11/14/2011 Navajo Times: 5-year uranium cleanup only the beginning By Alastair Lee Bitsoi” Farmington – More than 100 people gathered here Tuesday (Nov. 8) to hear updates from federal officials on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s five-year multi-agency plan to address the health and environmental impacts of uranium development on the Navajo Nation. Called the Navajo Uranium Contamination Stakeholder Workshop, it is a three-day summit held to update tribal officials and impacted Navajo community members on the progress of the plan, which is nearing completion.
Jared Blumenfeld, administrator for EPA Region 9, said the plan has been effective, as demonstrated by the large-scale cleanup at the Skyline Mine in Monument Valley, Utah.
“This is an incredibly effective return on the dollar,” Blumenfeld said. “It brings in jobs and cleanup from the Cold War.”
In addition to the cleanup at Monument Valley, Blumenfeld said both USEPA and the Navajo Nation EPA have screened 683 structures for contamination, completing the demolition and excavation of 34 structures and 12 residential yards. They also rebuilt 14 homes, he said.
Over the summer, USEPA also announced that it would begin cleanup operations at the largest abandoned uranium mine on the Navajo Nation – the Northeast Church Rock Mine – and investigate possible soil contamination at the former Gulf Mineral Mine in Mariano Lake, N.M.
Also involved in the five-year cleanup are the Centers for Disease Control’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, IHS, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and U.S. Department of Energy, all of which provided updates on their progress.
Their accomplishments include sampling 250 unregulated water sources, identifying and marking 28 that exceed federal drinking water standards for radiation, and funding $20 million worth of water projects to supply up to 386 homes that lack piped drinking water.
Also of importance is the CDC-funded Navajo Birth Cohort Study, which is being conducted by the University of New Mexico.
The three-year study will look at pregnancy outcomes and child development in relation to uranium exposure among Navajo women and infants.
11/6/2011 NY Times: Here Comes the Sun By OP-ED COLUMNIST PAUL KRUGMAN: For decades the story of technology has been dominated, in the popular mind and to a large extent in reality, by computing and the things you can do with it. Moore’s Law — in which the price of computing power falls roughly 50 percent every 18 months — has powered an ever-expanding range of applications, from faxes to Facebook. Our mastery of the material world, on the other hand, has advanced much more slowly. The sources of energy, the way we move stuff around, are much the same as they were a generation ago.
But that may be about to change. We are, or at least we should be, on the cusp of an energy transformation, driven by the rapidly falling cost of solar power. That’s right, solar power.
If that surprises you, if you still think of solar power as some kind of hippie fantasy, blame our fossilized political system, in which fossil fuel producers have both powerful political allies and a powerful propaganda machine that denigrates alternatives.
Speaking of propaganda: Before I get to solar, let’s talk briefly about hydraulic fracturing, a k a fracking.
Fracking — injecting high-pressure fluid into rocks deep underground, inducing the release of fossil fuels — is an impressive technology. But it’s also a technology that imposes large costs on the public. We know that it produces toxic (and radioactive) wastewater that contaminates drinking water; there is reason to suspect, despite industry denials, that it also contaminates groundwater; and the heavy trucking required for fracking inflicts major damage on roads.
Economics 101 tells us that an industry imposing large costs on third parties should be required to “internalize” those costs — that is, to pay for the damage it inflicts, treating that damage as a cost of production. Fracking might still be worth doing given those costs. But no industry should be held harmless from its impacts on the environment and the nation’s infrastructure.
Yet what the industry and its defenders demand is, of course, precisely that it be let off the hook for the damage it causes. Why? Because we need that energy! For example, the industry-backed organization energyfromshale.org declares that “there are only two sides in the debate: those who want our oil and natural resources developed in a safe and responsible way; and those who don’t want our oil and natural gas resources developed at all.”
So it’s worth pointing out that special treatment for fracking makes a mockery of free-market principles. Pro-fracking politicians claim to be against subsidies, yet letting an industry impose costs without paying compensation is in effect a huge subsidy. They say they oppose having the government “pick winners,” yet they demand special treatment for this industry precisely because they claim it will be a winner.
And now for something completely different: the success story you haven’t heard about.
These days, mention solar power and you’ll probably hear cries of “Solyndra!” Republicans have tried to make the failed solar panel company both a symbol of government waste — although claims of a major scandal are nonsense — and a stick with which to beat renewable energy.
