New Mexico Town Prepares to Embrace Returning Uranium Miners

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Once the proud center of the Uranium Universe, and until recently the world’s largest uranium producer, the city of Grants (New Mexico) nearly collapsed in the 1980s as uranium prices sank into a twenty-year depression. Five thousand uranium miners lost their jobs, and the city elders panicked, searching for an industry with which to replace mining. “Uranium companies helped build our hospital, our school and most of our major infrastructure,” Star Gonzales, Cibola County’s Head of Economic Development, told “We are a mining community and know it is beneficial.”

Grants is a sleepy town of less than 10,000, north of Interstate 40, off exit 85, and about an hour’s west of Albuquerque. This past November, we toured the town’s Mining Museum, which boasts of having the only underground uranium mining museum. Grants is now a “prison town,” and instead of mining uranium, the town runs most of the state’s prison system. The times are changing again, though. Along with the recent $45.50/pound spot uranium price, revival of uranium mining in Grants is all but a done deal. Several uranium companies have taken their first steps into Cibola County. As with the state of Wyoming, more will follow them.


We wondered what the political pulse on uranium mining would be like in Grants. So we talked to several representatives on the city, county and state level. Fasten your seatbelts, and move over Wyoming. Grants, New Mexico is making a public invitation to all uranium mining companies. “We will greet them with open arms!” Star Gonzales shouted into her phone. “We are very mining friendly in this community.” That’s an understatement. Grants Mayor Joe Murrietta returned from Vietnam after being wounded on the Fourth of July 1968 with a Purple Heart and began working at Anaconda’s uranium mill in Grants, New Mexico. He worked for Anaconda and ARCO for fifteen years before the uranium boom in his town ended. “We can handle the mining industry, and we are looking forward to having it back,” Murrietta told us. The mayor is confident the entire community would welcome uranium miners back.

Grants City Manager Bob Horacek worked in a uranium mill, as a college student twenty five years ago, and remembered it was a nice source of income to help him pay tuition. “We are obviously looking for jobs,” he told us. “It’s a pro, and economically we could use the higher paying jobs.” Asked about one company, which announced it may build a mill, possibly in Cibola County, Horacek quickly responded, “I’d like to visit with them.” State Senator Joseph A Fidel, a Democrat representing District 30, which includes Cibola and Socorro counties, perked up during our interview, when we talked about uranium in his county, “I would be happy to have mining come back. It would be very positive economically.”

We talked about environmental activists. Senator Fidel explained, “If there are protests, they will come from outsiders, from Taos or other parts of the country.” Ms. Gonzales agreed, “There will be no protests from the local community. The mining spirit still lives today in this town.” These echoed State Senator Leavell’s remarks, in part two of this series, “Most of the protestors have come from San Francisco, DC and Santa Fe.” Fidel concluded, ‘The community will be very supportive of uranium mining. People will be cooperative and will react positively, when the time comes.”

Each of the politicians interviewed were cautious, but optimistic. Grants, New Mexico was hard hit. As with the Governor of Wyoming, who basically told uranium companies to put up or shut up, New Mexican decision makers are waiting to hear directly from uranium companies. Are they serious? Fidel pointed out, “I believe it will materialize into something serious.” After all, the county may be sitting on hundreds of millions of pounds of unrecovered uranium. More than 340 million pounds, possibly a great deal more, of uranium was produced before mining came to a standstill during the twenty-year drought. “We have a lot of uranium,” said Senator Fidel. “The county has good potential.”

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