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Arizona officials propose tougher uranium mine regulations

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Posted at 10:20 AM, Aug 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-25 15:17:58-04

Arizona officials have completed draft rules setting stricter standards for uranium mine dust.

The Department of Environmental Quality will hold a public hearing about the proposed changes in Flagstaff next week, The Arizona Daily Sun (http://bit.ly/2cb3BLs ) reported. The regulations would impact air quality permits for three uranium mines near the Grand Canyon.

Environmental officials stopped the re-permitting process last year after learning that uranium concentrations in the soil near one of the mines tested unusually high twice. The soil contained two to three times the normal level of uranium, but at a minute concentration compared to that found in uranium ore, according to scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The proposed permit regulations would require more dust control and soil sampling at the mines operated by the company Energy Fuels Resources. They include annual soil and quarterly gamma radiation sampling, installing equipment to measure wind speed and stopping truck loading activities if wind speed rises above 25 mph.

The mines would have to reduce their ore stockpiles by half and implement additional measures if uranium or radiation reached a certain level.

The Department of Environmental Quality will consider similar requirements for future mining permits, said spokeswoman Caroline Oppleman. She wrote in an email that the agency has received approximately 1,500 comments on the permits so far, most of them form letters.

Three regional environmental groups oppose the permit renewals: the Grand Canyon Trust, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity. They asked the agency to deny permits for all three mines, saying radon gas and uranium levels already have an impact on health.

The Havasupai Tribe is also worried about the mines, said tribal council member Carletta Tilousi.

"We want them to examine it more clearly, we want them to give it a fair process and include the voices and concerns of tribal nations," she said.