But Solyndra’s failure was actually caused by technological success: the price of solar panels is dropping fast, and Solyndra couldn’t keep up with the competition. In fact, progress in solar panels has been so dramatic and sustained that, as a blog post at Scientific American put it, “there’s now frequent talk of a ‘Moore’s law’ in solar energy,” with prices adjusted for inflation falling around 7 percent a year.
This has already led to rapid growth in solar installations, but even more change may be just around the corner. If the downward trend continues — and if anything it seems to be accelerating — we’re just a few years from the point at which electricity from solar panels becomes cheaper than electricity generated by burning coal.
And if we priced coal-fired power right, taking into account the huge health and other costs it imposes, it’s likely that we would already have passed that tipping point.
But will our political system delay the energy transformation now within reach?
Let’s face it: a large part of our political class, including essentially the entire G.O.P., is deeply invested in an energy sector dominated by fossil fuels, and actively hostile to alternatives. This political class will do everything it can to ensure subsidies for the extraction and use of fossil fuels, directly with taxpayers’ money and indirectly by letting the industry off the hook for environmental costs, while ridiculing technologies like solar.
So what you need to know is that nothing you hear from these people is true. Fracking is not a dream come true; solar is now cost-effective. Here comes the sun, if we’re willing to let it in.
Toshiyuki Hattori, who runs a sewage plant in Tokyo, surrounded by sacks of radioactive sludge. By HIROKO TABUCHI 10/14/2011 New York Times: Citizens’ Testing Finds 20 Hot Spots Around Tokyo: TOKYO — Takeo Hayashida signed on with a citizens’ group to test for radiation near his son’s baseball field in Tokyo after government officials told him they had no plans to check for fallout from the devastated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Like Japan’s central government, local officials said there was nothing to fear in the capital, 160 miles from the disaster zone.
Then came the test result: the level of radioactive cesium in a patch of dirt just yards from where his 11-year-old son, Koshiro, played baseball was equal to those in some contaminated areas around Chernobyl.
The patch of ground was one of more than 20 spots in and around the nation’s capital that the citizens’ group, and the respected nuclear research center they worked with, found were contaminated with potentially harmful levels of radioactive cesium.
It has been clear since the early days of the nuclear accident, the world’s second worst after Chernobyl, that that the vagaries of wind and rain had scattered worrisome amounts of radioactive materials in unexpected patterns far outside the evacuation zone 12 miles around the stricken plant. But reports that substantial amounts of cesium had accumulated as far away as Tokyo have raised new concerns about how far the contamination had spread, possibly settling in areas where the government has not even considered looking.
The government’s failure to act quickly, a growing chorus of scientists say, may be exposing many more people than originally believed to potentially harmful radiation. It is also part of a pattern: Japan’s leaders have continually insisted that the fallout from Fukushima will not spread far, or pose a health threat to residents, or contaminate the food chain. And officials have repeatedly been proved wrong by independent experts and citizens’ groups that conduct testing on their own.
“Radioactive substances are entering people’s bodies from the air, from the food. It’s everywhere,” said Kiyoshi Toda, a radiation expert at Nagasaki University’s faculty of environmental studies and a medical doctor. “But the government doesn’t even try to inform the public how much radiation they’re exposed to.”
The reports of hot spots do not indicate how widespread contamination is in the capital; more sampling would be needed to determine that. But they raise the prospect that people living near concentrated amounts of cesium are being exposed to levels of radiation above accepted international standards meant to protect people from cancer and other illnesses.
Japanese nuclear experts and activists have begun agitating for more comprehensive testing in Tokyo and elsewhere, and a cleanup if necessary. Robert Alvarez, a nuclear expert and a former special assistant to the United States secretary of energy, echoed those calls, saying the citizens’ groups’ measurements “raise major and unprecedented concerns about the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.”
The government has not ignored citizens’ pleas entirely; it recently completed aerial testing in eastern Japan, including Tokyo. But several experts and activists say the tests are unlikely to be sensitive enough to be useful in finding micro hot spots such as those found by the citizens’ group.
Kaoru Noguchi, head of Tokyo’s health and safety section, however, argues that the testing already done is sufficient. Because Tokyo is so developed, she says, radioactive material was much more likely to have fallen on concrete, then washed away. She also said exposure was likely to be limited.
“Nobody stands in one spot all day,” she said. “And nobody eats dirt.”
