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Obama imposes Grand Canyon mine ban

The Obama administration has announced a 20-year ban on new mining claims on more than one million acres near the Grand Canyon, among the most well-known and visited natural wonders in the United States.

The area is known to have large reserves of high-grade uranium ore, and critics contend the ban will eliminate hundreds of jobs and deprive the country of a critically important energy source.

The area near the Grand Canyon contains as much as 40% of the nation's known uranium resources, worth tens of billions of dollars.

The decision ignored pressure from congressional Republicans and mining industry figures who wanted a policy change to open the area for additional mining claims.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the 20-year ban at an event in Washington.

Temporary bans had been imposed twice by the Obama administration. Mr Salazar said uranium remains an important part of a comprehensive energy strategy but said the Grand Canyon is a national treasure that must be protected.

The vast canyon in north eastern Arizona attracts more than four million visitors a year and generates an estimated 3.5 billion US dollars in economic activity, Mr Salazar said.

Millions of Americans living in cities including Phoenix, the Arizona capital, and Los Angeles, California, rely on the Colorado River for clean drinking water.

"A withdrawal is the right approach for this priceless American landscape," Mr Salazar said in a speech at the National Geographic Museum.

"People from all over the country and around the world come to visit the Grand Canyon. Numerous American Indian tribes regard this magnificent icon as a sacred place, and millions of people in the Colorado River Basin depend on the river for drinking water (and) irrigation."

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