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Local people blame uranium mining for a host of serious illnesses including cancer. Photo: Leana Hosea

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British mining company in controversial uranium project near Grand Canyon

Tom Levitt

2nd November, 2010

Vane Minerals currently exploring for uranium deposits on the edge of the Grand Canyon National Park in area with alleged history of contamination affecting former miners and local indigenous population

A British mining company is pushing ahead with plans to re-start uranium mining in the Grand Canyon area despite claims the process could contaminate the area and its groundwater supplies, The Ecologist has learnt.

Around 40 per cent of US uranium reserves are estimated to be found in the area but previous mining up until the 1980s left a legacy of cancer and health issues amongst the miners and families living on the nearby Navajo reservation, according to campaigners working to prevent uranium mining from restarting. 

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has admitted that there are more than 500 abandoned uranium mines as well as homes and drinking water sources with 'elevated levels of radiation'. 'Potential health effects include lung cancer, as well as bone cancer and impaired kidney function,' it said.

An Ecologist investigation has revealed communities in the Navajo reservation are still claiming to be suffering the affects of uranium mining today. The situation is reportedly so bad that the Navajo government recently declared a public health state of emergency. Communities, including the Havaspupai and other Native American tribes in the Grand Canyon area are worried the problems may be repeated.

'Mining companies are pursuing uranium for their own profit, but the only benefit that we are going to get is a source of contamination that will not be possible to clean up. We are concerned about the future of our children, that's why we fight this,' said Carletta Toulousi, a member of the Havasupai tribe.

However, with the vast majority of uranium for its nuclear power stations being imported, the US is considering mining in the area again and a final decision is to be made by the US government next year.  British-owned Vane Minerals has already been given permission to explore for urannium and hopes to eventually start full-scale mining in a join venture with the Canadian-based mining company Uranium One, if and when approval is given by President Obama.

Vane Minerals says that what happened on the Navajo reservation took place a 'decade ago', before uranium mining was 'really understood' and that any mining now was done to 'modern standards'. Chief operating officer Kris Hefton added that studies on cancer incidence had not shown any change.

'The evidence is that the mining has been going on for decades around the Grand Canyon area and has not caused any contamination,' he said.

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