Tokyo residents knew soon after the March 11 accident, when a tsunami knocked out the crucial cooling systems at the Fukushima plant, that they were being exposed to radioactive materials. Researchers detected a spike in radiation levels on March 15. Then as rain drizzled down on the evening of March 21, radioactive material again fell on the city.
In the following week, however, radioactivity in the air and water dropped rapidly. Most in the city put aside their jitters, some openly scornful of those — mostly foreigners — who had fled Tokyo in the early days of the disaster.
But not everyone was convinced. Some Tokyo residents bought dosimeters. The Tokyo citizens’ group, the Radiation Defense Project, which grew out of a Facebook discussion page, decided to be more proactive. In consultation with the Yokohama-based Isotope Research Institute, members collected soil samples from near their own homes and submitted them for testing.
Some of the results were shocking: the sample that Mr. Hayashida collected under shrubs near his neighborhood baseball field in the Edogawa ward measured nearly 138,000 becquerels per square meter of radioactive cesium 137, which can damage cells and lead to an increased risk of cancer.
Of the 132 areas tested, 22 were above 37,000 becquerels per square meter, the level at which zones were considered contaminated at Chernobyl.
Edwin Lyman, a physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, said most residents near Chernobyl were undoubtedly much worse off, surrounded by widespread contamination rather than isolated hot spots. But he said the 37,000 figure remained a good reference point for mandatory cleanup because regular exposure to such contamination could result in a dosage of more than one millisievert per year, the maximum recommended for the public by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.
The most contaminated spot in the Radiation Defense survey, near a church, was well above the level of the 1.5 million becquerels per square meter that required mandatory resettlement at Chernobyl. The level is so much higher than other results in the study that it raises the possibility of testing error, but micro hot spots are not unheard of after nuclear disasters.
Japan’s relatively tame mainstream media, which is more likely to report on government pronouncements than grass-roots movements, mainly ignored the citizens’ group’s findings.
“Everybody just wants to believe that this is Fukushima’s problem,” said Kota Kinoshita, one of the group’s leaders and a former television journalist. “But if the government is not serious about finding out, how can we trust them?”
Hideo Yamazaki, an expert in environmental analysis at Kinki University in western Japan, did his own survey of the city and said he, too, discovered high levels in the area where the baseball field is located.
“These results are highly localized, so there is no cause for panic,” he said. “Still, there are steps the government could be taking, like decontaminating the highest spots.”
Since then, there have been other suggestions that hot spots were more widespread than originally imagined.
Last month, a local government in a Tokyo ward found a pile of composted leaves at a school that measured 849 becquerels per kilogram of cesium 137, over two times Japan’s legally permissible level for compost.
And on Wednesday, civilians who tested the roof of an apartment building in the nearby city of Yokohama — farther from Fukushima than Tokyo — found high quantities of radioactive strontium. (There was also one false alarm this week when sky-high readings were reported in the Setagaya ward in Tokyo; the government later said they were probably caused by bottles of radium, once widely used to make paint.)
The government’s own aerial testing showed that although almost all of Tokyo had relatively little contamination, two areas showed elevated readings. One was in a mountainous area at the western edge of the Tokyo metropolitan region, and the other was over three wards of the city — including the one where the baseball field is situated.
The metropolitan government said it had started preparations to begin monitoring food products from the nearby mountains, but acknowledged that food had been shipped from that area for months.
Mr. Hayashida, who discovered the high level at the baseball field, said that he was not waiting any longer for government assurances. He moved his family to Okayama, about 370 miles to the southwest.
“Perhaps we could have stayed in Tokyo with no problems,” he said. “But I choose a future with no radiation fears.”
Matthew L. Wald contributed reporting from Washington, and Kantaro Suzuki from Tokyo.
10/11/2011 Navajo hopes to regulate uranium ore transport By Kathy Helms Gallup Independent, Dine Bureau: WINDOW ROCK – A resolution opposing the transport of uranium ore and product across the Navajo Nation, with the exception of hauling legacy waste to a disposal facility outside Navajo Indian Country, has been approved by the Law and Order Committee and is making its way to the Navajo Nation Council. The resolution sponsored by Delegate Duane Tsinigine of Bodaway/Gap would amend the Navajo Nation Code to regulate the activity of non-Navajos on publicly granted rights of way across Navajo land. “This is mainly regarding the health and welfare of the Navajo Nation, bottom line. It’s a protection act,” Tsinigine said.
