President Harrison (1893) began a litany of Grand Canyon protections naming it a forest preserve. Roosevelt’s 1908 National Monument declaration was preceded by his saying “Leave it as it is. …man can only mar it.”
U.S. Rep. Grijalva’s call for uranium mining ban falls in line with other prescient protections, envisioning decreased exposure to cancer-causing radiation, safeguarding pristine aquifer water, honoring treaties with our native neighbors, and forestalling boom and bust mining that supports few workers and incapacitates a monumental need to transfer our economy to safer, less polluting energy sources.
Proponents say nuclear power is a more energy efficient than any other energy source, which if you only look at nuclides colliding in the reactor is true. Yet, our future depends not on myopia but long-term vision wherein we consider the fuel cycle and waste containment.
To get uranium, miners build roads and platforms disrupting the fragile forest ecology, drill breccia pipes thereby opening a cavity to the aquifer, and truck ore to a refinery hundreds of miles away while using fossil-fuels. The Blanding, Utah refinery has radionuclide contamination offsite its permitted allotment, and the Navajo Nation will block transport across their lands.
A major problem is waste containment for nuclides with a 4,500,000,000 year half-life. Yucca Mountain storage site has been mothballed after $15 billion spent and no nuclear waste storage, nearly every nuclear reactor is at waste capacity with nowhere to store additional rods that could be reprocessed, and current nuclear plants are nearly all beyond their engineered life expectancy.
Wouldn’t it be better to build the waste system before mining, or should we rely on the antiquated 1872 Mining Law and good will of nuclear companies to take care of us? Maybe we shift the brain power in nuclear mining and processing to engineering high-efficiency solar arrays, appliances and automobiles. As physicist Dr. Amory Lovins said in the 1960’s, “using nuclear power to make electricity is like cutting butter with a chainsaw.”
AZ Daily Sun, March 10, 2019