Navajo Nation: 'No Uranium Mining Within Our Boundaries'
By Kathy Helms
CHURCHROCK – The Navajo Nation says it doesn't want any uranium mining within its boundaries, and U.S. Sen. Tom Udall respects that, but Udall said he is not going to lie to the Navajo people and tell them there will be no more nuclear plants built in the United States.
Udall, D-N.M., dropped by Churchrock Chapter Friday afternoon at the request of Teddy Nez and the Red Water Pond Road Community Association to explain his views on the U.S. energy policy after receiving a letter from Nez.
Joining Udall were representatives from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Navajo EPA, Indian Health Service, grassroots organizations and a number of candidates seeking election to state and tribal positions in November.
Udall addressed the proposed 2010 amendments to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, the five-year plan to tackle legacy uranium contamination on the Navajo Nation, and the energy future overall.
“I know there is great concern on the Navajo Nation for additional uranium development and what's going to happen there. And this isn't just a Navajo Nation issue,” he said, adding that there are companies around Grants and Gallup that want to also develop uranium. “We have to accept the reality,” he said.
And the reality is that there are 104 nuclear power plants in the United States which run on uranium and nuclear fuel. They supply 20 percent of the country's electric power, and many more nuclear plants are proposed. “We're going to have those plants for awhile because if we took them away tomorrow, we wouldn't be able to replace that type of energy very quickly.
“But I totally respect the position of the Navajo Nation to say, 'We don't want any uranium mining going on, on the Navajo Nation.' I'm going to back the Navajo Nation up on that if that's the position of the Navajo Nation or individual chapters. We want to work with you to make sure that there's fairness in that situation. But I'm not going to come here and represent to you that I can stop nuclear power dead in its tracks,” he said.
Teddy Nez, president of the Red Water Pond Road group, said he had a concern with the federal energy policy. “You're talking about support for the Navajo Nation and chapters, what about the grassroots people, do you support them?”
“Yes, I do support the grassroots people,” Udall said.
Nez also said that U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., called for health studies. He wondered whether there were any dollars attached.
Stephen B. Etsitty, executive director of Navajo EPA, said that the five federal agencies assigned to the project have been meeting with the federal Office of Management and Budget.
“There is more openness and more receptiveness to work with the agencies as they develop their budgets to put more money in place for these activities.” However, it's tough because the country is in a down economy, still engaged in two wars, and responding to natural disasters in other parts of the United States.
Udall said the most effective way to get the job done is for the federal agencies to get the president to put it in his budget. “The president gets almost everything in his budget,” he said.
Linda Evers of the Post-71 Uranium Workers Committee, who will be calling on members of Congress this week during a trip to Washington to lobby for the proposed RECA amendments of 2010, said they are stuck in the Judiciary Committee.
“What do we need to do to get these moving? I know our survey has shown that we lose 10 workers a year, but if you read the Gallup and Grants obituaries every week, our communities are losing five to 10 people a month. How are we going to get these bills moving?”
Udall said there are two ways to work a bill. “You work it through the House, you work it through the Senate. ... So contacts there are tremendously important,” as is bringing media attention to the issue. He said that he, Etsitty and Navajo Nation Council Delegate Phil Harrison take every press clipping and show Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of Judiciary, that there is a lot of concern and they need to move the amendments along.
“There are not very many things in Washington that are bipartisan right now. We have Republican senators that are on this bill.” He said they are doing everything they can to get a hearing but it probably will be more fruitful after the election.
According to the amendments, uranium workers who worked after 1971 finally would qualify for federal compensation for their illnesses. Funding also is authorized for universities and non-profits to research the impacts of exposure on communities and families of uranium workers.
The amendments would allow for increased use of affidavits for documenting work history; allow work histories to be combined; expand downwind counties to include New Mexico, Idaho, Montana and Colorado; and include the Trinity Test Site in New Mexico for downwind and on-site worker compensation.
“I know there is frustration in the room, and I know people are saying, 'Why does this take so long?' Udall said. “My father started back in the 1970s working on Navajo uranium miner cases ... He fought in the courts and couldn't win anything in the courts even though the courts would say there was incredible injustice.”
It took Stewart Udall 20 years to pass the first RECA law in 1990 and another 10 years before they were able to get it amended.
“You're entering a process which has taken a long time, and I know it's frustrating, but I can tell you from the bottom of my heart, I'm not giving up until we bring justice to this situation and to ever single individual,” the senator said.
Kathleen Tsosie, who grew up in Cove, told Udall, “Today I am sick. I'm a breast cancer survivor, and now they have found something else in my body. When the doctor tells you, you have cancer, so many things go through your mind. ... Our children, our grandchildren are affected. It runs in the genes now. So please fight for us from the heart.”
Udall told her, “I very much feel strongly what you're saying and it's the reason I've stuck in there on this battle for the last 30 years; and if it takes another 30 years to do it, I'll still be there.”
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