Cold War-era uranium mining left a legacy of radiological contamination and sickness on the Navajo Nation. Now, ore from Denison Mines north of the Grand Canyon is being trucked to the White Mesa Mill in Blanding, Utah, and on the New Mexico side of the reservation, there also is the prospect of future uranium mining.
“There is transporting of uranium going across Navajo land without much enforcement. This will bring the enforcement,” Tsinigine said.
The Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency and the Division of Public Safety, subject to approval of the Resources and Development Committee, would develop regulations necessary to implement the intent of the law, such as designating reasonable license fees, bonding requirements, curfews, and route restrictions for the product being transported across the Navajo Nation.
Greg Kelly, an attorney with the Navajo Department of Justice’s Natural Resources Unit, helped redraft the resolution to avoid conflicts with federal law. The original resolution was introduced during the 21st Council by Delegate Thomas Walker Jr., and reintroduced by Tsinigine in May with modifications.
When Tsinigine’s resolution initially went through DOJ, they flagged four issues, Kelly said. “One of those issues is that there is uranium byproduct on Navajo trust lands that we want to be able to transport and dispose of and get off of Navajo Nation trust property. So the legislation needed to be changed to reflect that that would be a permissible transport.
“Second, we did not want to be seen necessarily as ceding our jurisdiction,” he said. “The way that the legislation was drafted at the time suggested that our jurisdiction over non-Indians on the Navajo Nation was limited by case law. We wanted to put it forth in a positive way in which we have jurisdiction over non-Indians when the health, welfare and safety of the Navajo people are at issue.”
In addition, transportation of hazardous substances, including uranium, is fully preempted by the federal government and federal law. “In order to at least withstand litigation over legislation, we have to tailor our legislation to be within the federal requirements,” Kelly said.
Though the resolution as drafted calls for advance notice of 120 days by any carrier of uranium ore or product, that requirement conflicts with federal regulations, which stipulate seven-day advance notice to a governor in writing, or four days actual notice in advance. Kelly recommended that language be changed to conform with federal law.
“The reason we reference the state governor and local law enforcement officials is because that’s what the federal regulations do,” he said. “They require that states get notified, but not tribes … and as little as four days’ notice is legally permissible. If we have a 120 day requirement, I’m pretty confident that would not stand should anybody challenge that in court.”
Chairman Edmund Yazzie had questions regarding Eastern Navajo Agency. “On the Arizona side it’s strictly 100 percent Navajo Reservation, Navajo land. Now when you think of the eastern side, you have your checkerboard area,” he said, which is multi-jurisdictional, particularly in areas such as Churchrock, Mariano Lake and Pinedale.
“I do support this legislation because there have been threats in the Churchrock area, saying that they’re going to come on and get some more uranium. The people said no and the Nation said no,” Yazzie said. “If a non-Indian rolls three semis in, and they start shipping the uranium, how much jurisdiction does that give our Navajo Nation Police? We need to give the local law enforcement authority also to stop these trucks.”
By promulgating regulations, Kelly said, Navajo could designate which officials must be notified by transporters in lieu of a governor or particular law enforcement official. “My understanding is that as part of the permitting process for these transporters, they have to give notice to whoever is on file with the federal agency that’s permitting them,” he said.
“I think we could address the jurisdiction issue in Eastern Agency simply by saying, ‘It’s Navajo Indian Country, federal agency. Here’s the people that we want to have notified, and you have that obligation.’ We can’t necessarily ensure that they will follow through on that, but I think they would.”
Law and Order’s Alton Shepherd recommended notification be given to the Nation’s president, local law enforcement and Navajo EPA. He also offered an amendment to strike the ‘no less than 120 days’ notice where it appears in the resolution, which was approved by the committee.
The decision infuriated environmental groups, who called it a betrayal, but cheered business leaders, who said that the ozone rule was one of the most onerous of the administration’s proposed environmental regulations.
The E.P.A. said last month that it would adopt the Bush-era standard and work toward tightening it in the future. The five groups that sued — Earthjustice, the American Lung Association, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Environmental Defense Fund — said that was not adequate and asked a federal court in Washington to review the administration’s action.
“The rejection of stronger standards was illegal and irresponsible, in our view,” said David Baron, a lawyer for Earthjustice. “Instead of protecting people’s lungs as the law requires, this administration based its decision on politics, leaving tens of thousands of Americans at risk of sickness and suffering.”
