The Trump administration released a long-awaited plan to “revive and strengthen the uranium mining industry” to boost nuclear power. If enacted, the proposal would wreak ecological havoc on U.S. public lands, including the Grand Canyon.
Mining companies have long had their eyes on land near the iconic national park and neighboring tribal lands. Because previous uranium extraction in the area leached toxic chemicals into the air and water, a 2012 ban on mining in the area protects the park from the industry’s expansion. But in their memo, the Trump administration’s Nuclear Fuel Working Group proposed opening 1,500 acres in the region up to the industry, despite the risks doing so would pose to indigenous and rural communities and wildlife.
Though nuclear power does not rely on fossil fuels, mining for uranium is a dirty process. Radioactive dust can be kicked up into the air and toxic chemicals can contaminate nearby water and soil.
Despite that, the plan also recommends easing environmental requirements for mining permits under the National Environmental Policy Act, a set of regulations for which the Trump administration has already proposed a major rollback. It also proposes creating a new federal uranium reserve and allocating $150 million per year to fill that reserve with domestically mined uranium, ostensibly in an effort to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign uranium producers for nuclear power.
The memo has garnered praise from nuclear energy producers and lobbyists, whose industry is in rapid decline. Last year, the International Energy Agency predicted that global nuclear energy capacity could drop by two-thirds over the next 20 years, and the U.S. nuclear sector is already winding down quickly.
But the plans laid out in the memo that would open the door to mining near Grand Canyon are unnecessary. The U.S. already has substantial stockpiles of uranium, and even if it needed to obtain more, doing so wouldn’t put it at national security risk.
“Much of the U.S.’s uranium supply comes from countries that are strong allies of the U.S., such as Canada and Australia,” the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement. “Also, the International Atomic Energy Association opened a global ‘uranium bank’ a few years ago to assure a stable supply of low-enriched uranium. There’s no need to duplicate that effort.”
Environmental groups have come out in staunch opposition to the proposal, as have indigenous leaders.
“It’s despicable to risk irreversible harm to spectacular wild places,” said Taylor McKinnon, a campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “We will do everything in our power to keep these disastrous proposals from taking off.”