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Operator of Arizona uranium mine visits state, defends company's safety standards

The owners of a uranium mine just south of the Grand Canyon have embarked on a messaging tour of Arizona to counter what they say are inaccurate portrayals of the mine.

Energy Fuels Resources owns the Pinyon Plain Mine, just south of Grand Canyon National Park in the Kaibab National Forest. Tribes, including the Havasupai and the Navajo, as well as environmental groups have long protested the mine. This week, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution demanding the mine be closed. 

Curtis Moore is with Energy Fuels. He argues the mine has bipartisan support and approval from U.S. regulatory agencies.

"Administrations on both sides of the aisle, and whether it’s a Democrat president or a Republican president, were right there alongside us, defending this mine," Moore said.

Moore says uranium is a cleaner source of fuel for the future.

With uranium selling at $90 a pound, Energy Fuels expects to produce more than 1 million pounds of uranium a year. 

Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren has said the tribe tried to stop uranium from being transported on its highways but that the routes to be used are on U.S. highways.

“The Navajo Nation cannot stop the transport of uranium due to state and federal right of ways, but the Navajo Nation Council, local government, county and myself are against uranium mining,” he said. “I do not want uranium being transported across the Navajo Nation, and we will be looking at feasible options on our end," he said last month.

Moore argues the transportation is safe. And he says the extraction point is also being monitored. Moore said Energy Fuels operates four monitoring wells and that the U.S. Geological Survey operates another monitoring well. 

The company hasn't said publicly what overtures it's offering local residents. 

"We have tried to reach out in the past to try to improve those relations. It’s just not gone well. It’s been tough. They just want us to go away," Moore said.

He said there weren’t many concessions the company could offer local residents beyond jobs. But he said mining is safer than when uranium was mined in the area for nuclear weapons. And he made a promise to Arizonans.

"When this mine is reclaimed, you will have no idea a mine ever operated at this site," he said.

The mine is expected to operate for nearly three years.

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Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.