Proposed Uranium Mining Upsets New Mexicans!!!!
By Kathy Helms
GALLUP - The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission came to town Monday to receive comments on its Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement for proposed in-situ leach uranium milling facilities in Northwest New Mexico, and it didn't go away empty-handed.
Cradling her infant daughter, - Lynnea Smith of Crownpoint - who helped push the Navajo Nation's ban on uranium mining and milling, tried to hold back her emotions as she spoke, but the tears of frustration came anyway.
“I grew up in Crownpoint. I live in Crownpoint. My children and my family are from Crownpoint, and I'm sick to death of people telling us to move just because they want their money. That is my home!” she said, raising her voice. “I am sick of this! I am sick of this company coming into our communities and saying, 'Here - here's $100,000. Let us mine there’.”
She spoke specifically to Grants residents who showed up to speak in favor of a new round of uranium mining, and chastised Navajo elders - members of the Eastern Navajo Allottees Association - for their pro-uranium stance.
“I'm surprised at you people in Grants. The uranium boom, it came and it went. ... What are you going to do when there's no water? Are we all going to sit at Crownpoint Dialysis Center, all chatting up a storm, saying, 'Damn, you know what? I drank uranium mining water because they contaminated it and I had nowhere else to go because there was not enough money to relocate an entire community.
“How can you, as traditional elderly people, encourage this? Be'eso! Give me my money! Weren't you proud as elderly people to live off the land? What are you teaching your grandchildren if all they want is money?- The elders stared at the floor while some of the younger allottees found Smith's outburst humorous.
Gallup Commissioner Ernest Becenti Jr., read a letter signed by the county's three commissioners. He said McKinley County supports new uranium operations in the Grants Mineral Belt. “This region of the state is in dire need of new economic development.
“The current energy situation is a wake-up call to many Americans who realize that we cannot afford to be at the mercy of hostile foreign governments for our energy needs. We have the power in our own back yards to supply the country's needs for future generations of Americans.”
Northeast Churchrock resident Teddy Nez, whose home is sandwiched between two uranium mine waste piles left over from United Nuclear Corp. and Kerr McGee mining activities, suggested they “store some of these wastes, let's say, for example, behind the commissioner's back yard.”
Mayor Joe Murietta of Grants, a former uranium company employee, said he and citizens in his community understand the uranium industry and realize its importance. Murietta said he and the Grants City Council support the Draft GEIS and feel that it's adequate. “We are looking forward to that resurgence of the uranium industry in our community and the entire region.”
Sister Rose Marie Cecchini of Catholic Charities of Gallup's Office of Peace, Justice and Creation Stewardship, said the impacts from in-situ leach (ISL) recovery of uranium should encompass environmental justice, moral and ethical principles. Chapter 6 of the EIS “discusses the potential for disproportionately high and adverse environmental and health impacts on minorities and low-income populations from future ISL licensing,” she said.
“I understand it will be very site specific, but there's a different perspective here between discussing these high and adverse environmental health impacts on minority and low-income populations from in-situ leach mining, and the perspective that asks in the first place why any group of people, their communities, their water, their land, their wildlife should be sacrificed in any way whatsoever so that uranium mining and nuclear energy corporations can maximize profits.
“Commercial-scale ISL mines have failed to restore groundwater, she said, and “in the high-desert, water-scarce regions of New Mexico, this form of uranium mining is utilizing a precious resource - water. If this water is contaminated there is no other safe, clean, reliable water source available, and without water there is no life.”
Navajo Nation Council Delegate Norman John II of Twin Lakes reminded the NRC of the Nation's passage of the Dine Natural Resources Protection Act of 2005, which encompasses allotted lands. “I ask the NRC to have respect for the Navajo Nation's position and to carry out your mission to protect people and the environment.”
Though the ban specifies that there is to be no further damage from uranium mining and processing within Navajo Indian Country until all the effects from the past have been eliminated, that has not stopped Hydro Resources Inc., which hopes to start up ISL operations in the Crownpoint/Churchrock areas, from challenging the Nation's jurisdiction in federal court. The court's decision is still out.
Gerri Harrison of Gallup recalled driving over the Rio Puerco in the 1980s when her children were young. “I had to tell them that the Rio Puerco was 'dirty water' ... because that was what it was, and it still is,” as a result of the 1979 tailings spill. “Nothing was done by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission then, and where are they now? ... I say to you, let's not repeat history in the name of economic development.”
Don Steele, a pastor in Gallup and part-time chaplain - who daily visits people who are dying as a result of the contamination that has already come from uranium milling and mining,- said the Gallup area has, at most, the possibility of surviving 20 years with its current water resources.
“If we use some of that water for in-situ leach mining and destroy others because the water cannot be contained and will be radioactive, we will have officially condemned these communities to death,” he said.
Tony Hood of Churchrock said there's a story the elders tell about the emergence in the first world. “People lived harmoniously until there was a perpetrator, a coyote. He messed it up, so we had to come to the second world, and it keeps going like that. Right now, we're in the fifth world, the glittery world. Where are we going to go when we mess this up?”
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