Category Archives: Radioactive Waste

5/18/2011 Petition shines a light-Navajos ask feds to intervene against Nuclear Regulatory Commission

5/18/2011 Gallup Independent: Petition shines a light – Navajo asks feds to intervene against NRC By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau: WINDOW ROCK – In Diné Indian Country in northwestern New Mexico, suffering is measured in milligrams per liter, millirems, and picocuries – units that measure radiation exposures, according to a petition filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining. Eric Jantz, lead attorney on the New Mexico Environmental Law Center’s uranium cases, and Larry King of Churchrock – site of the largest nuclear disaster in U.S. history – held a press conference Monday at the National Press Club in Washington to discuss the petition filed Friday asking the Human Rights Commission to intervene with the United States to stop uranium mining within the Navajo Nation. After 16 years of fighting, the Law Center has exhausted all legal remedies to overturn the mining license granted by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to Hydro Resources Inc., or HRI.

“I hope that the United States, which holds itself under the beacon of human rights internationally, is going to observe its international human rights obligations at home,” Jantz said Monday afternoon. The petition alleges human rights violations against the United States based on the NRC’s licensing of uranium mining operations in Crownpoint and Churchrock.

“This petition is important because it’s the first time that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ever been taken to task for its lax regulations, and it’s also the first time that any group has petitioned based on the human rights aspect of the nuclear fuel cycle – in this case, the first step in the nuclear fuel cycle, uranium mining,” Jantz said.

“We’ve alleged human rights violations of right to life, right to health, and right to cultural integrity on behalf of our clients. We hope that this petition is going to shine an international spotlight on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the United States’ nuclear energy policy and at the same time, keep the uranium mining from going forward in our client’s communities,” he said.

Mat Lueras, vice president of Corporate Development for Uranium Resources Inc., parent company of HRI, said, “Uranium Resources stands behind our permits and licenses issued by a variety of federal and state regulatory bodies and are confident in our technology and people.

“We are dedicated to the welfare of the communities we operate in. We are committed to the safety of our employees, supporting the communities in which we operate and protecting the environment. We operate well within the boundaries of the rules and regulations that are required of us.”

King, a member of ENDAUM’s board of directors, said the NRC never should have given HRI a license for an in-situ leach mining operation in Crownpoint. “Why would the NRC approve a license to have a company go and destroy a community’s sole drinking water aquifer? It just does not make any sense. In the Southwest where rainfall is very scarce, every drop of water is very precious to us. We need to preserve every drop, not only for our generation, but for future generations to come so that they can enjoy what we’re enjoying today.”

The petition cites a 2003 article by Carl Markstrom and Perry Charley regarding Dine cultural attitudes toward uranium.

“In the Diné world view, uranium represents a parable of how to live in harmony with one’s environment. Uranium is seen as the antithesis of corn pollen, a central and sacred substance in Diné culture, which is used to bless the lives of Diné people. Dine Tradition says:

“The Dineh (the people) emerged from the third world into the fourth and present world and were given a choice. They were told to choose between two yellow powders. One was yellow dust from the rocks, and the other was corn pollen. The Dineh chose corn pollen, and the gods nodded in assent. They also issued a warning. Having chosen the corn pollen, the Navajo [people] were to leave the yellow dust in the ground. If it was ever removed, it would bring evil,” the article states.

Recent studies have found a strong association between living in proximity to uranium mines and negative health outcomes. The federally funded, community-based DiNEH Project – an ongoing population-based study – is examining the link between high rates of kidney disease among Navajos in Eastern Navajo Agency and exposure to uranium and other heavy metals from abandoned uranium mines. The study has found a statistically significant increase in the risk for kidney disease, diabetes, hypertension, and autoimmune disease in Diné living within a half mile of abandoned uranium mines, the petition states.

Jantz alleges that the United States, by virtue of the authority exercised by the NRC, has failed to protect conditions that promote the petitioners’ right to health by ignoring the impacts of ongoing environmental contamination from past uranium mining and milling while continuing to license uranium mining projects which will lead to further contamination.

