Tag Archives: Radioactive Waste

12/4/2011 AFP: India's uranium mines cast a health shadow

12/4/2011 AFP: India’s uranium mines cast a health shadow By Ammu Kannampilly: Gudiya Das whines as flies settle on her face, waiting for her mother to swat them while she lies on a cot in Ichra, one in a cluster of villages around India’s only functioning uranium mines. The 12-year-old, whose skeletal frame makes her look about half her age, was diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy when she was a year old. “Back then there were 33 disabled kids here, now there are more than a hundred,” her father, Chhatua Das told AFP in his home in Jaduguda valley in the eastern state of Jharkhand. For Das and his wife Lakshmi, who have lost six children before the age of one, there is only one possible culprit — the nearby mines run by the state-owned Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL).

“I know there is some connection between the mining and what’s happened to my daughter,” Lakshmi told AFP. “It’s because of the uranium in the water here.”

Environmental groups say the mining company is polluting the groundwater by dumping radioactive waste inside three so-called tailings ponds that hold the sludge produced by the mining process — a charge vehemently denied by UCIL.

UCIL opened its first mine in Jaduguda in 1967, and has built six more since then, providing work for thousands of local villagers in what was a deeply impoverished area.

With starting salaries of 14,000 rupees ($280) a month, jobs with the mining firm are highly coveted and bring a level of economic prosperity that adds a conflicting layer of complexity to the health risk issue.

Jharkhand is one of India’s poorest states, with more than 40% of the population living on less than $2 a day, according to 2007 World Bank figures.

Ghanshyam Birulee, founder of the Jharkhand Organisation Against Radiation, believes the financial benefits are meaningless when weighed against what his group says is an alarming rise in stillbirths, birth defects, and adults and children diagnosed with cancer, kidney disease, and tuberculosis.

“How did these illnesses suddenly become so commonplace here? It’s because our valley has become a dumping ground for all this nuclear trash,” Birulee said.

“Jaduguda” means “magic fields” in the local language Sadri.

“These days it feels like there’s black magic at work here,” said Birulee, a former apprentice at UCIL who lost both his parents to cancer.

“When people first started getting sick, they thought it was because of witches or evil spirits. We had never seen anything like this,” he told AFP.

UCIL firmly denies any links between its operations and any health issues in Jaduguda.

“The grade of ore is very low, so the level of radioactivity is also very low. If you are 100-120 metres away from the periphery of the tailings ponds, you face no risk,” said A.K. Sarangi, deputy general manager for strategic planning at UCIL.

“We acquired land for several people here and tried to help them move, but they refused. Their intention is to extract as much money as possible from the company now,” Sarangi said.

The company cites a 1998 government-funded study that found no water contamination and rejected the idea that illnesses in Jaduguda could be ascribed to radiation exposure.

Critics say the study, carried out by the Mumbai-based Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, was tainted by association with the nuclear industry, and cite a 2007 report by the non-profit Indian Doctors for Peace and Development (IDPD).

That report showed a far greater incidence of congenital abnormality, sterility, and cancer among people living within 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles) of the mines than those living 35 kilometres away.

Mothers in villages close to the mine sites were also twice as likely to have a child with congenital deformities, it said.

The IDPD is an affiliate of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize winning organisation, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

The health risks associated with exposure to uranium are well-known. According to the US department of energy, sustained exposure can result in kidney damage and an increased risk of cancer.

A few years ago, the US environmental protection agency noted high levels of radiation in homes and drinking water sources in parts of Arizona state occupied by Navajo people, many of whom worked in the mines operating there from 1944 to 1986.

Developed nations like the United States and Australia employ strict environmental standards to limit the amount of uranium released into the air by mines and processing plants.

They also require mining waste to be disposed of in a manner that limits emissions and keeps groundwater clean, by erecting fences around tailings ponds and building earthen covers to prevent any seepage into the soil.

UCIL officials insist that their mines are in complete compliance with international requirements, and that emission levels are within the accepted limits.

“We have built fences around the tailings ponds, but villagers still cut through them in parts,” to take shortcuts across the land, Sarangi said.

“It is a huge area, it is just not possible to guard it all the time.”

Asha Kaibart lives in a small house about 200 metres from a tailings pond.

Seventeen years ago her son Anil started to have trouble with his eyes. A few years later the same thing happened to his younger sister Sumitra. Doctors said both had sustained severe damage to their optic nerves.

Today, at 29, Anil is totally blind. He and Sumitra rarely leave the house anymore, according to their father Situ, a former UCIL miner.

“I am sure waste from the company mixes with the water we use to bathe,” Asha said, pointing to a small lake nearby.

