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Grand Canyon Faces Uranium Mining Threat

Study Calls for Stricter Monitoring and Reassessment of Mining Practices

by Victor Adetimilehin

A recent study published in the journal Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences raises concerns about the environmental impact of uranium mining near the Grand Canyon. Researchers from the University of New Mexico (UNM) warn that the high level of interconnection between groundwater systems in the area creates significant risks of contamination for people, ecosystems, and aquifers.

The study highlights the urgency for stricter monitoring practices and the application of hydro-tectonic concepts to reassess the viability of uranium mining near the Grand Canyon’s springs and groundwater sources.

Highly Connected Groundwater Systems Pose Environmental Risks

The UNM research team analyzed data suggesting that groundwater systems in the Grand Canyon region are far more interconnected than previously thought. This interconnectedness implies that uranium mining and other contaminant activities could have widespread repercussions.

“This might seem surprising at first glance,” explained co-author Karl Karlstrom in a press release. “But it’s similar to how rivers mix. The same processes occur with groundwater, only they’re hidden underground and not fully understood.”

Karlstrom further elaborated on the role of faults in channeling groundwater flow. “Groundwater flows downhill, and faults act like pathways, controlling where water accumulates in these underground basins. In the Grand Canyon region, each basin has major springs discharging onto tribal or park land,” he said.

The springs identified in the study are crucial water sources. The Havasu Spring, located on the Havasupai Reservation, supplies water for the Village of Havasupai within the Grand Canyon. The Blue Spring holds cultural significance for the Navajo and Hopi people. Other springs emerging within the Grand Canyon National Park provide water for millions of annual visitors.

Hydro-Tectonic Concepts Crucial for Understanding Groundwater Risks

The researchers emphasize the importance of hydro-tectonic concepts in understanding the Grand Canyon’s groundwater systems and wellsprings.

“Our research, which involved geologic mapping and geochemical tracers, revealed that faults function as superhighways for fluids,” said lead author Laura Crossey. “These faults connect upper and lower aquifers previously thought to be isolated by impermeable rock layers. These concepts are broadly applicable and have been largely overlooked in arid-land groundwater systems around the world.”

The research team believes these findings hold particular significance for the Colorado Plateau region, especially considering the recent commencement of uranium extraction at the Pinyon Plain mine (formerly known as Canyon Mine) situated very close to the South Rim Village of the Grand Canyon National Park.

“Regulatory agencies at both state and federal levels must consider all available scientific evidence,” urged Karlstrom concerning the environmental approvals granted to Energy Fuels, the company operating the mine. “Tribal communities argue that the permitting process disregards recent peer-reviewed research and risks jeopardizing culturally significant features.”

The study recommends strict precautionary measures and discourages any mining activity in this sensitive region due to the high contamination risk posed to various parts of the regional aquifer system, including the Havasupai springs, which are the sole water source for the Havasupai Village.

The Future of Uranium Mining and the Grand Canyon

The resurgence of interest in uranium mining stems from a growing global supply gap and an increased demand for nuclear power as a means to combat climate change. Additionally, the US government’s decision to ban imports of enriched uranium from Russia – a fuel source for nuclear reactors and weapons – has intensified the appeal of potential domestic suppliers.

While uranium mining offers economic benefits, the findings of this study underscore the need to prioritize environmental protection. Balancing these competing interests will require careful consideration of scientific evidence and a commitment to sustainable practices that safeguard the Grand Canyon’s irreplaceable water resources and cultural heritage.

Source: Mining.com

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