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Thu, Nov. 14

Column | Mining in Mohave County is about national security

(Photo courtesy of National Park Service)

(Photo courtesy of National Park Service)

We appreciate the opportunity to respond to the Miner’s June 27 editorial on uranium mining.

The editorial appears to be a raw attempt to frighten the residents of the county, and while it raises several hypothetical possibilities of uranium contamination, it fails to validate any of them.

First of all, there is no doubt that in the early days of the atomic energy boom of the 1950s very little attention was given to protecting human health and the environment as the nation sought to protect itself from a very real Soviet threat. Having unleashed the nuclear age in order to end World War II, on the home front this country, sadly, was not prepared to protect its people or the surrounding land from harm during those years. Our lands and Native Americans were taken advantage of and efforts to protect the people of the southwest were nonexistent. Above ground atomic testing was woefully shortsighted and all who lived downwind were placed at risk.

That said, the passage of time, better education, and enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), along with numerous other federal and state laws to protect the environment and the public have by all accounts made a significant improvement in actual health and safety. So the Miner’s June 27 assertion to the contrary is simply wrong. Yet clearly, there is more work to be done.

We have made it very clear that our county strongly supports efforts by EPA to clean up reservations and any other public lands that were misused and where public health threats remain. We share the frustration of many who believe this clean up is too slow.

The most disappointing portion of the Miner piece is the amazingly ignorant assertion that “uranium mining today has nothing to do with national security.” OH, YES IT DOES!

Well over 95% of the uranium used in America’s 98 operating nuclear reactors comes from foreign sources and nearly 60% of that comes from such places as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Namibia, whose deposits were recently purchased by the Chinese government. (Editor’s note: 62% of uranium consumed by the U.S. in 2017 came from Canada (35%), Australia (20%) and the U.S. (7%), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration). As nuclear plants produce 20% of America’s domestic electricity, and America’s nuclear Navy is completely reliant on dwindling domestic uranium production, even the most casual observer has to conclude that the United States is at risk. It was the U.S. Navy that implored the Secretary of the Interior to place uranium on the Critical Mineral’s list.

The Miner’s editorial makes it sound as if the only purpose of uranium is to produce weapons, but as the facts make clear, we are talking about the daily operations of the American Navy and our own residential and commercial electrical supply. Wind and solar, while important, don’t get the job done as they, combined in 2019, produced only 8% of our nation’s electricity. Nuclear power is essential to our daily lives and the need to increase domestic uranium supply to meet that need should be obvious.

Remember that as recently as 1986, when the Pale Verde plant in Phoenix became operational, domestic utilities including APS, purchased nearly all of their uranium from domestic sources including uranium mined from Mohave County’s Arizona Strip.

Importantly, The Department of Defense in its annual unclassified operational report and material plan report to Congress, several years ago, stopped mentioning the existence of any strategic stockpile for uranium. Thus, the Miner’s reckless assertions to the contrary, we have to assume that there is no stockpile and that the military brass at the Pentagon, particularly the Navy, are alarmed at the lack of domestic uranium in usable form. Finally, the Miner’s reference to 1.2 billion pounds of uranium resources is a wild-eyed reference to all uranium in existence without recognition of uranium available to actually use.

The geologic breccia pipes with which we have been blessed contain sufficient high-grade uranium to power California’s 40 million people for 22.5 years if no other electricity source is used. Despite the Miner’s allegations and fear mongering to the contrary, those formations are the safest, most environmentally sound sources of nuclear fuel (uranium) found anywhere in the world. A breccia pipe uranium mine can be dug, the uranium extracted and hauled in safe covered trucks to a mill in Utah, while the uranium-free overburden is poured back into the pipe and the surface reclaimed in 7-10 years all while employing 50-100 people (including Native Americans) with high wage jobs. This opportunity provides economic growth to the support businesses throughout this county and beyond for another three to four hundred people.

Moreover, since water aquifers are 1,000 or more feet below the uranium in the pipe, there is no co-mingling of the two and absent a freak accident, no contamination of the Colorado River or its tributaries. The Miner is simply wrong on this one.

The president has before him a petition by the domestic uranium mining industry, which, if he accepts it, could provide Mohave County residents with the benefits we’ve mentioned, and the opportunity to help restore the balance to our national electricity grid and, yes, our very real national security needs.

We are committed to do our part in an environmentally sound way that respects the health and safety of our people. We are also firmly committed to making certain that the wrongs of the past to Native Americans are righted as we work to make sure that the federal government, particularly the EPA, does its job to clean up the sites on the reservations.

Fearmongering is not the answer. Active participation by all of us to solve the problems of our day is the answer. We can both protect people in our county and have safe and successful mines that will reward our community and make it more prosperous. All of that can put us on the same side. It’s hard to believe that a newspaper, ironically calling itself the Miner, disavows that much needed resource that can produce a much-needed mineral for the security of our nation.

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