By Judy Fahys
The administration, seeking to restore America’s “competitive nuclear advantage,” also wants to create a $150 million uranium reserve in the coming decade.
vergreen forests blanket the Grand Canyon’s less traveled northern plateau, and the perfume of Ponderosa pine drifts down a creekbed to the bottom of the great redrock canyon. Downstream, the strangely blue waters of the Little Colorado River meet the main Colorado, coming from the southern plateau close to sacred places for indigenous people who have lived here for centuries.
Both plateaus are also where mining companies want to unearth uranium. Mining those claims has been barred since 2012, when Congress imposed a 20-year mining ban across 1 million acres here because past uranium extraction has polluted drinking water and poisoned the air and the ground. Local tribes and environmental groups that sought the temporary ban have been pressing Congress to make the ban permanent.
But in a sweeping plan to revive the domestic uranium mining industry unveiled Thursday, the Trump administration proposed instead to open the scenic and sacred areas once again in the name of economic vitality and national security. Allowing more uranium mining on federal lands is just one of the suggestions that emerged from an eight-month review by the White House Nuclear Fuel Working Group.
So are the creation of a federally funded, $150 million uranium reserve over the next decade, the easing of environmental regulations at mines and processing plants and the global expansion of U.S.-made nuclear technologies, such as the small modular reactors being developed at the Idaho National Laboratory.
Proposals outlined in the Restoring America’s Competitive Nuclear Advantage report quickly triggered criticism. Some environmentalists say that the administration shouldn’t propose using taxpayer funds during a pandemic to bail out a dirty, uncompetitive industry that’s largely owned by foreign companies. They also question why more isn’t being done to support existing nuclear plants that generate more than one-third of the nation’s carbon-free electricity.