Birulee says companies like UCIL simply abdicate responsibility, refusing to help families like the Kaibarts and “threatening anyone who supports us” — a charge that UCIL spokesperson Pinaki Roy rejected outright.

“Such allegations pain us. Our social responsibility is very important to us. After all, at least one member of each family here is working for us,” Roy said.

8/30/3011 Gallup Independent: Cleaning up the Skyline: 519 abandoned uranium mine sites on Navajo left to go

8/30/3011 Gallup Independent: Cleaning up the Skyline: 519 abandoned uranium mine sites on Navajo left to go By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau: MONUMENT VALLEY, Utah – In 1951, the Navajo Tribal Council sent a proposal to Washington that would permit Navajos to lease their lands to whites and also make it easier for them to obtain prospecting permits. Since exploration began in 1942, the mining business in Monument Valley had contributed $170,000 in royalties to tribal coffers. Uranium ore was raising the standard of living. Across the valley, uranium mines sprang up much like the red sandstone rocks that erupted from the desert floor. Unsuspecting Navajos took to the rocks with picks and shovels, little knowing that the uranium and vanadium gleaned from the yellow outcrops of carnotite would leave permanent scars on the landscape and the people.

At Skyline Mine on Oljato Mesa, 5,794 feet above sea level, a gondola running along a steel cable was used to transport ore from atop the mesa to the “transloading” area below, where it was placed in trucks and hauled to a mill for processing.

“The miners would ride up in the bucket back in the day,” according to Jason Musante, federal on-scene coordinator for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Emergency Response Section. Now, all that remains of the mine that inspired dreams of sky-high wealth is about 30,000 cubic yards of radium-contaminated soil which EPA is in charge of removing.

During the 1990s, portions of the Skyline Mine were closed by the Navajo Nation Abandoned Mine Land program, which focused on removing immediate physical hazards, consolidating loose mine waste and capping it with clean fill dirt. But due to the steep terrain, some wastes at the eastern edge of the mesa and at the bottom were not removed.

Skyline is the first abandoned uranium mine U.S. EPA will complete cleanup at under a five-year inter-agency plan to address the Cold War legacy of uranium contamination on the Navajo Nation. The federal agency is working with Navajo EPA to prioritize and clean up the highest-risk abandoned uranium mines from among 520 sites.

Eugene Esplain, a health physicist with Navajo EPA’s Superfund program, said that between 1995 and 2000 they screened the Skyline Mine site after talking to local resident Elsie Begay – a central figure in the award-winning documentary, “The Return of Navajo Boy.”

Esplain and co-workers walked from the foot of the mesa to the top, assessing the contamination. “A little over a thousand feet we got high readings, so we kept going up the slope and the readings got more elevated the higher we went. This one went as high as 10 times background,” he said.

Esplain suffered a fall and ended up having knee surgery, but they were able to grade the site. “We didn’t do any characterization work up there. We knew that we didn’t have the tools or manpower to do this work. We reported it to our supervisor as such, and that we should ask U.S. EPA to take the lead on this one,” he said.

The $7 million project was initiated by U.S. EPA in August 2009 and on March 28 of this year they mobilized to come out and begin work on the disposal cell on top of the mesa.

About 10,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil were removed from the arroyo, and approximately 5,000 cubic yards each from the transloading area and the “talus slope,” a pile of radioactive waste rock and ore that either was pushed over the upper slope or fell from the top of the mesa. An estimated 10,000 cubic yards more were removed from the top of the mesa. A gray-green stain extends down the face of the cliff, a visual reminder of the years of mining activity.

All contaminated soils on the valley floor have been stockpiled into one huge red pile, which is being whittled away 4 cubic yards at a time using a modern version of the “skyline.” The top cable, or skyline, runs from a piece of heavy equipment on the mesa to another piece of heavy equipment below. A second line, called a haul-back line, pulls the hopper up and down the cliff.

As soon as the bucket has landed, a front-end loader loads it with one straight-up bucketful from the stockpile of soil, then the skyline goes up and transports the hopper to the top, where it drops its load into a truck and then returns to the valley floor, Musante said. The cycle takes about 4-1/2 minutes. When full, the truck deposits the soil into the disposal cell a short distance away.

Air monitors are triangulated around the housing area at the foot of the mesa, where five families reside, with another set of monitors surrounding the work area on the cliff. The contaminated soils are wet and mixed to prevent the dust from blowing around. “Sometimes we also do active dust suppression where we’ve got like a fog of water spraying in the air to knock out the dust particles that are created,” he said.

