[ RadSafe ] FW: [NukeNet] Navajo Nation's Ongoing Battle vs. Uranium Mining
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Subject: [NukeNet] Navajo Nation's Ongoing Battle vs. Uranium Mining
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The Navajo Nation's Ongoing Battle Against Uranium Mining
Thursday, March 2nd, 2006 Democracy Now!
We look at the ongoing battle over uranium mining in the Navajo
Nation. Mining has occurred on Navajo territory for over fifty years
and the impact is still being felt. We speak with the directors of
the Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining and the Southwest
Research and Information Center. [includes rush transcript] We are
broadcasting from New Mexico - home to the Navajo Nation. For decades
they have been fighting an ongoing battle against uranium mining on
their land. Last April, Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley approved
legislation banning uranium mining on Navajo territory. There is
currently no mining on the Navajo reservation but Hydro Resources
Inc. has been working with the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission
for years to try to get approval for mining near the Navajo
communities of Crownpoint and Church Rock, New Mexico. The company
estimates nearly one-hundred million pounds of uranium exists on
those sites making it worth millions of dollars.
Uranium mining occurred on the Navajo Reservation for over fifty
years and the impact is still felt. The land has been dotted with
contaminated tailings and hundreds of abandoned mines that have not
been cleaned up.
There have been few studies on the health effects in reservation
communities, but Navajos have suffered from high cancer rates and
respiratory problems. One study has found that cancer rates among
Navajo teenagers living near mine tailings are 17 times the national
The Navajo Reservation is home to more than 180,000 people. Over half
the population lives below the U.S. poverty line.
The group Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining, or ENDAUM, and
the Southwest Research and Information Center have been fighting
mining company HRI for over a decade in court. In a few minutes we
will speak with the directors of SRIC and ENDAUM, but first we turn
to the documentary "Homeland" that takes a look at the battle against
uranium mining in Crownpoint and Chruch Rock.
* "Homeland" - excerpt of documentary produced by the Katahdin
* Chris Shuey, director of the Southwest Research and Information
* Wynoma Foster, director of Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium
AMY GOODMAN: In a few minutes we'll speak with the directors of both
groups, but first we turn to an excerpt of the documentary, Homeland,
that takes a look at the battle against uranium mining in Crownpoint
and Church Rock. It's produced by Katahdin Foundation. This excerpt
begins with the co-founder of ENDAUM, Rita Capitan.
RITA CAPITAN: In 1994, in the evening, we were here at home
and Mitchell brought the paper home, as he does every day, and we
both read it about two or three times in disbelief that uranium
mining is to begin in Crownpoint and Church Rock. They're starting up again.
NARRATOR: From here you can see the whole town of Crownpoint.
Mitchell and Rita live just below the water tank there in the
distance, and as you can see, very, very close to where the Hydro
Resources Incorporated plans to put the uranium mine.
RITA CAPITAN: Without any public hearings, the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission granted permission for the deadly carcinogen to
be mined right next to Crownpoint schools and churches.
MITCHELL CAPITAN: I don't understand N.R.C., the United States
government, why they could do this again. Why they would have a mine
like this near our community.
NARRATOR: The N.R.C. had granted permission for the
Texas-based company to conduct the mining with a process called, "in
situ leach mining."
EXPERT: The mining company intends to inject chemicals down
into the aquifer next to the community water supply. Those chemicals
will leach, or strip, the uranium off of the rock into the aquifer,
creating, basically, a toxic soup.
MITCHELL CAPITAN: Rita started to ask me questions, "Isn't
this what you have worked before, you know, this kind of mining, in
situ leach mining?" I said, "Yeah."
RITA CAPITAN: Mitchell worked as a lab technician for Mobil
Oil in the 1980s.
MITCHELL CAPITAN: Mobil was doing a pilot project with the in
situ leach mining west of Crownpoint. I worked in the lab with the
engineers, and no matter how hard we tried, we could never get all
the uranium out of the water. We closed the project. This is what
made me start thinking about the environment, especially our water.
RITA CAPITAN: We talked about having a community meeting.
MITCHELL CAPITAN: And we decided to do something about it.
RITA CAPITAN: We put an article in the newspaper. To our
surprise, at our first meeting close to fifty community members came
to that meeting. There were so many people there, a lot of faces I've
never seen before. But when we went up there to talk about it, right
away we had landowners started to tell us we should stay out of their
business. That's their land, and they can do whatever they want. It
was scary. It was so humiliating. It just felt like the whole
community just split.
