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Red Water Pond Road Community Uranium Spill Commemoration

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Support Dine Communities Working to Keep the Uranium Mining Ban on Navajo Nation

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March 15 Film Festival in Grants

CONNECTIONS AND CONSEQUENCES:

Think OUTside the Mine

A documentary film festival on energy, and the health 

and environmental consequences of uranium mining and milling, 

oil and gas production, and nuclear disasters and waste management

Saturday, March 15 from 10 am to 3 pm

New Mexico State University Campus Theater

500 N 3rd Street, Grants, NM

10-11 am Nuclear Aftershock  (2012, 55 minutes) Frontline Film

…..Could a Fukushima-like disaster happen to us? March 11 marks the third anniversary

of the earthquake, the tsunami, and nuclear disaster in Japan.

Discussion leaders: 

Susan Gordon, Coordinator, Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment

Activist for nuclear clean-up and health issues for 17 years

Scott Kovac, Operations and Research Director, Nuclear Watch New Mexico

Focus on clean-up issues at Los Alamos National Lab and WIPP for 10 years

12 pm Split Estate  (2009, 76 minutes) Bullfrog Films

…..Imagine that while you own the land, you don’t own the mineral rights beneath

your home and a mining company will drill for natural gas 200 feet from your front door.

1:30-3 pm Tailings  (2012, 12 minutes) Sam Price-Waldman Film

….Just outside Grants, New Mexico, is a toxic heap of uranium tailings sitting

for 30 years contaminating the air and water.

Discussion, Testimony, and Updates:

Bluewater Valley Downstream Alliance

Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining

Southwest Research and Information Center

….And friends of MASE

Sponsored by the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment 

Organized by the Laguna-Acoma Coalition for a Safe Environment 

For more information email: clowery@earthlink.net

 

New York Times

Amid Toxic Waste, a Navajo Village Could Lose Its Land

By DAN FROSCH FEB. 19, 2014

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A contaminated pile near the community of Red Water Pond Road holds a million cubic yards of waste from the Old Northeast Church Rock Mine. Mark Holm for The New York Times

 

CHURCH ROCK, N.M. — In this dusty corner of the Navajo reservation, where seven generations of families have been raised among the arroyos and mesas, Bertha Nez is facing the prospect of having to leave her land forever.

The uranium pollution is so bad that it is unsafe for people to live here long term, environmental officials say. Although the uranium mines that once pocked the hillsides were shut down decades ago, mounds of toxic waste are still piled atop the dirt, raising concerns about radioactive dust and runoff.

And as cleanup efforts continue, Ms. Nez and dozens of other residents of the Red Water Pond Road community, who have already had to leave their homes at least twice since 2007 because of the contamination, are now facing a more permanent relocation. Although their village represents only a small sliver of the larger Navajo nation, home to nearly 300,000 people, they are bearing the brunt of the environmental problems.

“It feels like we are being pushed around,” said Ms. Nez, 67, a retired health care worker, who recalled the weeks and months spent in motel rooms in nearby Gallup as crews hauled away radioactive soil from the community’s backyards and roadsides.

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Bertha Nez said families of Red Water Pond Road fear they could be permanently relocated because of the contamination. Mark Holm for The New York Times

 

“This is where we’re used to being, traditionally, culturally” she said. “Nobody told us it was unsafe. Nobody warned us we would be living all this time with this risk.”

These days, this sprawling reservation, about the size of West Virginia, is considered one of the largest uranium-contaminated areas in United States history, according to officials at the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency has been in the throes of an expansive effort to remove waste from around this tiny and remote Navajo village, and clean up more than 500 abandoned mine areas that dot the reservation.

Federal officials say they have been amazed at the extent of the uranium contamination on the reservation, a vestige of a burst of mining activity here during the Cold War. In every pocket of Navajo country, tribal members have reported finding mines that the agency did not know existed. In some cases, the mines were discovered only after people fell down old shafts.

“It is shocking — it’s all over the reservation,” said Jared Blumenfeld, the E.P.A.’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “I think everyone, even the Navajos themselves, have been shocked about the number of mines that were both active and abandoned.”

Between 2008 and 2012, federal agencies spent $100 million on the cleanup, according to the E.P.A.; an additional $17 million has been spent by energy companies determined to be responsible for some of the waste.

