Dear Arizona State Senators and Representatives:
We write this letter in response to ongoing calls from two uranium mining companies seeking to take advantage of the global Coronavirus pandemic for their own benefit by seeking $150 million for the establishment of a uranium reserve. On behalf of our millions of members and supporters, we urge you to continue to prioritize the health and wellbeing of the public and reject any bailout for the uranium mining industry in any future COVID-19 emergency response packages.
We strongly oppose artificial supports for the domestic uranium industry including, but not limited to, invoking the Defense Production Act to purchase stockpiles of uranium or other minerals. The companies falsely suggest there will be a shortage of uranium due to the pandemic and that they are ready to step up domestic production to address any disruption in the international supply chain since the U.S. largely imports its uranium. However there is no shortage of uranium nor substantial risk of supply chain disruption, even during this global pandemic. Even power utilities themselves have raised no alarm about supply chain disruptions and have in fact stated the opposite. In a recent letter to the Arizona Corporation Commission, Arizona Public Service, which operates the largest nuclear plant in the country – the Palo Verde Nuclear Plant in Arizona – has said “APS is confident that it is prepared to provide reliable service throughout this pandemic to support the needs of our customers.” Furthermore, given the nature of this pandemic, any disruption to mining and process of uranium due to COVID-19 in other countries would have the same disruption for mines and mills here in the U.S., rendering the companies’ argument moot.
Uranium mining already has an extensive legacy in the United States of harming the health and well-being of local communities, especially tribal communities who bear the brunt of impacts. A 2019 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the University of New Mexico, and Navajo agencies found that Navajo Nation citizens, including infants, had elevated levels of uranium in their bodies. Additionally, lung cancer and silicosis have been shown to be frequent occupational hazards for uranium miners — and we know that those with respiratory issues are especially at risk from COVID-19.
Congress should prioritize spending that creates jobs that heal our lands and waters from mining’s toxic legacy and provide new economic opportunities without further endangering public health and putting national and cultural treasures like the Grand Canyon and Bears Ears at risk. Rather than aiding an industry that has never paid any federal royalties for the more than $300 billion dollars worth of hardrock minerals it has extracted from our public lands, while leaving taxpayers with an estimated $54 billion clean-up bill and ongoing health problems, we urge Congress to invest stimulus funds towards the assessment, reclamation, and cleanup of the hundreds of thousands of abandoned hardrock mines on public and tribal lands, which are currently polluting roughly 40 percent of western headwaters.
We deeply appreciate the work you are doing to respond to this global health emergency and urge you to prioritize the well-being of the public during this crisis over bailing out the languishing uranium mining industry that inevitably endangers public health.
Physicians for Social Responsibility, AZ Chapter