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opinion | Stephen Antony

Mine uranium, stop climate change

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Fresh off the successful negotiations in Paris, there is an unprecedented international coalition now focused on the important issues of climate change and clean energy. Nuclear energy has rightfully been one of the major topics of discussion because no other power source — not wind or solar — has the scalability or reliability of nuclear energy to significantly reduce air and carbon emissions. If we are even remotely serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear power must be part of our energy future.

That’s why I’ve chosen this moment to respond to two misleading HuffPost and New York Times columns, both written by Mark Udall, former US senator from my home state of Colorado.

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Udall has called for a halt to mining operations in small uranium deposits in Northern Arizona (roughly 15 acres in size) near the Grand Canyon. But such a move would not only deter our nation’s climate goals, it would also undermine President Obama’s energy independence plan. Consider this: The United States imports 90 percent of its uranium from foreign nations, including countries that are geopolitically unstable or at odds with the US foreign policy. This makes the naturally occurring uranium at our Canyon Mine and similar high-grade deposits all the more important.

Despite implications to the contrary, no uranium mining is occurring or proposed inside the Grand Canyon. The Canyon Mine and other deposits nearby are located well outside the Grand Canyon National Park and miles away from the canyon itself. Several government studies have been unable show any potential negative effects to the Grand Canyon from modern uranium mining — including its seeps, springs, and the Colorado River itself.

Opponents wrongly condemn our modern, low-impact mines by pointing to the issues that stem from one historic mine that operated in the first half of the 20th century — actually inside the walls of the Grand Canyon and the National Park itself — a situation that obviously could never be repeated today.

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The White House, too, sees the importance of energy security. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said this summer that the Obama administration wants to keep federal land available for oil and gas leasing and development to bolster energy independence and reduce oil imports. Moniz is also a staunch supporter of nuclear energy, suggesting that the same rationale should also apply to responsible, heavily regulated uranium mining on federal lands.

Several noteworthy developments in the nuclear sector in recent weeks further undermine opposition to the Canyon Mine project. In early November, the White House held its first ever Summit on Nuclear Energy to highlight the critical role existing and advanced nuclear technologies can and will play in America’s clean energy future. President Obama also just announced that the United States and 19 other nations have committed to doubling their clean energy research and development budgets to $10 billion over the next five years. The renewed interest in nuclear energy from Washington and countries like China makes greater investment in this clean energy resource very likely.

Meanwhile, in the private sector, Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates just revealed an alliance of nearly 30 entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and investors pledging to drive billions of dollars toward breakthrough clean tech investment, including advanced nuclear technologies. Famed billionaire investor Peter Thiel authored a New York Times piece, “The New Atomic Age We Need,” highlighting why the single most important action we can take to limit climate change is “thawing a nuclear energy policy that keeps our technology frozen in time.”

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Industry isn’t the only backer of this technology. A group of more than 75 conservation biologists wrote a recent open letter insisting on a “Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity” arguing that “the full gamut of electricity-generation sources — including nuclear power — must be deployed to replace the burning of fossil fuels, if we are to have any chance of mitigating severe climate change.”

As a father of three grown adults, I work daily to ensure the awe-inspiring beauty of the Grand Canyon is preserved for my children, grandchildren, and all future generations. As the CEO of publicly traded uranium-miner Energy Fuels, I feel an immense responsibility to protect the Grand Canyon and its ecosystems. I believe our government regulators feel a similar responsibility. How could we not?

As we all work to build a sustainable energy future, there is an increasing recognition that renewables cannot win the war on climate change alone. Governments, innovators, and a host of well-known trendsetters publicly recognize this simple truth: We need nuclear. And, today’s commercial nuclear reactors need uranium.

If we wish to solve the world’s environmental challenges, we need to move beyond the doctrinal views of traditional environmentalism. It would be a shame to cling to outdated positions that impede achieving a real and sustainable clean energy future.

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Stephen Antony is the president and CEO of Energy Fuels.