For example, on July 16, 1979, the tailings dam at the United Nuclear Corp. uranium mill in Churchrock broke and released 93 million gallons of radioactive liquid into the Rio Puerco, which runs through King’s land where his family’s cattle ranch is located. Radioactive waste in the bed and banks of the river has yet to be cleaned up.

If HRI is allowed to proceed with mining in Section 17 – home to three families, including King’s – under terms of the license issued by the NRC, HRI may forcibly remove them or restrict grazing, agriculture, and cultural activities such as plant gathering during mining operations, according to the petition.

“It’s a pure human rights violation,” King said.

5/16/2011 Gallup Independent: For Navajo, suffering measured in radiation exposures

5/16/2011 Gallup Independent: For Navajo, suffering measured in radiation exposures  By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau:  WINDOW ROCK – In Diné Indian Country in northwestern New Mexico, suffering is measured in milligrams per liter, millirems, and picocuries – units that measure radiation exposures, according to a petition filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining.   Eric Jantz, lead attorney on the New Mexico Environmental Law Center’s uranium cases, and Larry King of Churchrock – site of the largest nuclear disaster in U.S. history – held a press conference Monday at the National Press Club in Washington to discuss the petition filed Friday asking the Human Rights Commission to intervene with the United States to stop uranium mining within the Navajo Nation.

After 16 years of fighting, the Law Center has exhausted all legal remedies to overturn the mining license granted by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to Hydro Resources Inc., or HRI.

“I hope that the United States, which holds itself under the beacon of human rights internationally, is going to observe its international human rights obligations at home,” Jantz said Monday afternoon. The petition alleges human rights violations against the United States based on the NRC’s licensing of uranium mining operations in Crownpoint and Churchrock.

“This petition is important because it’s the first time that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ever been taken to task for its lax regulations, and it’s also the first time that any group has petitioned based on the human rights aspect of the nuclear fuel cycle – in this case, the first step in the nuclear fuel cycle, uranium mining,” Jantz said.

“We’ve alleged human rights violations of right to life, right to health, and right to cultural integrity on behalf of our clients. We hope that this petition is going to shine an international spotlight on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the United States’ nuclear energy policy and at the same time, keep the uranium mining from going forward in our client’s communities,” he said.

Mat Lueras, vice president of Corporate Development for Uranium Resources Inc., parent company of HRI, said, “Uranium Resources stands behind our permits and licenses issued by a variety of federal and state regulatory bodies and are confident in our technology and people.

“We are dedicated to the welfare of the communities we operate in. We are committed to the safety of our employees, supporting the communities in which we operate and protecting the environment. We operate well within the boundaries of the rules and regulations that are required of us.”

King, a member of ENDAUM’s board of directors, said the NRC never should have given HRI a license for an in-situ leach mining operation in Crownpoint. “Why would the NRC approve a license to have a company go and destroy a community’s sole drinking water aquifer? It just does not make any sense. In the Southwest where rainfall is very scarce, every drop of water is very precious to us. We need to preserve every drop, not only for our generation, but for future generations to come so that they can enjoy what we’re enjoying today.”

The petition cites a 2003 article by Carl Markstrom and Perry Charley regarding Dine cultural attitudes toward uranium.

“In the Diné world view, uranium represents a parable of how to live in harmony with one’s environment. Uranium is seen as the antithesis of corn pollen, a central and sacred substance in Diné culture, which is used to bless the lives of Diné people. Dine Tradition says:

“The Dineh (the people) emerged from the third world into the fourth and present world and were given a choice. They were told to choose between two yellow powders. One was yellow dust from the rocks, and the other was corn pollen. The Dineh chose corn pollen, and the gods nodded in assent. They also issued a warning. Having chosen the corn pollen, the Navajo [people] were to leave the yellow dust in the ground. If it was ever removed, it would bring evil,” the article states.

