Uranium Level in Soil Spikes at Mine Near Grand Canyon

Dec 30, 2015

State environmental officials have suspended the air-pollution permit renewal process for three uranium mines near the Grand Canyon. Recent tests showed uranium content in the soil near one of the mines is four times higher than previously measured. Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports. 

The Pinenut Mine near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and 35 miles south of Fredonia.
Credit M. Tobin/Grand Canyon Trust

The tests were conducted in July and October outside the perimeter of the Pinenut Mine facility. The analysis showed uranium in the soil at one out of the five testing sites had spiked since 2011 when the mine reopened.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality says the elevated level of the radioactive metal doesn’t present an immediate public health risk. But the agency has pushed the mines’ owner, Energy Fuels Resources, to boost measures to control radioactive dust. ADEQ has also mandated that the company expand soil testing in the area.

However, Curtis Moore with Energy Fuels characterized the results as a minor issue.

“These levels are marginally above natural background levels of uranium and pose no risk to public health or the environment,” Moore said. “The levels are extremely low and Energy Fuels is working with the ADEQ to determine if any additional dust control or other measures are appropriate.”

Energy Fuels also owns the Canyon and EZ uranium mines near the Grand Canyon. ADEQ is considering the renewal of air-pollution permits for all three mines, but will suspend that process as it evaluates the company’s new dust-control plan at the Pinenut Mine. The agency will eventually open a new public comment period and hold meetings for the permit renewals.

Environmental groups have opposed the renewals, and say radioactive dust from the mines could impact the City of Flagstaff and tribal communities. They also worry uranium mining could harm the Grand Canyon’s watershed.