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Company to shut down inactive New Mexico uranium mine

January 4, 2020 GMT

GRANTS, N.M. (AP) — A Texas-based company won’t resume operations at an inactive uranium mine and instead plans to begin an estimated 16 months of closure activity to reclaim the site in western New Mexico, officials said.

State officials on Friday confirmed Hobson, Texas-based Rio Grande Resource Corp. provided formal notice in early December of its plan to close the Mount Taylor Mine near Grants, the Gallup Independent reported.

Bill Brancard, general counsel of the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, said company officials previously told state officials that the price of uranium meant Rio Grande couldn’t justify anticipated capital spending to resume mining.

The mine and its 286-acre (1-square-kilometer) site has been on standby status since 1999, but a permit revision approved by the state in 2017 allowed to go active again. The permit revision also required the company to notify the Mining and Minerals Division of the department 30 days before performing any closeout or reclamation activities at the site.

A plan filed with the state details how the company will relcaim the site.

Grants Mayor Martin “Modey” Hicks worked at the Mount Taylor site and said nine people were laid off Monday. He called the closing “a death blow to Grants and Milan.”

Environmental groups have been fighting the state’s previously decision to allow uranium to be extracted again from the mine, and environmental activists hailed the closing announcement.

Staff Attorney Eric Jantz of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center said the mine wasn’t “viable economically or sustainable environmentally.”

“We’re looking forward to a thorough reclamation of this mine that people have been living beside for so many decades,” Jantz said.

Laura Watchempino, a member of the Multicultural Alliance and the Laguna-Acoma Coalition for a Safe Environment, said that closur is “heartening news for this very sacred and unique landscape.”

The mine operated from 1980 to 1982 and from 1985 to 1990, before the New Mexico Mining Act came into effect.

The mine’s previous owner, Chevron Resources, sold it to Rio Grande Resources in 1991.

Grants was once called the uranium capital of the world. Millions of tons of uranium were mined from the region that includes Navajo Nation, which is still reeling from the decades that the federal government allowed the mining on and around its reservation.

Between the late 1940s and the mid-1980s, about 4 million tons (3.6 million metric tons) of uranium were extracted from mines on the reservation.

At the time, uranium was mined to produce nuclear weapons for World War II and the Cold War.

The ore was removed via conventional underground mining, a practice that allowed uranium to seep into the land and water in the surrounding area.

Rio Grande Resources is affiliated with San Diego-based General Atomics.