Recent studies have found a strong association between living in proximity to uranium mines and negative health outcomes. The federally funded, community-based DiNEH Project – an ongoing population-based study – is examining the link between high rates of kidney disease among Navajos in Eastern Navajo Agency and exposure to uranium and other heavy metals from abandoned uranium mines. The study has found a statistically significant increase in the risk for kidney disease, diabetes, hypertension, and autoimmune disease in Diné living within a half mile of abandoned uranium mines, the petition states.

Jantz alleges that the United States, by virtue of the authority exercised by the NRC, has failed to protect conditions that promote the petitioners’ right to health by ignoring the impacts of ongoing environmental contamination from past uranium mining and milling while continuing to license uranium mining projects which will lead to further contamination.

For example, on July 16, 1979, the tailings dam at the United Nuclear Corp. uranium mill in Churchrock broke and released 93 million gallons of radioactive liquid into the Rio Puerco, which runs through King’s land where his family’s cattle ranch is located. Radioactive waste in the bed and banks of the river has yet to be cleaned up.

If HRI is allowed to proceed with mining in Section 17 – home to three families, including King’s – under terms of the license issued by the NRC, HRI may forcibly remove them or restrict grazing, agriculture, and cultural activities such as plant gathering during mining operations, according to the petition.

“It’s a pure human rights violation,” King said.

5/17/2011 Gallup Independent: Recreating the 'skyline'

5/17/2011 Gallup Independent: Recreating the ‘skyline’ By Kathy Helms Dine Bureau:: MONUMENT VALLEY, Utah – Cleanup of radioactive waste piles at the 1940s-era Skyline Mine, an abandoned uranium mine high atop Oljato Mesa near Gouldings in Monument Valley, is proof that a small group of committed citizens crying out for environmental justice can make a difference. Without community residents coming forward and making their voices heard through the award-winning documentary, “The Return of Navajo Boy,” by Chicago director Jeff Spitz and Bernie Klain, it is highly likely that the exposed radioactive waste piles would continue to pose a hazard for years to come.

“The more people speak up, the more people make their voices heard, the more responsible government becomes – and that starts here at the local level,” Jason Musante, federal on-scene coordinator for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 9, said during a recent tour. The documentary has been good in bringing their message forward, he said.

Local resident Elsie Begay has been trying for years to get the mine cleaned up and a steel cable removed from her back yard. In 2001, EPA’s Emergency Response Section demolished one hogan constructed of radioactive stone. Begay and her family lived three years in the hogan. She later lost two sons to radiation-related illnesses. Her story is told in “Navajo Boy.”

Cleanup of the mine itself is a challenge. Oljato Mesa climbs to 5,794 feet above sea level. During the late 1990s, portions of the mine were closed by the Navajo Nation Abandoned Mine Land program, which focused on removing immediate physical hazards, sealing the entrance to the mine, and consolidating and capping easily accessible radioactive waste.

But due to the steep terrain, a waste pile lying about 700 feet below the former mine and several hundred feet above the valley floor on the eastern edge of the mesa was not addressed. A “talus pile” of loose material near the base of Oljato Mesa is comprised of radioactive waste rock and ore that was either pushed over the upper slope or fell from the top of the mesa. A visible gray-green stain extends down the face of the cliff beneath the waste, denoting years of mining activity and runoff from monsoon rains.

Drainage from the talus pile has carried contaminated materials from the base of the mesa outward toward the road leading to Oljato Chapter. High levels of radiation have been detected.

When the mine was operating, a gondola was used to transport ore from the mine atop the mesa to the “transloading area” below, where it was placed in trucks and transported to a mill for processing. Ironically, that same concept will be used to clean up contamination on the valley floor. “We’re basically re-creating the ‘skyline’ to clean up Skyline Mine,” Musante said.

“The skyline would run up to the mine and back and forth and they would load the trucks out with the ore” at the transloading area near Elsie’s house and other nearby residences, he said. “There’s a few hunks of ore right there that have reasonable high activity counts, but as you move farther out, the activity decreases.”

