June 26, 2008

U.S. halts uranium mining near Grand Canyon

Reporting by Bernard Woodall
Reuters UK

South Rim from the Bright Angel trail in the Grand Canyon in this photo taken January 3, 2008.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Uranium mining near the rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona was halted for three years by a 20-2 vote on Wednesday in a U.S. House of Representatives committee.

A recent surge in mining claims within five miles of Grand Canyon National Park sparked the action. The number of claims close to the park increased to more than 1,100 by January 2008 from only 10 in January 2003, according to government figures.

Almost all those claims are to mine uranium. Uranium prices have increased in recent years as demand has spiked to feed an increasing number of nuclear power plants across the globe, as well as potential new U.S. plants.

"This emergency action will help prevent uranium mining from harming the Grand Canyon and polluting drinking water for millions," said Dusty Horwitt, public lands analyst at Environmental Working Group, which spearheaded the effort to block mining.

Horwitt said mining could pollute the Colorado River, source of drinking water for millions throughout the Southwest, including the Los Angeles, Phoenix and Las Vegas areas.

The world consumes about 180 million pounds (50 million to 55 million pounds in the United States) of raw uranium a year.