But the scope of the problem is worse than anyone had thought. The E.P.A. has said that it could take at least eight years to dispose of a huge pile of uranium mine waste that has sat near Red Water Pond Road since the 1980s — waste that must be removed before the area can finally be free of contamination.

“The community is frustrated, I know I’m frustrated — we’d like it to go quickly,” Mr. Blumenfeld said.

But before the latest round of cleanup can begin, an application to remove the waste pile must be submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which will then conduct environmental and safety reviews. That process will probably take two years, and there is the possibility that public hearings on the plan could extend the process several more years, said Drew Persinko, a deputy director for the commission.

That time frame seems unreasonably long for tribal members, who said that spending so long living away from the reservation has been difficult. So far, the E.P.A. has spent $1 million on temporary housing for residents of Red Water Pond Road; much of that cost will be reimbursed by General Electric, which acquired the old Northeast Church Rock Mine site in 1997, and also its subsidiary company, United Nuclear Corporation, which operated the mine.

As in the past, the relocations will be voluntary. Some residents wondered — as they have for years now — if the land will ever really be clean.

“Our umbilical cords are buried here, our children’s umbilical cords are buried here. It’s like a homing device,” said Tony Hood, 64, who once worked in the mines and is now a Navajo interpreter for the Indian Medical Center in Gallup. “This is our connection to Mother Earth. We were born here. We will come back here eventually.”

Residents still remember seeing livestock drinking from mine runoff, men using mine materials to build their homes and Navajo children playing in contaminated water that ran through the arroyo. Today, the site near Red Water Pond Road holds one million cubic yards of waste from the Northeast Church Rock Mine, making it the largest and most daunting area of contamination on the reservation.

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“This is our connection to Mother Earth,” said Tony Hood, left. Mark Holm for The New York Times

The waste does not pose any immediate health risk, Mr. Blumenfeld said, but there are concerns about radioactive dust being carried by the wind, runoff from rain, and the area’s accessibility to children, who can slip in easily through a fence.

Under a plan being developed by General Electric and the E.P.A., the waste would be transported to a former uranium mill just off the reservation — already considered a Superfund site — and stored in a fortified repository. The estimated cost is nearly $45 million.

“General Electric and United Nuclear Corporation are committed to continue to work cooperatively with the U.S. government, Navajo Nation, state of New Mexico and local residents to carry out interim cleanups and reach agreement on the remedy for the mine,” said Megan Parker, a spokeswoman for General Electric.

The Navajo E.P.A., which is an arm of the tribe’s own government, for years has been calling for a widespread cleanup of abandoned mines. Stephen Etsitty, the executive director of the agency, said he was hopeful that progress was finally being made, but acknowledged that the scope and technical complexity of the operation at Red Water Pond Road was unprecedented.

“We’re pushing and doing as much as we can to keep the process going as fast as we can,” Mr. Etsitty said. “It’s just taken so long to get there.”

On a recent day, Ms. Nez and several other residents stood on a bluff near a cluster of small homes and traditional Navajo hogan dwellings as the wind whipped across a valley that once bustled with mining activity.

The group talked of their grandparents — medicine men who were alive when the mines first opened — and wondered what they would think about Red Water Pond Road today.

“They would say ‘How did this happen? They ruined our land,’ ” Ms. Nez said. “ ‘How come you haven’t prayed to have this all fixed up?’ ”

STEALTH BILL UNDERMINES NAVAJO URANIUM BAN BY ALLOWING ISL ‘DEMONSTRATION’ IN CHURCHROCK SCHEDULED FOR VOTE MONDAY

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Dec. 23, 2013

 

Contact: Leona Morgan

Sierra Club Front End Working Group

leonamorgan@icloud.com

505-879-8547

 

STEALTH BILL UNDERMINES NAVAJO URANIUM BAN BY ALLOWING ISL ‘DEMONSTRATION’ IN CHURCHROCK SCHEDULED FOR VOTE MONDAY


Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie proposes legislation to allow in situ leach uranium mining

 

Chilchinbeto, Ariz. — Proposed legislation in front of a Navajo Nation Council committee on Monday would allow the operation of a controversial uranium mining project in Churchrock, despite the Nation’s 2005 ban on uranium mining and significant public opposition.

The proposed bill, sponsored by Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie (Whitehorse Lake) and Delegate Chairperson Katherine Benally (Kayenta), would allow Uranium Resources, Inc., (URI) to construct a “demonstration project” that would extract uranium ore by using in-situ leach mining techniques, known as ISL mining.

