Tag Archives: Crownpoint

10/10/2011 Gallup Independent: Uranium mining license: Water wells, pipeline needed

10/10/2011 Uranium mining license: Water wells, pipeline needed by Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent: WINDOW ROCK – U.S. Sen. Tom Udall sought assurances Thursday from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that Navajos living in Crownpoint would have a safe source of drinking water if Hydro Resources Inc. carries through with its plans for in situ mining of uranium in the Westwater Canyon Aquifer. In a hearing on cleanup of legacy uranium sites before a U.S. Senate subcommittee, Udall also pressed the NRC and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on proposed future uranium mining operations.

“Crownpoint is the location of a proposed in-situ leach uranium recovery operation near the Churchrock legacy site, and I understand the NRC has set up a license for HRI at the Crownpoint site that is dependent on several conditions, including legacy cleanup,” Udall said, and asked the NRC to clarify the status and content of HRI’s permit.

Michael Weber of the NRC said HRI, a subsidiary of Uranium Resources Inc., is in the process of completing some preparatory activities and he expects the agency to issue a letter to HRI in the near future, authorizing them to proceed.

The Westwater aquifer, a major source of drinking water for Crownpoint, “is fairly good water,” which the community has relied on for a long time, Udall said. “If the requirements of the permit were fulfilled, could the NRC and the EPA guarantee a safe and a consistent water source for the Crownpoint community?”

Weber said a “unique” provision of the NRC license is it requires HRI to provide an alternate water source for the local community before the company begins mining. “Typically, the in-situ recovery facilities are located at some distance from communities and so that doesn’t present itself, but in this situation, because of the unique circumstances involving HRI-Crownpoint, that was a provision in the licensing of the facility,” he said.

HRI must replace two Navajo Tribal Utility Authority water supply wells and three Bureau of Indian Affairs wells. In addition, the company must construct the necessary water pipeline and provide funds so the existing water supply systems of NTUA and BIA can be connected to the new wells.

“I would point out that in the history of in-situ recovery regulation, we have not seen a situation where a local supply well has been adversely impacted by the mining,” Weber said. However, he added, there have been “excursions.”

“An excursion is where an elevated level has been detected in either a monitoring well laterally, distant from the minefield, or above or below the aquifer that’s being mined,” he said. “If those excursions are detected, the licensee has to take action to correct that situation and at the end of active mining has to restore the aquifer back to suitable water-quality standards.”

Udall said he thought that license condition was “greatly appreciated by the local community.”

Eric Jantz, attorney for Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining, which has vigorously opposed HRI’s plans to mine uranium in Crownpoint and Churchrock, said, “I have not heard anyone in Crownpoint express appreciation that License Condition 10.27 was included. All of the people I’ve spoken with are just pissed off that the project was licensed in the first place.”

An interesting problem for HRI, he said, is that in 1991, HRI applied to New Mexico Environment Department for an aquifer designation for its Crownpoint site, which the state granted. However, EPA, exercising its supervisory authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act, overruled NMED.

“In rejecting HRI’s aquifer designation application, EPA said that the Westwater aquifer at the Crownpoint site is an underground source of drinking water. I can’t see how – either technically or politically – EPA could backtrack from this position. All this seems to suggest HRI couldn’t mine at the Crownpoint site even if it wanted to,” Jantz said.

“Given that Section 17 and Unit 1 are Indian Country and subject to the Dine Natural Resources Protection Act, that only leaves HRI with Section 8.” The 2005 act prohibited uranium mining and processing in Navajo Indian Country.

Chris Shuey of Southwest Research Information Center said NTUA’s management board adopted a resolution in December 1997 asserting that it would not allow replacement of its two municipal wells in Crownpoint.

“In March 2005, Dr. John Leeper with the Navajo Water Resources Department gave an expert declaration in which he concluded that the Westwater aquifer would continue to be a major source of water supply for the Eastern Agency, even with development of the Navajo-Gallup project water line, and that the Navajo-Gallup project was never intended to replace the use or reliance on groundwater for municipal and agricultural supply in the Eastern Agency,” Shuey said.

NRC’s condition that HRI provide an alternate water supply was not opposed, Shuey said, “since it was an acknowledgment by even NRC that, despite HRI’s assurances to the contrary, ISL mining could not be done at the Crownpoint wellfield without impacting at least NTUA-1 and possibly impacting NTUA -2.”

NRC called the location of proposed ISL mining within a half mile of a currently operating municipal water supply well “unprecedented” in the history of ISL mining, Shuey said.

In the 1997 resolution, which was adopted unanimously, NTUA said the NRC proposal did not address future operation and maintenance expenses the utility may incur due to calcification of its water distribution system, nor future water quality and quantity concerns in connection with the relocated water supply wells and restoration of groundwater after mining.

“The Management Board directs NTUA management to inform HRI and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that it will not agree to plug and abandon its Crownpoint wells.”

5/16/2011 ICT Navajos Appeal to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights over Proposed Uranium Mining

Navajos Appeal to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights over Proposed uranium mining   This former leeching pond, owned by United Nuclear Corporation, lies near Highway 566, north of Church Rock, New Mexico.By Indian Country Today ICTMN Staff May 16, 2011: This former leeching pond, owned by United Nuclear Corporation, lies near Highway 566, north of Church Rock, New Mexico. Dominic Miller/Caterwaul Quarterly This former leeching pond, owned by United Nuclear Corporation, lies near Highway 566, north of Church Rock, New Mexico.

The Eastern Navajo Diné is appealing to the international community to stop uranium mining in the Navajo villages of Church Rock and Crownpoint, New Mexico, attorneys for the tribe announced at a press conference on May 16. Unable to get anywhere during 16 years of battling within the U.S. legal system, the Diné group on May 16 filed an appeal with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. For 16 years Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining (ENDAUM), represented by the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC), has been fighting to overturn a mining license awarded to Hydro Resources Inc. (HRI) by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) so as to avoid contaminating the drinking water of 15,000 people, the law center said in a press release.

“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,” said NMELC attorney Eric Jantz in the statement. “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.”

The NMELC and ENDAUM want the NRC to suspend HRI’s materials license “until such time as HRI has remediated the radioactive surface contamination on Church Rock’s Section 17, and the United States has taken significant and meaningful steps to remediate the abandoned uranium mines within the boundaries of the Church Rock Chapter,” the press release said. It also wants the NRC to submit, for public hearing, “comprehensive baseline groundwater quality and other hydrological, geological and geochemical data.”

In addition the Navajo want the NRC to rescind HRI’s license to mine uranium on Church Rock Section 17 and Unit 1 sites, because of the Navajo Nation’s ban on uranium mining and processing, and says that petitioner Larry King and his family should not be removed from Church Rock Section 17 and that there should be no “forced disruption of his subsistence grazing practices or cultural activities.”

According to Greenwire in The New York Times, the Navajo Nation is already dealing with contamination from previous uranium mines and its attendant high rates of cancer, heart disease and birth defects. Cleanup efforts are taking years, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is evaluating more than 500 sites in the western part of the Navajo Nation.

“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 grievance has been [filed] based on the human rights aspect of the nuclear field cycle,” said Jantz in a video explaining the filing. “We hope that this petition’s going to shine an international spotlight on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S.’s nuclear energy policy and at the same time keep the uranium mine from going forward in our clients’ communities.”

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.

5/14/2011 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