“We have really good confidence that there’s not an excess exposure being created by our work activities for residents nearby. Based on two months worth of data, families were told they could move back if they wanted. Two families returned and others are expected to begin moving back Tuesday. The nearly six-month project is expected to be done by Labor Day.

On the upper slope at the edge of the mesa, they removed contaminated material 10 to 15 feet deep. “We got about 90 percent of what was there, but with the technique we’re using out here and that bucket, once it hits those large cobbles, it can’t get the small stuff underneath, so there is a little bit of residual material,” he said. “But I think the main point is we were able to remove a significant quantity of the material that was going to continue to fall down over the side.”

Given the dangerous terrain, they have been very fortunate, with only one freak accident. “When we were excavating this upper slope area with the dredge bucket, for what appears to be quality control or a failure in the cable itself, the haul-back cable snapped while the dredge bucket unit was at the very top,” Musante said. “Then the operator-activated brake failed to engage, the safety brake wasn’t enough to stop the unit, and the warning horn didn’t go off.

“It was kind of ‘the system failed as it was designed’ and the dredge bucket traveled all the way down to the anchor, flew off and flew back about 80 feet. The one thing I can say is that while that was a completely random action that no one could have predicted – and it wasn’t for lack of safety procedures – we had an exclusion area so that nobody was standing right behind there when that did happen.” The incident is under investigation.

Mary Helen Begay, Elsie’s daughter-in-law, has been documenting the cleanup in “webisodes,” which she presented last week at the 2011 Tribal Lands and Environment Forum in Green Bay, Wisc. Begay attended the forum along with Jeff Spitz, co-producer of “The Return of Navajo Boy.”

She said that at one of the screenings she met a woman, originally from Cameron, who wanted to share her story. “She remembered drinking out of this well,” which in later years she found out was named after one of the uranium mines. “She lost several family members.”

Begay then told the audience how she lost her dad, several uncles, nieces and brothers-in-law to illnesses related to uranium. “I said right now I have an uncle who is dying from cancer. My uncle is in his last stage. He’s in his hospice stage. The cancer has spread across his lungs. All he’s waiting for is time for him to go. There’s nothing that can be done, so they’re just giving him painkillers.

“Not only that, I said, when you look at the movie again (Navajo Boy), you see a medicine man performing a healing ritual ceremony, the Wind Way. Many of our Navajo people have utilized medicine men out there. A lot have died, but some are still living but don’t have documents of their medical. They have nothing to prove that they have problems with breathing or any type of health issues,” she said, therefore, they can’t get federal compensation for radiation-related illnesses.

And then she shared with them the story about Skyline Mine. “The cleanup that’s being done right now, I thought they were doing a good job,” she said. But recently she was told that areas on the back side of the mine where prior reclamation efforts were done, have elevated readings. Though those areas are outside the scope of EPA’s emergency removal action at Skyline, she questions why they were not included in the cleanup.

“Do we need to fight for more money and say we need the rest of it cleaned up? What do we need to do?”

Addressing Uranium Contamination in the Navajo Nation

US EPA Pacific Southwest, Region 9 Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations: Addressing Uranium Contamination in the Navajo Nation: The lands of the Navajo Nation include 27,000 square miles spread over three states in the Four Corners area. The unique geology of these lands makes them rich in uranium, a radioactive ore in high demand after the development of atomic power and weapons at the close of World War II in the 1940s. From 1944 to 1986, nearly four million tons of uranium ore were extracted from Navajo lands under leases with the Navajo Nation. Many Navajo people worked the mines, often living and raising families in close proximity to the mines and mills.

Today the mines are closed, but a legacy of uranium contamination remains, including over 500 abandoned uranium mines (AUMs) as well as homes and drinking water sources with elevated levels of radiation. Potential health effects include lung cancer from inhalation of radioactive particles, as well as bone cancer and impaired kidney function from exposure to radionuclides in drinking water.

EPA maintains a strong partnership with the Navajo Nation and, since 1994, the Superfund Program has provided technical assistance and funding to assess potentially contaminated sites and develop a response. In August 2007, the Superfund Program compiled a Comprehensive Database and Atlas with the most complete assessment to date of all known uranium mines on the Navajo Nation. Working with the Navajo Nation, EPA also used its Superfund authority to clean up four residential yards and one home next to the highest priority abandoned uranium mine, Northeast Church Rock Mine, at a cost of more than $2 million.

At the request of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in October 2007, EPA, along with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Indian Health Service (IHS) developed a coordinated Five-Year Plan to address uranium contamination in consultation with Navajo Nation EPA. EPA regularly reports back to the Committee and to the Navajo Nation on its progress (PDF) (2 pp, 489K) in implementing the Five-Year Plan. (The Progress Report was updated in August 2010 (PDF) (2 pp, 2.9M) .)

