Uranium mining leads to jump in claims

Uranium mining leads to jump in claims

Metal mining claims on federal lands in the West have increased almost 50 percent in the past four years, in large part because a resurgence in nuclear power has led to a renewed interest in uranium exploration.

An advocacy and research organization said Thursday its review of Bureau of Land Management records found that the number of metal mining claims jumped from 220,000 at the end of 2002 to almost 325,000 this September.

Nevada had almost 90,000 new claims, more than any other state, and a 55 percent increase from 2002. Wyoming was second, with almost 20,000 new claims, or a 97 percent increase.

The Environmental Working Group said its review covered gold, silver, copper and uranium claims. The organization said uranium mining interests are some of the largest claimholders in seven states ”” Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. No uranium interests were among the largest Western claimholders when the group last analyzed mining records, in 2004.

Uranium prices have risen as nuclear power has rebounded as a relatively cheap, reliable and emissions-free source of energy. Many new nuclear power plants are planned around the world. The increase in prices and construction has led to an increase in mining claims.

Wyoming is thought to be the largest producer of uranium and has the largest reserve base, according to the National Mining Association.

The Environmental Working Group said it released the statistics to bring attention to the nation’s antiquated mining laws. Metals mining companies pay no royalties for extraction on public lands, unlike the oil and gas industries.

Dusty Horwitt, an analyst for the group, described metals mining as “one of the world’s most destructive industries.”

“Because most mines operate far from public view, the ugly scars on the landscape, dangerous chemicals and mountains of toxic waste that contaminate soil, water and air are the industry’s dirty secret,” Horwitt said.

The group is advocating legislation to require metals mining companies to pay royalties and create funds for abandoned mines cleanup.

Carol Raulston, a spokeswoman for the National Mining Association, says many of the new claims will not move forward, and several are in areas that previously have been mined. She says all metals mines are subject to federal oversight under the Clean Water Act and hazardous waste laws.

“All of these mines are regulated under all of the major state and federal environmental statutes,” she said.

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