The same groups had sued the Bush administration over its ozone policy, but agreed to suspend the suit when the Obama administration came to office and promised to reconsider the Bush standard. That reconsideration was delayed several times before finally being killed by the president last month.
Ground-level ozone is the main ingredient in smog, which is linked to premature deaths, heart attacks and lung ailments, including childhood asthma.
The standard rejected by Mr. Obama would have thrown hundreds of counties out of compliance with air quality regulations and imposed costs of $19 billion to $25 billion, according to E.P.A. estimates. But the resulting health benefits would have been $13 billion to $37 billion, the agency calculated.
10/5/2011 Hopi, Navajo discuss water contamination By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent: KYKOTSMOVI – Navajos living on Hopi Partitioned Land who signed the 75-year Accommodation Agreement met recently with Hopi tribal officials, members of the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to discuss contaminated water issues and the need for windmill repairs on HPL. In response to water contamination, the Hopi Tribe’s Office of Range Management capped several water wells and fenced off windmills as a public safety measure, including some used by trespassing Navajos who have not signed the agreements to reside on HPL, Louella Nahsonhoya, public information officer for the Hopi Tribe, said.
“The safety of anyone on Hopi land, not just Navajo and Hopi people, is of utmost importance to us,” Clayton Honyumptewa, director of Hopi Department of Natural Resources, said. “The capping of water wells on the HPL was due to the fact that they were contaminated with uranium and arsenic, an obvious threat to anyone who was to drink it.”
Honyumptewa said Hopi’s windmill crew will actively work to repair broken or malfunctioning windmills on HPL. “We continue to work in keeping the lands, water wells and windmills as originally intended and urge those whose lands are being infringed upon to notify us of any wrongdoings and repairs needed.”
Navajo families who signed the Accommodation Agreement legally reside on HPL with grazing permits recognized by the Hopi Tribe.
“Many of the issues they’re having on not only HPL, but the Navajo Partitioned Lands, are because Navajos who have not signed the Accommodation Agreement are illegally trespassing, cutting fences and bringing in their own livestock in the middle of the night,” Hopi Tribal Councilman Cedric Kuwaninvaya said.
“One would expect this to be a problem of Navajos against the Hopi, but it’s not; it’s Navajos against Navajos,” he said.
Kuwaninvaya of Sipaulovi, chairman of the Hopi Land Team, attended the HPL meeting and asked whether there were any delegates from the Navajo Nation present. There were none.
“Only one representative from the Navajo grazing committee from the area was present and no one representing the Navajo Nation Council. I would have liked to have seen one of their representatives, as we have issues on both the HPL and NPL sides that we need to address as tribal governments,” he said.
Raymond Maxx, executive director of the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission, was a participant in the HPL meeting.
“A lot of these issues have been ongoing for decades. It’s probably going to take some federal action to resolve them. It’s just a matter of getting the two tribes to find a solution and then getting that addressed at the national level,” he said.
Navajos who did not sign the Accommodation Agreement are regarded as resisters and are not recognized by Hopi as officials residents, Maxx said.
“Even if the resisters wanted to come back now and sign an Accommodation Agreement, “according to the law and the cutoff date, it’s too late for them,” he said. “That’s one example of going back to Congress to get language amended to where they are allowed to get those signed. But some people, just out of principal, they don’t want to sign the document.”
The U.S. Congress partitioned the disputed 1882 Executive Order Hopi Reservation in a 1974 Congressional Act and gave parcels to both tribes, which resulting in the forced relocation of both Hopi and Navajo families.
According to Hopi, initially there were 128 Navajo families who signed the Accommodation Agreement leases in March 1997. Since then, a majority have voluntarily relocated. Upon final approval by the federal government, 80 leases officially were approved.
The Accommodation Agreement gave the families three years after March 31, 1997, to decide whether to take their relocation benefits and move off HPL. At the end of March 31, 2000, there were 103 Navajo individuals who had accepted their relocation benefits, relinquished their leases and voluntarily relocated. There are now 49 leases in place and seven resister home sites with 22 Navajo individuals residing at those.
Maxx said the group wants to continue discussion of the issues that were brought up. After holding several work sessions to bring new members of the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission up to date, they would like to sit down with members of the Hopi Tribal Council and representatives from both tribes present, he said.
“We’re starting to have good relationships, and a lot of these hard feelings are starting to taper off. It’s good for the people. They get caught up between political and governmental politics,” he said.