The legislation, if approved, at a specially scheduled meeting on Dec. 23, would create a right-of-way to access URI’s proposed mine site, located on 160 acres of privately owned land, called Section 8, which is surrounded by BLM and tribal trust land and Section 17 tribal trust land, near Churchrock and Pinedale. As a condition of mining uranium there, URI must transport the uranium out of the Navajo Nation for processing, which would entail trucking radioactive materials through multiple communities and across tribal trust lands.

“This legislation is being pushed through on short notice and is essentially a back-door method to open up the Navajo Nation to uranium mining and attack the Diné Natural Resources Protection Act,” said Leona Morgan, a community organizer with the Sierra Club Nuclear-Free Front End Working Group.

“For years, URI has been trying to build its ISL mine and find a way to defy the will of the people. Any major decisions that come out of our central tribal government should always have prior and informed consent from all impacted people and communities,” said Jonathan Perry, Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining President. “Everyone should have an equal opportunity to speak on this issue. Haven’t we suffered enough? We must always remember that future generations will have to live with what we do today. I urge our elected officials to consider that when it comes time to state their positions on this proposed legislation.”

The Navajo Nation Resources and Development Committee is scheduled to vote on Legislation 0373-13 at a special meeting 9 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 23, at the Chapter House in Chilchinbetoh, Ariz., following a five-day public comment period, which ended on Saturday, Dec. 21. The legislation is then reviewed and will require final approval from the president.

“This is an action from a few elected officials that violates existing Navajo Nation policy and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” Morgan said. “It is unacceptable. We are urging community members to speak out against it and take action.  Łéétsoh (uranium) is a poison and mining it is an improper and dangerous use of our water and natural resources.”

Morgan will speak at a joint press conference with Diné CARE scheduled for 12 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 23, in front of the Navajo Nation Council Chambers in Window Rock.

ISL mining is done by injecting a sodium bicarbonate solution deep below the surface into an aquifer that bears uranium. The resulting mixture is pumped to the surface and extracted. Waste water from the operation is then injected back underground. URI plans to haul the radioactive mixture to a processing plant in Texas to produce concentrated uranium known as yellowcake.

URI, formerly known as Hydro Resources, Inc., has contaminated ground water at its ISL uranium mines in Texas. The proposed mine near Churchrock would involve the development of dozens of extraction and injection wells. On the surface of the mine, an industrial plant would be built in the southeast corner of Section 8 to process and package the uranium-laden slurry.

Until now, construction of the mine has been blocked not only by the the Diné Natural Resources Protection Act, which prohibits all uranium mining, but by the lack of a formal access agreement to URI’s private property inholding. A pre-existing agreement requires URI to clean up any prior uranium contamination on Sections 8 and 17 prior to starting new mining operations.

Community members have also fiercely opposed the mine’s development and the impacts to public health and the environment for more than 20 years.

Don Yellowman, president of the Forgotten People, issued a proclamation against proposed Bill 0373-13.

“This bill will continue to perpetuate the same destruction and devastation on our Dine families and communities. This bill is another genocidal act that continues to perpetuate evil across our motherlands,” said Yellowman. “I pray to our ancestors and all holy beings that our council delegates and other leaders (decision makers) turn away from evil acts and say no more to dirty business, politics and energy. And I challenge you to go beyond and say no to this legislation and any other legislation that further destroys our land, water and air.”

 

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For more information:

Don Yellowman’s proclamation:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4ykpghypck

NNC Legislation 0373-13:

http://www.navajonationcouncil.org/Legislations/2013/Dec/0373-13.pdf

Special RDC Meeting Agenda:

http://www.navajonationcouncil.org/MeetingSchedules/2013/DEC/23DEC2013_RDC_Special_Mtg_Proposed_Agenda.pdf

Diné Natural Resources Protection Act of 2005:

http://www.navajocourts.org/Resolutions/CAP-18-05.pdf

Radioactive Materials Transportation Act of 2012:

http://www.navajonationepa.org/Pdf%20files/UraniumTaskForce/CF_18_12.pdf

NN Energy Policy of 2013:

http://www.nncouncil.org/uploads/directory/32fe3a909cee406fbad3148b277ca031/0276_13.pdf