David Kreamer, a professor of hydrology and a specialist in groundwater contaminants at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, disputed that claim.
“I’m all for mining if it’s done responsibly with proper safeguards,” Dr. Kreamer said. But he called Pinyon Plain a potential “ticking time bomb” that could have ill effects in a decade.
Dr Kreamer said he was particularly concerned about drilling activities at the mine which breached an aquifer several years ago, releasing millions of gallons of water high in uranium and arsenic.
To prevent the water from contaminating nearby areas, Energy Fuels collects it in a pool at the mine, where some of it evaporates. The company also trucked the water nearly 250 miles to White Mesa, Utah, where the company has the nation’s only fully licensed and operating conventional uranium plant. The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, whose members live near the White Mesa site, called last year for the plant to be closed.
In correspondence this year with Arizona regulators, Scott Bakken, vice president of regulatory affairs at Energy Fuels, said the company also measures daily volume and conducts periodic sampling of water pumped to the surface. . Mr. Bakken added that Energy Fuels would increase pumping frequency to mitigate any risk to groundwater if water quality standards were not met.
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality on Thursday gave the company the go-ahead to proceed, granting an aquifer protection permit to Energy Fuels. The decision, which is the latest stamp of regulatory guidelines for the project, allows the company to use engineering controls to “minimize pollutant releases”, the agency said.
But members of the Havasupai tribe, as well as hydrologists such as Dr Kreamer, also fear that the uranium-rich water released from the aquifer, despite the company’s efforts to collect it, could jeopardize the supply of water from the nearby village of Supai. , home to the Havasupai families, and springs from the Grand Canyon itself.