To remove the waste from the face of the cliff, workers will cut into the hillside and use an excavator with a 75-foot reach to bring the material up, Musante said. “The high-line system, once it’s in, will operate kind of like a drag line to scrape up the face and collect the material.” Initially, EPA was just going to do the areas on the valley floor, but Musante said when he looked at it, he realized that all of the material on the cliff was going to come down eventually, so it was decided that it had to be removed.

“Basically, we have to ‘wipe off the table before we sweep the floor.’ That’s going to be very challenging. That’s also the area where dust control is going to be the hardest. Just the access alone is very, very difficult. The slopes are approximately 60 degrees, which is pretty nuts, and then, of course, the fall to the valley floor would be hundreds and hundreds of feet.

We’re going to have to work very, very carefully, take our time and go slow.” An estimated 5,000 cubic yards of material is on the upper slope. The majority of material to be removed is in the wash area. They plan to pre-wet it to control dust.

Workers first will tackle the top slope. “Since they’re going to knock some of that stuff down, we’re going to wait to move that over to the stockpile until after they’ve worked up above,” Musante said. Then contaminated soils from the drainage area will be removed and stockpiled at the transloading area where the “high-line yarder,” or skyline with a bucket capable of holding 4 yards of material, will be located.

“We’ll load the bucket, and then it will run it up to the top and drop it into a truck, and the truck will take it over to the repository. It will drop it into the repository, and then they’ll just be doing cycling. It’s all about production,” he said. “They basically will be moving 4 yards of contaminated material every six minutes.”

Approximately five home sites are located within 1,800 feet of the site. During the emergency removal action, about 30 residents living within a half mile will have to be relocated temporarily – no easy feat given the Navajo Nation’s shortage of housing, and especially during tourist season. In addition, a quarter-mile buffer zone will be created to ensure that residents living near the high-line yarder are not affected by any dust that might be created. Those residents will need to be housed through July.

Once consolidated, an estimated 40,000 cubic yards of waste will be placed in a newly created “interim” repository, or landfill, on top of Oljato Mesa. The high-line yarder is being used because the road to the actual mine and repository is a one-lane nightmare put in by Navajo AML and recently improved by EPA. The only way to navigate one steep section of the road several hundred feet above the valley floor is by driving in reverse. Transporting the waste by truck would have been far too risky for workers, local residents and tourists.

Scientists from EPA’s Superfund Technical Assistance and Response Team and laborers from the Emergency Rapid Removal Services are working together to construct the giant “Tupperware” repository where the contaminated material will be buried. Total cost of the cleanup is just under $6 million.

EPA has purchased 2 million gallons of water from the Navajo Nation at the corporate rate of over $4 per 1,000 gallons to use for the project. The water comes from unused U.S. Geologic Survey study wells. A temporary water supply pipeline of high-density polyethylene and pumps were installed to push water from a 20,000 gallon storage tank at the bottom of the mesa up to three storage tanks near the top. “We can’t haul water up this road, so the water moving system gets it up the elevation to where we can come grab it and then use it up top,” Musante said.

There was a lot of excavation of some very hard rock that had to occur to create the 3:1 compacted slope of the repository, he said. An all-terrain, 5,000 gallon water wagon with a cannon on top that can shoot water over 100 feet is used along with bulldozers to compact the soil hauled from a nearby “borrow area” by 30-ton haul trucks. “We had to hammer, hammer, hammer, with bulldozers ripping and grinding,” Musante said. “There has been some obvious logistic improvements that had to go on just to get this thing prepped.”

An 18-inch layer of fine soil from the borrow area will be placed in the repository, which has been dug out along the natural contours of the cliff. A 60-millimeter-thick, high-density polyethylene liner is then placed on top of the soil, followed by another 18 inches of the same bedding material so that when the contaminated materials are deposited, they won’t puncture the liner. A “bio-barrier” of 2-1/2 inch to 6 inch rock is then put down to prevent burrowing animals from creating an erosional hazard, followed by a soil cap to absorb any gamma radiation that might be emitted. Finally, a lined drainage channel will be installed to channel water away from the sides of the repository.

“You shouldn’t be able to tell any difference in activity measurements from being right on top of the repository or being just a small distance away on the mesa,” Musante said. Once disturbed areas are reseeded, “the cows can go ahead and graze.”