NARRATOR: There were people who stood up and accused them of
anything from witchcraft to taking food out of the mouths of their
grandchildren and standing in the way of people making lots of money
off of the uranium leases.
RITA CAPITAN: We lost some friends. That's something that was
really sad for us. We'd never wanted that to happen in our community.
NARRATOR: This proposal split families. It just didn't split
the community, and it didn't split clans. It split blood families.
RITA CAPITAN: There were some scary times when we were told,
just be careful, just take care of yourself. So I had to really
protect my family. That's one of the reasons why Mitchell and I
really had to find faith, and three years ago we became members of
the Catholic Church.
NARRATOR: There's a few families, they own the mineral rights
for their land. In the distance, you can see the area around where
the mining company is. That's owned by a few Navajo families. Those
families have been promised huge sums of money by the mining company.
And they have been told that this mining process is, quote, "safe."
LANDOWNER: I think when H.R.I. approached my family, the first
question was: Is it safe? We arranged with the H.R.I. people to
actually go to a mine where it's in operation. I even touched some of
the uranium that was there, and I read about it. I asked questions a
lot. And I think H.R.I. did a good job, because they took us down there.
RITA CAPITAN: We're not fighting with landowners
[unintelligible]. We're fighting with this company.
LANDOWNER: The mother company of H.R.I., Uranium Resources,
have worked with this technology for 30 years in south Texas. So,
that experience, that's what they going to use here to mine uranium.
H.R.I. REPRESENTATIVE: With in situ mining, we drill wells.
Whatever goes underground, there are no occupational hazards
associated with underground mining and solution mining. In fact, our
miners are electric pumps.
SECOND H.R.I. REPRESENTATIVE: We used natural groundwater to
leach the uranium. It's brought to the surface, and what we add is,
we add oxygen and possibly some carbonate-club soda-to the water
where it's re-injected into the ground.
NARRATOR: The action of pumping dissolved oxygen and sodium
bicarbonate into the rocks causes that uranium concentration to
increase almost 100,000 times. So you go from very high quality
pristine water, and you make it a toxic soup. Nobody can drink it.
SECOND H.R.I. REPRESENTATIVE: It's safe as long as it's
contained, and as you can see here in this jar, it is contained.
NARRATOR: So, the company has to make sure that none of that
stuff escapes, because it's a poison.
SECOND H.R.I. REPRESENTATIVE: The entire well field is circled
by monitor wells.
NARRATOR: Because the underground buried stream beds are
narrower than the distance between the monitor wells, our fear is
that a leakage of the mining fluids will escape, go past those
monitor wells, and never be detected.
EXPERT: We have experts and hydrologists that have shown that
that contamination will reach the drinking wells within less than
seven years. It will, if this mine goes through, destroy the only
source of drinking water for 15,000 people.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of the documentary Homeland produced by the
Katahdin Foundation. And we're joined here in Albuquerque by Chris
Shuey, who is in the film, Director of Southwest Research and
Information Center, and Wynoma Foster, Director of ENDAUM, Eastern
Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining. We did contact Hydro Resources,
but they didn't return our calls. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!
WYNOMA FOSTER: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you place this in the country for us? Where are
these places that we are talking about, Wynoma?
WYNOMA FOSTER: Well, from Albuquerque, it's about two hours west of
here in a Navajo community right near Gallup, New Mexico.
AMY GOODMAN: And talk about what's happening right now.
WYNOMA FOSTER: As of right now, we're still trying to hold off a
company, Hydro Resources, from proposing to mine uranium with the new
in situ leach method that they want to use to extract uranium. And
the big issue that lies there right now is that it's - these mining
companies are ignoring the Natural Resource Protection Act that was
passed within the Navajo Nation government. And with that we are very
concerned, not only because they are ignoring that-our sovereign
right to protect our resources and our people-but also because there
are past issues that still exist within those communities in Church
Rock, as far as the need for reclamation of abandoned mines and
communities and people, children with their families that live right
next to these abandoned mines.
Those are the big issues that we still face. And trying to work with
communities. Former miners are dealing with health effects and cancer
issues and down into compensation issues. So, those are all of the
issues that we have to deal with, and trying to hold off the mining company.
