Industries claim the usual objections
Just as a rooster crows at sunrise, the uranium and nuclear industries predictably took aim at President Biden’s designation, saying it would raise their costs, aid foreign adversaries, and harm efforts to address climate change.
Quite simply, this is ridiculous.
First, protecting one of the most iconic areas of the American landscape, and one that is important to literally a dozen tribes, is a profound good in and of itself.
Second, limiting uranium mining won’t affect cost or supply. Uranium makes up a small share of the costs of running a nuclear plant, and supplies are plentiful and available from many nations. Indeed, an unchallenged 2007 review of uranium supplies by Allison Macfarlane, the former chair of the NRC, found that the world had more than a century’s worth of relatively accessible stores of uranium.
Third, it’s wrong to claim this helps our adversaries abroad. After Russia invaded Ukraine, NRDC, along with many others, immediately joined calls to ban any purchase of Russian uranium. Nothing has changed on that front.
And Russia is not the top supplier of the uranium used in U.S. nuclear plants.
Russia has, over the years, provided a fluctuating portion of domestic reactor fuel, but it’s usually about 14 to 16 percent. While not an insignificant number, it’s certainly far from being a showstopper. And there is no shortage or supply chain concern for the existing fleet, even when removing Russian uranium from consideration. There is a long-established world market for uranium that, under current conditions, provides a product to its customers without major supply issues. The United States also has a store of excess uranium that can be accessed from the U.S. Department of Energy, if required. And two of the three most significant suppliers for the United States—Australia and Canada—are among our closest allies.
Last, it’s spurious to connect the domestic uranium market with somehow addressing the climate crisis. Over the past several years, the nuclear industry’s share of domestic low-carbon energy has been decreasing, and at a faster clip with each successive year. For example, in 2010, the nuclear industry provided 69 percent of domestic low-carbon electricity. By 2022, the nuclear industry’s contribution dropped to just half. This trajectory is likely to continue and, in fact, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said renewable energy will provide more power than nuclear by this year.
Uranium mining is inherently invasive and destructive—it needs protective standards
Uranium mining involves massive amounts of water in a region of our nation that’s facing severe water shortages. It can be done, however, provided it’s in compliance with vastly more protective standards, which include requiring the industry to clean up any contamination they cause in the process of mining. That’s the clear and simple standard that was laid out by the EPA in the uranium rule that the Trump administration nixed: Before mining a site, industry should be required to test the groundwater; then, once mining is done, it should clean up the water to the level it was before mining; and finally, it should transparently monitor the site to make sure the cleanup sticks, with either the EPA or the states overseeing this. It sounds straightforward, and it is.
All of the West deserves protection from groundwater contamination related to uranium, and it’s a shame that the Biden administration has not been willing—so far—to provide it.
While we will continue to fight for more comprehensive protections against such contamination, we celebrate the president’s designation of the new Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni—Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument. This special landscape deserves enduring protection, and the creation of the monument honors the long-standing vision of the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition.
This blog provides general information, not legal advice. If you need legal help, please consult a lawyer in your state.