Musante is working with the Navajo Nation EPA Superfund Program to design an operation and maintenance program, which will involve annual inspections of the cap to ensure it’s not being eroded, and taking radiation measurements to make sure the activity levels are still protective of human health.

EPA’s Emergency Response Section for which Musante works solves imminent problems right away to prevent health threats in the near term. What happens with the Skyline waste in the long term – whether it is left in place in the “interim” repository or eventually dug up and transported outside reservation boundaries – is something the Navajo Nation will have to decide.

5/17/2011 Bennet in letter to EPA warns of ‘potential toxic effects’ of uranium mining

Bennet in 5/17/2011 letter to EPA warns of ‘potential toxic effects’ of uranium mining By David O. Williams: Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet on Friday sent a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 8 administrator Jim Martin reminding him that the “EPA needs to be especially mindful of the adverse health effects that past uranium booms have had on workers.”

Sen. Michael Bennet

Bennet was referencing the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill in western Montrose County near the Utah state line, which opponents say the EPA is poised to approve despite outdated air quality regulations for radon emissions. Two Colorado environmental groups have asked the EPA to withhold approval until the federal agency updates its radon rules.

Bennet wrote that he’s heard from “Coloradans worried about the potential for toxic effects that uranium mining could have in this particular region. They have pointed to the nearby Uravan Mill as an example. As you know, the Uravan Mill is on your agency’s Superfund cleanup list because EPA worries hazardous releases from the site may endanger public health, welfare or the environment.”

The Democrat also noted that American taxpayers have already spent $120 million cleaning up Uravan and that he’s currently working to pass the Charlie Wolf Nuclear Workers Compensation Act and Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments to better compensate the families of workers sickened or killed mining or milling uranium or working in the nuclear industry.

Bennet urged Martin to seriously consider the concerns of local governments that have sent similar letters to the EPA regarding what would be the first new uranium mill in the United States in nearly three decades. The state and Montrose County have already approved the proposed mill, although the Telluride-based Sheep Mountain Alliance has sued both governments to block the mill’s permit approvals.

5/14/2011 US EPA Superfund meeting a great success

The Saturday, 5/14/2011 US EPA Superfund meeting at the Moenkopi Legacy Inn & Suites was a great success. The room was filled to capacity. Debbie Schechter, Linda Reeves, Svetlana Zenkin and Brian Davidson, US EPA Superfund and Alex Grubb, Weston Associates, Contractor for US EPA Superfund presented. Frank Nez, Hathalie (Medicine Man) gave an invocation. James Peshlakai and the former governor of the Village of Upper Moenkopi presented opening remarks. Frank Nez, Lucy Knorr, Ethel Nez provided translation. People had a chance to speak and ask questions and US EPA Superfund conducted break out groups on water, abandoned uranium mines and contaminated structures.

5/15/2011 AZ Daily Sun: Uranium report ripped by Coconino County board

Uranium report ripped by Coconino County board by CYNDY COLE Sun Staff Reporter azdailysun.com | Posted: Sunday, May 15, 2011 5:20 am: Local conservation groups and the Coconino County Board of Supervisors have found what they call “serious” flaws in a federal analysis weighing the risks and benefits of uranium mining here. The Coconino County Board of Supervisors, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council and Grand Canyon Trust are all questioning estimates that mining in northern Arizona could employ hundreds directly and thousands indirectly — saying those figures appear greatly inflated. These groups all support putting federal land bordering the Grand Canyon off-limits to new uranium mines for 20 years. It’s a scenario that would allow perhaps 11 existing mines to open instead of 30 and end new exploration rather than permitting more than 700 sites to be explored.

These questions have growing significance this summer because a 2-year-old moratorium on new uranium mining issued by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar expires in mid-July, opening the door for mining exploration to resume across about 1 million acres.

An Interior spokeswoman said she did not know when Salazar might make a decision on the issue.

