MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations


Uranium Mining at the Grand Canyon—
What Costs to Water, Air,
and Indigenous People?

by Cate Gilles, with Lena Bravo and Don Watahomigie

The following article addresses the impacts of uranium mining and development at the Grand Canyon. Existing and planned mines already threaten Canyon watersheds and directly affect the lives of the native Havasupai and Hualapai people whose homelands are at the Canyon floor and along its South Rim. Uranium mining presents a profound risk of permanent destruction of a great natural wonder and of a way of life for the indigenous people who have been its guardians.

At issue are the concerns of the Havasupai and Hualapai — including internal divisions generated by promises of economic gain — for their religious traditions, their health, their future, their children, their survival as a people and for the land they regard as sacred.

At great risk is water in the Grand Canyon. Although the mining industry steadfastly claims uranium mining presents no significant risks of radioactive contamination, the fact that all of the Canyon's uranium mines are upstream of the Canyon floor makes contamination by mining waste inevitable. A huge spill at Hack Canyon in 1984, when a summer flash flood washed four tons of high-grade uranium ore from a uranium tailings pile into Kanab Creek and on to the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, has already demonstrated the devastating potential of uranium waste contamination. And a September 1990 major flood disaster, which nearly wiped out the village and farms of the Havasupai, has testified to the power of flood waters to carry water from mines on the Canyon's rims to the floor below.

Although none of the Canyon's five previously operating mines are now open because of a glut of uranium on the world market, at least a dozen new drilling plans have been approved. Hundreds of the thousands of staked mining claims in the Canyon are earmarked for development. A resurgence of the uranium mining and milling industry, a potential consequence of the Bush administration energy policy favoring nuclear power, may be imminent.

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