A viable solution to America’s self-imposed uranium shortage is tucked away in Lake Havasu City’s backyard. Rather than importing uranium from other nations — some of them U.S. adversaries — Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson urged members of Congress to mine Arizona’s rich deposits of uranium.
Johnson was in Washington D.C. Wednesday to testify before the National Resources Committee against HR 1373 which aims to make permanent a 2012 uranium mining ban. Originally set to expire in 2032, it concerns more than one million acres of land in the Arizona Strip area.
The legislation was introduced in February by Democrat Congressman Raul Grijalva of Arizona’s third Congressional district. Grijalva is also chairman of the National Resources Committee.
Johnson traveled to the nation’s capital at the invitation of Congressman Paul Gosar.
“Congressman Gosar and I have been working since 2012 to lift this atrocious uranium mining ban that has cost our local economy and that of our neighbors in Utah nearly $29 billion in economic benefits,” Johnson stated in a press release.
The land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park is rich in uranium. Navajo, Pueblo and other tribal leaders support Grijalva’s legislation because they believe it will protect the water and air in the vast area. However, Johnson said that line of thinking about uranium mining is misguided.
“The theory put forward by environmentalists that it is hurting the ground water is completely false. I have seen the uranium deposits and they are only 100 feet down. The water table is around 1,000 feet down, and there is an impermeable layer that won’t let anything through to the water table. So there’s no way groundwater is going to be affected with uranium mining,” Johnson said in the release.
“Current uranium mining meets high standards for protecting both the environment and the public. It would stop reliance on Russia for our nuclear security and create $29 billion in economic benefits by opening up the mining. Now, that’s the right thing to do,” he said.
On Tuesday, the day before Johnson testified, the Commerce Department recommended urgent steps to boost domestic production of a list of 35 “critical minerals” that included uranium, a nuclear fuel. Currently, the U.S. relies on foreign uranium to fuel the nation’s nuclear power plants.
The Commerce Department’s report came soon after Chinese officials suggested that rare earths and other critical minerals could be used as leverage in the trade war between the world’s largest economic powers.
At the hearing, Supervisor Johnson called the mining withdrawal and HR 1373 a direct attempt to undo the commitment given in 1984 to the people of Arizona. The Arizona Wilderness Act of 1984 and the agreement between environmental groups and the uranium industry at the time resulted in 1.2 million acres of wilderness areas being designated as buffer zones to the Grand Canyon National Park and a compromise on another 3 million acres of Arizona land addressed in the bill. This was in exchange for allowing livestock grazing and uranium mining outside of those areas.
“As the supervisor who represents the county where the uranium and Grand Canyon are located, I can tell you that if I had even the slightest indication that mining would affect the canyon or the health of the people I represent, I would be adamantly opposed to it. However, that is not the case. The Grand Canyon and people are protected and the economic benefit of over $29 billion and the security of our nation are at stake,” Johnson said in his testimony.
Current safeguards and environmental protections in place today make uranium mining far different than it was back in the Cold War Era.
“Modern uranium mining doesn’t utilize open pits. The uranium industry, having learned from the mistakes of the go-for-broke Atomic Energy Commission Cold War mining mandate, reclaimed all post-1980 mines to pristine condition,” Gosar said in the press release.
“Rep. Grijalva’s attempt to mislead the American public on the issue of uranium mining by claiming Republicans and industry want to destroy the Grand Canyon is laughable at best. Uranium was recently placed on the critical minerals list. The area far outside the Grand Canyon that Grijalva is trying to permanently ban constitutes the bulk of a 326,000,000-acre uranium reserve, the subsurface of which contains significant portions of what is by far the largest tract of uranium deposits in the entire nation, in addition to the highest grade of uranium deposit in the nation by a factor of six,” Gosar said.
On Thursday afternoon, Johnson said no other Republicans testified at Wedensday’s hearing. He was allotted five minutes to make his statement and used all of that time. The hearing took place in the Longworth Building, which houses several congressional offices.
Gosar and Congressman Rob Bishop of the first district of Utah were the only panelists who sought more information from Johnson.
“They asked questions about the proposed mining region. They wanted to know if the Grand Canyon be seen from there,” he said. “I told them no, it is miles away.”
A few tribal members testified in support of the mining ban, but Johnson remains hopeful that HR 1373 will fail.
“What might save us is if Trump mandates that we buy domestic uranium. That would open the door,” he said.
Pam Ashley can be reached at 928-453-4237, ext. 230 or email@example.com.