Uranium mining operations begin at Pinyon Plain Mine
Mine 6 miles south of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim and inside the new national monument has opened despite objections of tribes and environmentalists
GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — After decades of litigation and challenges by tribes and environmental groups, Pinyon Plain Mine, a uranium mine located approximately 6 miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, has begun production.
Denver based mine owner, Energy Fuels Resources, said the decision to begin operations was reached after an increase in uranium prices.
“Energy Fuels is in an exceptional position to ramp up U.S. uranium production to take advantage of today’s highly favorable market conditions, where spot prices have reached a 16-year high at nearly $90 per pound of U3O8,” the company stated.
Pinyon Plain, formerly known as Canyon Mine, is located on Kaibab National Forest, near the Havasupai Tribe’s sacred mountain, Red Butte. It is inside the boundary of Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni National Monument, designated by President Joe Biden at the request of Tribes in August 2023. Pinyon Plain is the only active mine in the region that was officially grandfathered into the monument and allowed to operate despite the national monument.
The Havasupai Tribe, Grand Canyon Trust, Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club have legally challenged the United States Forest Service’s decision to allow Energy Fuels to reopen the Pinyon Plain, which was initially approved in the 1980s and had been closed since 1992.
“The Havasupai Tribe, the Grand Canyon Trust, and others have worked for years to stop this ill-conceived mine from advancing, but ultimately, because of outdated mining laws, it was grandfathered in under the new national monument. The mine is expected to operate for just 28 months and to produce around 1.5% of annual U.S. uranium demand for each year that it mines, but the risks and damage it will bring for the critical water and cultural resources of the region will last forever,” said Amber Reimondo, Energy Director at Grand Canyon Trust.
The last appeal to stop the mine failed in February 2022.
“As guardians of the Grand Canyon, we the Havsuw ‘Baaja, the Havasupai Tribe, have opposed uranium mining in and around our reservation and the Grand Canyon since time immemorial,” the Havasupai Tribal Council stated. “We do this to protect our people, our land, our water, our past, our present and our future. And yet, despite the historic and current assistance and advocacy from numerous allies, and the countless letters, phone calls, and personal pleas, our urgent requests to stop this life-threatening action have been disregarded.”
In addition to being near sacred land, the Havasupai Tribe is concerned about environmental impacts and contamination of underground aquifers and springs that feed into tribal land.
“Our tribal community’s only source of water is fed by aquifers, which unfortunately sit directly below the Pinyon Plain Mine,” the tribe wrote. “The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the federal EPA claim there is no danger to us, that no harmful effects will come our way from this alleged “clean energy” source. But how can they so confidently make such a claim when Energy Fuels has already contaminated one of the two aquifers while digging the mine shaft, which then led to the company spraying toxic water into the air, only to be spread to the precious plants and animals by the blowing winds?”
The Navajo Tribe also voiced concerns about the impacts of haul routes from Pinyon Plain that run through the Navajo reservation to Energy Fuel’s White Mesa Mill in Utah.
In a statement last week, Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren called upon the federal government to protect tribes from the harmful effects of new uranium mining.
“I join our neighboring tribes and the many non-Native organizations to implore the federal government to uphold its promise to protect us,” Nygren wrote. “We are very concerned about the impending transport of radioactive materials from the Pinyon Plain/Canyon uranium mine to White Mesa Mill in Utah.”
The routes to transport uranium will pass through several Navajo Nation communities from Grey Mountain and Cameron, Arizona, to Bluff, Utah, in conflict with Navajo Nation law, Nygren stated.
The Navajo Nation has a history of residents who suffer from illnesses linked to exposure from past uranium mining contamination.
“To this day, hundreds of abandoned uranium mines dot our landscape, unremediated, still exposed to the elements,” Nygren said. “Our elders’ calls for relief go unanswered as they mourn the relentless toll exacted upon our communities.”
In November, Energy Fuels submitted a notice to the EPA outlining the company’s plans to begin ventilation (for miners to work underground) at the mine between Dec. 3 and Jan. 2.
In December, the company said they expected production to be “ramped up” by mid- to late-2024 at Pinyon Plain and two additional mines — La Sal and Pandora located in Utah, with a production run-rate of 1.1 to 1.4 million pounds per year.
The company is also preparing two additional mines in Colorado and Wyoming for expected production within one year and advancing permitting on several other large-scale U.S. mine projects in order to increase uranium production in the coming years.
Pinyon Plain mine is a “breccia pipe” uranium deposit, which is considered to be one of the highest-grade deposits not only in the U.S. but also around the world, outside of Canada.
Energy Fuels has accounted for roughly two-thirds of all U.S. uranium production over the past five years. Ore mined from the three mines during 2024 will be stockpiled at the company’s White Mesa Mill in Utah for processing in 2025.