The Five-Year Plan is the first coordinated approach created by the five federal agencies. This landmark plan outlines a strategy for cleanup and details the cleanup process for the Navajo Nation over the next five years.

EPA is addressing the most urgent risks on the reservation — uranium contaminated water sources and structures. Approximately 30 percent of the Navajo population does not have access to a public drinking water system and may be using unregulated water sources with uranium contamination. EPA and the Navajo Nation EPA have launched an aggressive outreach campaign to inform residents of the dangers of consuming contaminated water.

EPA will also continue to use its Superfund authority to address contaminated structures. EPA has already assessed about 200 structures and yards and targeted at least 27 structures and ten yards for remediation as a precaution.

Over the course of the Five-year Plan, EPA will focus on the problems posed by abandoned uranium mines, completing a tiered assessment of over 500 mines and taking actions to address the highest priority mines. As mines that pose risks are discovered, EPA may use Superfund authorities, including the National Priorities List, enforcement against responsible parties, or emergency response to require cleanup. At the Northeast Church Rock Mine, the highest-risk mine on the Reservation, EPA is requiring the owner to conduct a cleanup that is protective of nearby residents. EPA is working with the community to ensure the remainder of the site is cleaned up.

Although the legacy of uranium mining is widespread and will take many years to address completely, the collaborative effort of EPA, other federal agencies and the Navajo Nation will bring an unprecedented level of support and protection for the people at risk from these sites. Much work remains to be done, and EPA is committed to working with the Navajo Nation to remove the most immediate contamination risks and to find permanent solutions to the remaining contamination on Navajo lands.

Related Information
Superfund Site Overview

Region 9 Tribal Program

Contact Information

Dana Barton
US EPA, SFD 6-3
75 Hawthorne St.
San Francisco, CA 94105
Telephone: (415) 972-3087
Toll Free 1(800) 231-3075
Fax (415) 947-3528

Lillie Lane (hozhoogo_nasha@yahoo.com)
Navajo Nation EPA
P.O. Box 339
Window Rock, Arizona 86515
928-871-6092

6/29/2011 NY Times The Fear of a Toxic Rerun

6/29/2011 NY Times The Fear of a Toxic Rerun By KEITH BRADSHER: KUANTAN, Malaysia — A $230 million refinery being built here in an effort to break China’s global chokehold on rare earth metals is plagued by environmentally hazardous construction and design problems, according to internal memos and current and former engineers on the project. The plant, which would be the world’s biggest refinery for rare earths — metals crucial to the manufacture of a wide range of technologies including smartphones, smart bombs and hybrid cars — has also become the target of protesters who fear that the plant will leak radioactive and toxic materials into the water table. Weekly demonstrations have drawn crowds since March, and someone recently threw gasoline fire bombs at the gated home of a senior project manager.

Some risks had been expected from the plant, which would refine rare earth ores into manufacturing-grade materials. Although rare earths are not radioactive, in nature they are usually found mixed with thorium — which is.

That is why the Lynas Corporation, an Australian company, promised three years ago to take special precautions when it secured the Malaysian government’s permission to build the sprawling complex here on 250 acres of reclaimed tropical swampland. It would be the first rare earth processing plant in nearly three decades to be finished outside China, where barely regulated factories have left vast toxic and radioactive waste sites.

Lynas has an incentive to finish the refinery quickly. Export restrictions by China in the last year have caused global shortages of rare earths and soaring prices. But other companies are scrambling to open new refineries in the United States, Mongolia, Vietnam and India by the end of 2013, which could cause rare earth prices to tumble.

Lynas officials contend that the refinery being built here is safe and up to industry standards, and say that they are working with its contractors to resolve their concerns.

“All parties are in agreement that it is normal course of business in any construction project for technical construction queries to be raised and then resolved to relevant international standards during the course of project construction,” wrote Matthew James, an executive vice president of Lynas, in an e-mail on Wednesday night.

The International Atomic Energy Agency issued a report Thursday that said the Lynas project’s overall design and planned operations procedures met international standards. The report did not examine construction details or engineering decisions involved in turning the design into a building; a program for the report’s authors showed that they were shown around the big site in an hour.

Nicholas Curtis, the executive chairman of Lynas, strongly denied at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday that the refinery had any construction problems. He said that there were no more than routine discussions among engineers about technical questions.

But the construction and design may have serious flaws, according to the engineers, who also provided memos, e-mail messages and photos from Lynas and its contractors. The engineers said they felt a professional duty to voice their safety concerns, but insisted on anonymity to avoid the risk of becoming industry outcasts.