AMY GOODMAN: Chris Shuey, we have - in the country, there is
attention now being paid to miners because of what has happened in
West Virginia. Can you talk about uranium miners and what has
happened over the years, and then how that leads to today and the
struggle you're in right now?
CHRIS SHUEY: Amy, there's been numerous studies of uranium workers
and uranium miners, underground miners throughout the Colorado
Plateau over the years. And it's -- those studies have fairly clearly
shown that miners suffer lung cancer and respiratory diseases at much
higher rates than the normal population. The Navajo miners are a
particularly important subset, because they have suffered those same
kinds of diseases at much higher rates, disproportionately higher
rates than even the rest of the Colorado Plateau miners. And the
compensation scheme that the government came up with in 1990 and then
amended in 2000 that Wynoma talked about has, in our view,
discriminated against the Native American miners. There's -- the
Navajo portion of those eligible from about a third of all the
Colorado Plateau miners; and yet, the total compensation awards for
Navajos have run about 11% through September of last year.
There are numbers of groups in the Shiprock area headed by a
gentlemen named Philip Harrison, who's made it his life to try to
correct these problems, especially with the Justice Department's
implementation of the compensation law. The government doesn't quite
get how Navajo and Native American cultures and communities work. And
so it's been very difficult for many of the old workers to prove up
their claims through things like marriage licenses that never
existed. And so those are amongst the human impacts of past mining
that are still going on today.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, do the miners fall under the same agency as miners
that - what we've been focusing on in places like West Virginia? Our
headline today, "In mining news, the New York Times reporting the
Bush administration has decreased the fines for major mining
companies, failed to collect fines on nearly half the mine safety
violations issued under its watch. Mine safety regulation has come
under increased scrutiny with the deaths of 24 miners." How does that
CHRIS SHUEY: The Mine Safety and Health Administration also is the
regulation entity for underground miners. There are no underground
mines operating in the Navajo Nation. There were a few that were
reopened here recently as the price of uranium has gone up, up in
Colorado, but I believe that those have been shut down, too. If you
talk to miners that worked out of Navajo, say in the 1970s, they will
tell you over and over again that they don't believe that they were
adequately protected even after those same MSHA rules came into
effect, and they have a very difficult time understanding and
obtaining their old exposure records. And they're not a part of the
compensation class. They're ineligible. So, there's a whole category
of what we call post-1971 uranium miners and mill workers who may
have health problems that cannot get compensation at this point.
AMY GOODMAN: What are the health problems in the communities, Wynoma?
WYNOMA FOSTER: We have direct - we have respiratory illnesses-asthma,
there's a rise in asthma, especially with the younger children into
the teens; and then also cancer issues, different types of cancers
are affecting people, and then we're also realizing that dependants
of former uranium mine workers are also starting to be diagnosed with
cancers, as well. And diabetes is still a big issue, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: And the argument if the mining happens right outside the
WYNOMA FOSTER: It's within Navajo Indian country. They can say that
it's near an Indian community, Navajo community, but it's right
within the jurisdiction of the Navajo Nation and within the communities.
AMY GOODMAN: What are you each calling for right now in, Chris Shuey?
CHRIS SHUEY: We're - There's several things that are going on. We
have worked with the Navajo Nation to ensure that there's an
enforcement strategy for the Dine Natural Resources Protection Act.
And it remains to be seen how that will all play out as the companies
continue to move forward with their new plans. We are doing a lot of
work on the legacy issues, working with Church Rock on environmental
assessments in the residential areas near the old mines, working with
the community members to assess some of their concerns about health.
There have been no major health studies in communities. Lots of
information and studies on workers, but not on community members who
live near mining. It's a major gap in what we know. It needs to be
AMY GOODMAN: And, finally, your final comments, as we talk about what
the future will look like.
WYNOMA FOSTER: Well, we hope to continue to protect our resources,
our natural resources, which is our -- for my own community, an hour
north of Church Rock, where they're also proposing uranium mining.
Our only source of drinking water provides for 15,000-plus Navajo
people and we don't want any uranium mining whatsoever.
AMY GOODMAN: We are going to have to leave it here. I want to thank
you very much for being with us, Wynoma Foster, Director of Endaum,
which is the Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining, and Chris
Shuey, Director of the Uranium Impact Assessment Program and
Southwest Research and Information Center.
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