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.