In January 1997, the crew of a fishing vessel in the Baltic Sea found something unusual in their nets: a greasy yellowish-brown lump of clay-like material. They pulled it out, placed it on deck and returned to processing their catch. The next day, the crew fell ill with serious skin burns. Four were hospitalised. The greasy lump was a substance called yperite, better known as sulfur mustard or mustard gas, solidified by the temperature on the sea bed.
At the end of the World War II, the US, British, French and Soviet authorities faced a big problem – how to get rid of some 300,000 tonnes of chemical munitions recovered from occupied Germany. Often, they opted for what seemed the safest, cheapest and easiest method: dumping the stuff out at sea.
The Grand Canyon region is home to some of the highest-grade uranium ore in the United States, which has made it a focal point of mining interests in the past. The Grand Canyon is also an important cultural and environmental resource where substantial scientific questions regarding the scope and severity of risks posed by uranium mining remain unanswered. East of Grand Canyon National Park, hundreds of abandoned uranium mines still litter the Navajo Nation, contaminating land and water. Across the Colorado Plateau, uranium mining and milling have left a toxic and expensive legacy.
In a 6-3 decision that underscored states’ rights, the justices affirmed a lower court’s ruling that threw out a lawsuit by Virginia Uranium Inc and other owners of the massive deposit valued by the company at $6 billion on private land in southern Virginia. The company, seeking to exploit the deposit, contested Virginia’s power to enact the ban, saying the policy should have been preempted by federal law governing nuclear energy.
While the petition is under consideration, the Commerce and Interior departments have made a series of decisions including reclassifying uranium as a critical mineral and developing a plan calling for increased domestic mining.
The departments‘ decisions have raised the concern of those who oppose mining in the region, who worry the administration may use the moves to justify modifying or rescinding the Department of Interior’s 2012 decision that largely blocked mining on more than 1 million acres near the national park for 20 years. That 2012 decision, which was made to give the US Geological Survey time to study the unique impacts of uranium mining there, was upheld by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017.
Trump administration considers uranium mining in Grand Canyon, threatening ancient Native American tribe
The Trump administration is considering a policy that could spark a renewed push for uranium mining in northern Arizona near the Grand Canyon, and pit environmentalists against the mining industry in a vicious political battle with grave consequences for Native Americans in the region.
The potential shift in strategy was published by the commerce department this week, and would speed up the permitting process for mining operations. The report also asks for a “thorough review” of bans on mining on federal lands, and comes amid a government effort to prioritise domestic mineral production viewed as “critical” to US economic and national security.