The problems they detail include structural cracks, air pockets and leaks in many of the concrete shells for 70 containment tanks, some of which are larger than double-decker buses. Ore mined deep in the Australian desert and shipped to Malaysia would be mixed with powerful acids to make a slightly radioactive slurry that would be pumped through the tanks, with operating temperatures of about 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

The engineers also say that almost all of the steel piping ordered for the plant is made from standard steel, which they describe as not suited for the corrosive, abrasive slurry. Rare earth refineries in other countries make heavy use of costlier stainless steel or steel piping with ceramic or rubber liners.

The engineers also say that the concrete tanks were built using conventional concrete, not the much costlier polymer concrete mixed with plastic that is widely used in refineries in the West to reduce the chance of cracks.

Documents show that Lynas and its construction management contractor, UGL Ltd. of Australia, have argued with their contractors that the cracks and moisture in the concrete containment walls are not a critical problem.

Memos also show that Lynas and UGL have pressed a Malaysian contractor, Cradotex, to proceed with the installation of watertight fiberglass liners designed for the containment tanks without fixing the moisture problem and with limited fixes to the walls. But Cradotex has resisted.

“These issues have the potential to cause the plants critical failure in operation,” Peter Wan, the general manager of Cradotex, said in a June 20 memo. “More critically the toxic, corrosive and radioactive nature of the materials being leached in these tanks, should they leak, will most definitely create a contamination issue.”

Mr. Wan said in a telephone interview Tuesday that he believed Lynas and UGL would be able to fix the moisture problem but that he did not know what method the companies might choose to accomplish this.

The fiberglass liners are made by AkzoNobel of Amsterdam, one of the world’s largest chemical companies. AkzoNobel says it, too, worries about the rising moisture.

“We will not certify or even consider the use of our coatings if this problem can’t be fixed,” Tim van der Zanden, AkzoNobel’s top spokesman in Amsterdam, wrote on Monday night in an e-mail reply to questions.

Memos show that the refinery’s concrete foundations were built without a thin layer of plastic that might prevent the concrete pilings from drawing moisture from the reclaimed swampland underneath. The site is located just inland from a coastal mangrove forest, and several miles up a river that flows out to the sea past an impoverished fishing village.

An engineer involved in the project said that the blueprints called for the plastic waterproofing but that he was ordered to omit it, to save money. The plastic costs $1.60 a square foot, he said.

Lynas disputes that the design ever called for using the plastic. Nicholas Curtis, the executive chairman of Lynas, said in a telephone interview from Sydney on Monday that the project here met local environmental standards and that he believed those were consistent with international standards. “I have complete confidence in the Malaysian environmental standards and our ability to meet the requirements,” he said.

Mr. James, the Lynas executive vice president, said in a separate telephone interview from Sydney on Monday that the steel piping used in the plant was carefully engineered and would not pose problems. On the record, he declined to discuss issues with the concrete except to deny that rising moisture was a problem and to say that the tanks had been engineered to meet all safety standards.

In a second interview, on Tuesday, Mr. James said the company had not cut corners. “Lynas is well funded,” he said. “We would never compromise our standards for a cost savings.”

UGL declined to comment, citing a corporate policy of not discussing its customers’ construction projects. Lynas started the project here three years ago, but had barely begun when it ran short of money during the global financial crisis. The company resumed the project last year after Chinese export restrictions on rare earths prompted banks and multinational users of the materials to offer generous financing.

Malaysia had reason to be cautious in allowing Lynas to build the plant. Its last rare earth refinery, operated by the Japanese company Mitsubishi Chemical, is now one of Asia’s largest radioactive waste cleanup sites. That plant, on the other side of the Malay peninsula, closed in 1992 after years of sometimes violent demonstrations by citizens.

Despite the potential hazards, the Malaysian government was eager for investment by Lynas, even offering a 12-year tax holiday. The project is Australia’s largest investment in Malaysia, intended to produce $1.7 billion a year in rare earths, or nearly 1 percent of Malaysia’s entire economic output. Lynas agreed to pay 0.05 percent of the plant’s revenue each year to the Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board for radiation research.

Protests against the plant started in Malaysia after an article on Lynas’s project was published in The New York Times in early March.

Although Lynas has forecast repeatedly in recent months that it will start feeding ore into kilns by the end of September, engineers here said that it would take nine more months to install electrical wiring. They also said that pipe shipments were far behind schedule because of a six-month delay in ordering.

Mr. James insisted on Monday that the project remained on schedule, but he cautioned that Lynas was waiting to see whether the I.A.E.A. panel recommended any changes.

—-

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.