GROUNDWATER HARD TO TRACK

“The problem with this area is that there are more unknowns than knowns — especially north of the canyon, there is a huge area where the science has not been done to determine how groundwater is moving,” said Alicyn Gitlin, of the Sierra Club.

She raised the example of the drinking water for the Grand Canyon, which is supplied by a spring on the northern side of the canyon.

When snow melts on the North Rim most years, the water quality in the springs gets cloudy, raising an evident connection between events on the surface and water quality.

Estimates of how much uranium ore could come from each mine appear to be overstated by a factor of four in the long analysis (about the size of three Flagstaff phone books), said one consultant.

Projections on how much the ore could be worth into the future appear volatile, and determining who benefits from the industry is problematic, economic development consultant Richard Merritt wrote to the Interior Department on behalf of the Grand Canyon Trust.

“… inaccuracies in modeling the economic impact of the withdrawal … cause us to seriously question the veracity of the final conclusions …” Merritt wrote.

Federal agencies didn’t adequately weigh the risks of lasting aquifer contamination related to uranium mining, the four conservation groups wrote.

“(The analysis) avoids discussion of the monumental tasks and hundreds of millions or billions of dollars required to clean up deep aquifer contamination, assuming it is even possible. Commenting organizations raised this issue in scoping. Neither the federal government nor industry can guarantee that uranium mining would not deplete or contaminate aquifers,” they stated.

They raised other uranium-mining-related contamination in the Southwest, and drew a comparison to the Gulf oil spill.

“In their permitting of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil drilling, Interior Department agencies repeatedly dismissed the possibility of a deepwater oil spill and assumed that response resources and systems were adequate to prevent significant environmental harm in the event that a spill did occur,” they wrote.

DOMESTIC USE NOT GUARANTEED

The Coconino County Board of Supervisors unanimously signed a letter in April asking that a lot of federal land in Coconino County be put off-limits to uranium mining, raising concerns about the impacts to tourism and questions about cleanup in case of an ore truck overturning.

The county cited “hot spots” of radioactivity at former mines, as uncovered in tests by the U.S. Geological Survey a few years ago, and a mine on standby for more than 20 years that had not been closed.

The board contended that uranium jobs were possibly counted multiple times, but that tourism revenues might be undercounted, and raised complaints that monitoring for radioactive materials along haul routes into Fredonia, Flagstaff, Page and Cameron wouldn’t be adequate.

The agency noted that it might feel somewhat differently about the risks if there was a guarantee that the uranium mined from the Colorado Plateau were to end up supplying power in the United States, but there is no such guarantee.

“There is entirely too much risk, too many unknowns and too many identified impacts to justify threatening one of the most important U.S. landmarks and one of the most world-renowned national parks to justify the relatively small economic benefit associated with mining of uranium in the Grand Canyon region,” the supervisors stated.

5/14/2011 Gallup Independent: ENDAUM seeks halt to uranium mining

ENDAUM seeks halt to uranium mining By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent, 5/14/2011:WINDOW ROCK – The New Mexico Environmental Law Center and its client, Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining, or ENDAUM, filed a petition Friday with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights seeking to halt a uranium mining operation Churchrock and Crownpoint. A press conference is scheduled for Monday morning at the National Press Club in Washington. After 16 years of legal fighting, the New Mexico Environmental Law Center has exhausted all avenues offered by the U.S. legal system to overturn the mining license granted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to Hydro Resources Inc. Should HRI be allowed to mine, the drinking water for approximately 15,000 people will be contaminated, according to the law center. “The HRI license marks the first time that any mining company in the U.S. has been federally authorized to mine uranium in a community drinking water aquifer,” Eric Jantz, attorney for the law center stated in a press release. “This aquifer provides the sole source of drinking water for the mostly Navajo community members represented by ENDAUM. By granting this license, the NRC has failed to uphold its mandate to protect the health and safety of all Americans.”

On Friday, New Mexico Environment Department’s Ground Water Quality Bureau posted a notice that HRI plans to renew the discharge permit for its Section 8 property in McKinley County for the injection and circulation of up to 4,000 gallons per minute of “lixiviant” associated with the process of in-situ leach mining of uranium.

