The Trump administration wants to make uranium great again, and that’s bad news for Utah.
In May, the U.S. Department of the Interior released an updated list of “critical minerals” defined as non-fuel minerals essential to the economic and national security of the United States. For the first time, the list includes uranium. This suggests two disturbing possibilities:
One is that the Trump administration plans to resume nuclear weapons testing. The other is that uranium has been added to the list arbitrarily as a gift to the uranium mining industry.
The industry has been applying pressure to end a 2012 ban on new uranium claims in the Grand Canyon watershed. In 2017 the Trump administration reduced the boundaries of Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monuments in part to free up areas with uranium mining potential.
In any case, the uranium industry seems to think there will be ore to process. In January the Utah Department of Environmental Quality renewed the license of the White Mesa Uranium Mill operated by Energy Fuels Resources, Inc. near the Ute tribal town of White Mesa between Bluff and Blanding. The mill had been operating under an expired radioactive materials license since 2007. At a public hearing on license renewal, San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman (the Republican candidate running to replace Mike Noel in House District 73) said, “I think it is a beautiful industry.”
However, representatives from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe expressed concern about the accumulation of radioactive waste and contamination of the water supply. Peter Ortego, General Counsel for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, testified, “The day Energy Fuels can no longer pay to keep this place clean, the day they get sued and there’s a massive judgment against them, they’re going to walk away and we’re going to be stuck with this thing, the same way Ute Mountain is stuck with stuff, the same way I am sure Navajo is stuck with stuff.” For the past three years environmental groups and Ute Mountain Utes have held annual protest marches against the mill.