British firm under attack for mining near Grand Canyon

A A A

A British mining company is at the centre of a row over uranium mining near the Grand Canyon, the great American landmark which is one of the world's most celebrated preserved areas.

US environmentalists have launched a legal challenge to permission given to the British firm Vane Minerals to drill for uranium in the Kaibab National Forest in Arizona, which borders the canyon on both north and south sides.

Last December the US Forest Service gave Vane, which is based in London but operates largely in America, the authority to drill exploration sites within the forest at several different locations.

The company is seeking commercial quantities of the radioactive element, whose price has soared in the past five years driven by the prospects of a new generation of nuclear power stations being constructed, especially in China.

Commodity speculation is thought to have pushed up the price, which has risen from around $7 per pound in 2000, to more than $100 per pound today.

Uranium therefore looks a very attractive option to mining companies, and Vane is hoping to make millions of dollars from the "pipes" or seams of the mineral it is trying to pinpoint 2,000ft below the Arizona sandstone. The nearest drilling site is three miles from the Grand Canyon, a spokeswoman for Vane said.

However, a powerful coalition of American environmentalists takes the view that to be doing this so close to the canyon, which sits inside its own national park, is entirely inappropriate, and is acting to stop it.

The Centre for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and the Grand Canyon Trust have filed a joint suit in the US District Court in Prescott, Arizona, claiming the government approved drilling without full environmental reviews and in so doing violated several environmental and other laws.

"Grand Canyon simply isn't the place for uranium development," said Taylor McKinnon of the Centre for Biological Diversity. "Our national treasures deserve better than the calamity of an adjacent industrial zone."

The suit claims the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act and others when it approved exploration using the least rigorous analysis available to the agency. This analysis, the environmentalists say, failed to consider the controversy attending uranium development, the significance of its proximity to the Grand Canyon, and the cumulative impacts of four other future uranium exploration projects and the potential opening of Denison Corporation's Canyon Mine – all located in the same area.

Fuelled by the fifteen-fold price increase in uranium during the past eight years, planned development has increased enormously on federal lands immediately south of the canyon. The boom provoked a unanimous resolution from the Coconino County Board of Supervisors earlier in the year opposing uranium development around the Grand Canyon – the Vane exploration specifically – and supporting congressional efforts to protect the area from development.

"Some places should be off-limits to noise, heavy- equipment traffic, drilling and potential contamination from uranium exploration and drilling," said Dave Gowdey, from the Grand Canyon Trust.

The court action follows a letter from the same groups outlining legal problems with the approval and requesting that the Forest Service withdraw it. A spokeswoman for the Kaibab National Forest said it had followed the rules in allowing the exploration.

The Vane spokeswoman said it had gone through all the correct procedures. At any site where uranium was mined, the area would be restored to its original states, she said.

Concerns about the Grand Canyon's environmental health are being aired in a new film narrated by Robert Redford – as reported in yesterday's Independent – which highlights threats to the Colorado river at the canyon's base.

Ancient and spectacular

The Grand Canyon is a colossal gorge, 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and more than a mile deep, cut through the rocky plateau of northern Arizona by the Colorado river. It is not the world's deepest canyon, but it is the most visually spectacular, with unparalleled panoramas from the rim, and an enormous sequence of ancient rocks exposed which record much of North America's geological history.

Until recently it was believed that the river carved out the canyon over a period of six million years. However, a study by American geologists published earlier this month in the journal Science suggested that the western half of the canyon is actually much older, and that here it took the Colorado river much longer – 17 million years – to cut its way down to the level where it flows today.

The eastern half is believed to have developed separately, and it was six million years ago that the two were joined by the action of the river.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week