Lixiviant, which typically contains an oxidant such as oxygen and/or hydrogen peroxide mixed with sodium carbonate or carbon dioxide, is injected through wells into the ore body in a confined aquifer to dissolve the uranium. This solution is then pumped via other wells to the surface for processing, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

HRI plans to use injection and extraction wells to recover uranium from the Westwater Canyon aquifer at depths from 600 to 1,200 feet. Potential contaminants include chloride, radium-226, selenium, sulfate, total dissovled solids and uranium. The NMED posting kicks off a 30-day period for the public to request a hearing. HRI has stated its objective is to begin mining in Churchrock by mid-2013, and the community has few options left.

“ENDAUM’s best hope is to encourage the executive branch of the federal government to intervene to oppose this license,” Larry King, an ENDAUM board member, said. “Efforts over the past 15 years at the federal level have failed to engage officials and regulators about the impact this mining will have on the community’s health and water supply. We have to fight in every legal venue to prevent this mining from taking place.”

The petition seeks remedies for the violation of Navajo human rights and asks that the Commission recommend to the United States to suspend HRI’s materials license until such time as HRI has cleaned up the radioactive surface contamination on Churchrock’s Section 17, and the United States has taken significant and meaningful steps to remediate the abandoned uranium mines within the boundaries of the Churchrock Chapter, among other suggestions.

“Multiple international human rights treaties say health is a human right. The NMELC and our clients agree, and by licensing uranium projects in drinking water aquifers, the U.S. government has failed to protect the Navajo community’s human rights,” Jantz said. “New uranium mining will further desecrate Navajo communities across the reservation already suffering illnesses and death because of legacy mining and waste.”

Information: http://www.nmenv.state.nm.us/gwb/NMED-GWQB-PublicNotice.htm

5/13/2011 Gallup Independent: Dangerous playground: Abandoned uranium mill was favorite spot

Dangerous playground: Abandoned uranium mill was favorite spot By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent 5/13/2011 CAMERON – From the time he was 4 or 5 years old, Larry Gordy used to follow his dad on horseback across the multicolored landscape of the Painted Desert in Cameron. Eventually he started riding off on his own, seeking adventure amid the sandstone and mudstone hills while herding sheep and cattle. He was maybe 6 years old when he first encountered a rather nondescript concrete building out in the middle of nowhere. But gazing at it through the wonderment of youth, Gordy’s imagination ran wild. “I was born and raised without a permanent structure. We lived in a shack. To find a permanent structure, you were like, ‘Wow! Concrete!’ It was a favorite play place. When you’re 6 or 7 years old, that’s a fort.” It was worth riding his horse 8 miles to play all day on what he later learned was an abandoned uranium mill where ore was “concentrated,” or enriched.

“From being raised living in a shack and being covered by the Bennett Freeze where we couldn’t put anything down permanent, you saw a permanent structure way out here in the boonies and you’re hanging around it, you’re crawling on it, you’re climbing on it, and you’re looking at it – maybe you could just live out here in this permanent structure. You don’t know that it’s got radiation in it and it’s got uranium tailings in it,” he said.

The mill, which began operations in the mid-1950s, went unnoticed until last year when Gordy made mention of it to the grassroots group, Forgotten People. Together they brought it and other sites to the attention of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Division of Superfund.

U.S. EPA and Navajo Nation EPA will conduct a meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday at Moenkopi Legacy Inn & Suites in Tuba City to reveal their findings on the Cameron mill and the Hosteen Nez abandoned uranium mine site in Coalmine Chapter. They also will discuss their efforts to address abandoned uranium mines and safe drinking water in Western Navajo Agency.

Gordy, now 42, said his dad first told him about the mill. “Back in these rocks you’ll see a bunch of makeshift camp sites,” he said during a recent tour. “They were all the campsites for the Navajo people that worked here. From what my mom and dad told me, this was a real Sodom and Gomorrah out here. There was people making money, 24-hour parties. But everybody left just as fast as they showed up.”

