By Robert Tohe
Our Wild America New Mexico representative
A December 4 public hearing by the New Mexico Mining and Minerals Division regarding Rio Grande Resourses Corp.’s application to move Mount Taylor uranium mine from “standby” to “active” status raised many unanswered questions.
The underground mine, formerly owned by Chevron, produced uranium ore from 1979 to 1982 and from 1985 to 1989 before being shut down in January 1990 because of the depressed uranium market. General Atomics Corp., of which Rio Grande Resources is a subsidiary, bought it in 1991.
The mine has been inactive and polluting the surrounding environment for the last 25 years. It has been on “standby” status for the last 15 years. The law doesn’t require mines to remediate while on standby status, and the mine’s standby renewals have run out, so the application for active status may just be another way to avoid cleanup.
The proposed life of the mine is 19 years. However, uranium as a commodity is susceptible to the boom-and-bust cycle of prices. Proponents for a return to the glory days of uranium mining have always hitched their economic strategy to uranium industries’ needs, ignoring important critical components for a more diversified Cibola County economic base.
Paul Robinson, research director at Southwest Research and Information Center, testified at the hearing that in order for Mount Taylor mine to be economically viable, the price of uranium needs to reach $65 a pound. The price has remained at $50 a pound since 2012.
Joe Lister, Mount Taylor Mine manager, stated in an application in 1994 that Mount Taylor would be mining by 2010. This is the company’s third application. Yet the company has not mined a single pound of uranium during its 26 years.
Anne Rogers Berkeley, attorney for the Pueblo of Acoma, asked Lister about water rights. Lister said the Office of State Engineer grandfathered water rights for Rio Grande Resources. The company has no current water right permit with OSE. If RGRC has no current water right permit, RGRC have beneficial, surplus water use, more than the company can use.
Susan Gordon of the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment aired concerns about the spread of contamination from radioactive and toxic waste rock stockpiled at the mine site and from groundwater mixing in the open mine shaft during prolonged standby periods.
Gordon estimated that 75 people attended the December 4 hearing in Grants, including many from the Navajo Nation and nearby pueblos, and most of those in attendance opposed reactivation.
Please send a comment opposing reactivation of the Mount Taylor uranium mine to the Mining and Minerals Diversion at firstname.lastname@example.org before January 4, or take action on the Amigos Bravos website.
Photo of Mount Taylor