon, So Why Are These Miners Digging Up Uranium? | Smart News | Smithsonian

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You’re Not Supposed to Mine the Grand Canyon, So Why Are These Miners Digging Up Uranium?

There are four mines still turning out ore near the Grand Canyon.

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A radiation warning sign near a uranium mine along the Grand Canyon’s south rim. Photo: Alan English CPA

Back in 2011, the U.S. Department of the Interior decided that 1 million acres of land around the Grand Canyon would be off the table for uranium mining. The Grand Canyon is a gorgeous natural feature, the culmination of millions of years of erosion, and the Colorado River that runs through it is also the source of drinking water for 40 million people, says Laurel Morales for Marketplace. But the land around the Grand Canyon is also packed full of uranium, the valuable fuel used in nuclear energy generation. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the million acres under protection contain 163,000 tons of uranium ore. Mining companies didn’t like it, but with that 2011 decision mining near the Grand Canyon was to go away, at least for the next 20 years. But it didn’t.

As Morales reports, there are four mines still turning out ore near the Grand Canyon.

These mines, including the Arizona 1 mine that Morales visits, were allowed to keep operating. A special exception was made for mines that were already constructed on the land. The Arizona 1 mine had actually not been in use since 1992, says the Arizona Capital Times, but with the ban on new mining in place these old mines became the only way in to the land around the Grand Canyon. The decision to let this old mine resume production was backed up by a federal appeals court back in February.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Grand Canyon Uranium Mining
Tour the Grand Canyon From Your Computer With Google Street View

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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