Original article by Liz Thomas, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
Scarred landscapes, contaminated water, and deadly gases are current reminders of the historic uranium mining and milling operations in southeastern Utah. Now a Canadian mining corporation, Energy Fuels, is proposing to significantly expand its overall mining operation to increase ore production at its Daneros uranium mine in southeastern Utah.
The Daneros uranium mine, located in the heart of the Colorado Plateau, is surrounded by large expanses of spectacular wild lands. Located five miles west of Natural Bridges National Monument, the uranium mine expansion is also near Cedar Mesa’s Grand Gulch, the Dark Canyon Wilderness Area, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area’s Lake Powell. These are areas enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of visitors from Utah and around the world, many of whom spend time camping, hiking, and enjoying scenic tours on the public lands surrounding the proposed mine site.
Energy Fuels is proposing to expand its existing mining operation from the current 4.5-acre operation at the Daneros mine to 46.3 acres (a ten-fold increase in surface disturbance). The expansion includes the construction of new mining facilities at the nearby Bullseye and South Portal abandoned mine sites, installation of ventilation holes, and the construction of new access roads. The company’s proposal states that over the next 20 years, 500,000 tons of ore could be produced at the expanded mining operation – an amount five times greater than what is permitted under the current Plan of Operations approved by the BLM in 2011. For more detailed information on the company’s proposal, see the BLM’s press release.
Energy Fuels is pressuring the BLM to approve this major mine expansion even though the company closed down the Daneros uranium mine in October 2012. This closure resulted from public backlash at the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster and the subsequent market drop in uranium prices. The company has not yet re-opened the existing Daneros mine.
Historic Uranium Mining in Utah
Utah and the other states in the Four Corners region have a legacy of thousands of abandoned uranium mine sites. These abandoned sites pose health, safety, and environmental risks to residents of the area, visitors, and wildlife, in the form of continued air and water contamination. The federal government has a history of ignoring known sources of contamination and harm caused by the mining and milling of uranium, and has failed to notify uranium workers and the general public of these risks.
This sad history coupled with the significant risks inherent in uranium mining underscores the need for the BLM to conduct a comprehensive environmental analysis of the proposed Daneros uranium mine expansion. The agency must disclose the potential impacts of expanded uranium mining on air and water quality, wildlife, wilderness, night skies, scenic viewsheds, cultural resources, and public health and safety. Additionally, because the risks of mining don’t stop at the mine site, the agency must disclose the impacts associated with transporting and milling the uranium ore at the White Mesa Mill near Blanding, Utah. Incredibly, even in light of the history and risks associated with uranium mining and milling, the BLM is not proposing to analyze the project in a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement.
Uranium mining and milling is a dirty business, leaving a legacy of decades-old scars on the landscape of southern Utah. Accordingly, this proposed mine expansion should be denied.