Weston Solutions Inc. was contracted by EPA to do a site screen of the mill, located on state of Arizona land bordering the Navajo Nation. Radiation levels ranged from around 50,000 counts per minute for the bare cement foundation to 1 million counts per minute from the small dirt piles atop the foundation, compared to the average background reading of less than 16,000. The Little Colorado River Basin runs through the eastern edge of the mill site.

“Years ago, I’d come out here in the summertime and it would be like 100 degrees. You’re riding your horse down the river and you say, ‘Hey, I’m going to go over to this fort over here and hang out a little bit,” Gordy said. “You’d wrap your rope around some of these structures out here, and you’d go into this cave-looking thing” inside the mill. “It was really cool, and you’d sleep in here and take an evening nap. It was so awesome.”

The “cave” is a portion of the 100 foot-by-50 foot mill that is still intact. It has a square hole in the ceiling and a vehicle license plate from the 1950s cemented into the wall.

“When you ride around out here, you carry your lariat all the time. You come out here and you’ve got that little hole in the concrete with maybe a 20 foot drop. We used to anchor the rope to the horse and crawl in and out of that hole or pull people out, pretending we were doing a rescue,” Gordy said.

Sometimes he and his cousins would ride out together and tie off their horses to a piece of rebar sticking out of the concrete. They’d take a run a go and jump into the blown sand piles in front of the building or lead their horses up and down the chute, which still today is lined with highly radioactive waste.

About a quarter to a half mile away from the mill there’s one of many Western Nuclear Inc. markers and as Gordy said, “probably 20 or 30 core markers sticking out of the ground that are halfway rotted. From what I understand these were drilled test holes. They ran around all over the place drilling holes.” The markers have metal plates with numbers on them. “They were taking readings off of each sample that they took and numbering them,” he said.

Near the wetland area, Gordy and Marsha Monestersky, program director for Forgotten People, found the remains of a campfire and an old beer can. “Over the years people have come out here to just party. How many people have passed out in these uranium tailings?” Gordy said. And then pointing to a waste pile, “You see those little white mounds over there? Those things maxed out EPA’s Geiger counter.”

Though he never worked in the uranium mines or the mill, Gordy wonders what will happen if he gets sick. He questions the 1971 cutoff date to qualify for the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. “They left the mines open where I hung around and played in. How can they close the date on it when they’ve got uranium tailings still laying all over the place? I would think if you’re going to close the compensation dates, you would close them after you got all of the uranium sites closed and controlled. Here we are, 2011, and we’re still exposed to it.

“My mom come up with this brain tumor type of brain cancer. We don’t know where she got it – living out here possibly. The thing with living out here is, how do you separate what illnesses are coming from your environment and what illnesses are normal? With the dust blowing and everything out here, who knows what you could catch,” he said.

Doug Brugge, Ph.D., M.S., professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, reviewed three site screen reports for Forgotten People. The radiation levels for the Section 9 lease, which includes the mill, are both higher and appear to be spread out over a larger geographic area, he said.

“Mills tend to be built near water. I think the EPA report acknowledges that contamination could be moving from the site into the river. That seemed to be EPA’s primary concern in terms of exposure both to the environment and to people – the potential for contamination to get into the river,” Brugge said.

“My main question is what comes next, and is this enough evidence for EPA to do anything more, or are they going to write these off?” The mill’s close proximity to the Little Colorado River might be the strongest motivator for cleanup, he said, because the Little Colorado feeds into the Colorado River, which provides drinking water to millions of people from Arizona to California.

Monestersky said Forgotten People appreciates EPA’s prompt response in investigating the southeast Cameron uranium concentrating mill, the open pits and tailings piles, and Goldsprings mines. “Forgotten People respectfully requests the U.S. EPA do everything necessary to protect wetlands and water sources, and conduct radiation surveys beyond the borders of these sites to assess levels of contamination to downstream users on the Little Colorado River and contamination of water resources throughout the region.

“How could the U.S. EPA and other agencies miss the southeast Cameron uranium concentrating mill when they did aerial flyovers to assess contamination?” she said.