Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon.
On July 21, 2009, Obama Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a two year "time out" on new uranium mining claims on nearly a million acres of federal land near the Grand Canyon, in response, it seemed, to the protest of environmentalists, and, Native Americans, who still suffer cancers and other illnesses at rates many times higher than the general population, consequent to uranium mining on or near tribal lands.
Cause for celebration? Not in the least. Salazar's announcement is straight out of Orwell's 1984. This two year "time out" is no time out at all, because new mining claims are not the issue. More than 10,000 uranium claims have been staked on federal land immediately surrounding the Grand Canyon in the last three years. According to Roger Clark, Air and Energy Director of the Grand Canyon Trust, if even 1% of these claims become mines, they could seriously contaminate both ground and surface water surrounding the Grand Canyon, which drains into the Colorado River and contributes to the drinking water of 30 million people in the Lower Colorado River Basin, in Arizona, Colorado, and California.
On the day that Salazar announced his faux time out, the Native Havasupai, who make their home at the base of the Grand Canyon's South Rim, began gathering to host a weekend teach-in and speak-out against uranium mining at Red Butte, a Havasupai sacred site they hope to defend from contamination and desecration by Denison Mines' plan to reopen its nearby Arizona One uranium mine. Denison, a collaboration of Dennison Mines, Inc. and Uranium International, was then reported to be only one Arizona air quality permit away from reopening the mine closed 20 years ago.
In November 2008, the Motley Fool stock adviser, in "A Fresh Jolt for Uranium," said that Denison's prospects, like those of other small players in uranium mining were benefiting from increased demand created by uranium mining giant Cameco's ongoing difficulty getting its jet bore uranium mine into operation at Cigar Lake, on Native Canadian land in northern Saskatchewan. In October 2006, while Cameco's Cigar Lake mine was still under construction, a wall of water knocked it into Cigar Lake and adjacent waterways.
The Fool also pointed out that uranium supplies from decomissioned nuclear warheads, a.k.a., "the bomb mine," are running out:
"As it stands, uranium usage routinely exceeds global mine production. We can tap decommissioned warheads and other stockpiles to fill the gap, but that won't last forever. The longer Cigar Lake is delayed, the faster we blow through above-ground supply. That would do wonders for the spot price of uranium."
On July 30th, 2009, nine days after Salazar's announcement, and, four days after the Havasupai concluded their protest, the Motley Fool named Denison as their favorite "penny stock"
of the week, meaning, the cheap stock most likely to take off from a
very low price. and, maybe even make you rich, on a very small
''Uranium was recently at its lowest price level. With brent price increase, uranium and fossil fuels tend to follow the price increase,'' wrote CAPS investor jajege in June. ''New nuclear power plants are planned and will require more uranium production, especially after the stock of uranium from the nuclear weapons are running out.''
It's still a very risky stock, though, the Fool warned, but only because of its low capitalization of only $2.5 million, its heavy debt load of $100 million, and, the risky nature of mining ventures.
Not because of Interior Secretary Salazar's ''time out,'' and, not because of environmentalist and native resistance, although, in November 2008, the Fool did warn of ''delays in permitting and other pesky problems'':
'None of these companies is immune to mining mishaps. Delays in permitting and other pesky problems have pushed back production schedules pretty much across the board. Still, the growth outlook is very favorable for Denison, which makes it the sort of stock you should own.'
In 2006, the Navajo Nation Tribal Council passed a ban on uranium mining, the first native claim to sovereignty, over natural resources of its kind. Navajo environmentalists have been defending the ban, against enormous pressure, ever since. At Red Butte, members of the Havasupai Tribe said that they hope to enact a ban as well.
As with the Navajo ban, a fundamental question would then be whether uranium mining which endangers the water table well beyond the mining claim itself, violates a Havasupai ban, and/or, the environmental rights of wider communities, including the 30 million people of Arizona, Colorado, and California, who depend on the Colorado River's contribution to the drinking water in the Colorado River Basin.
This report was first published on Examiner.com.