When it comes to open-pit and underground uranium-mining carnage, likely no people in the country have experienced anything worse than the Navajo Nation, where workers dug the ore in underground mines without any safety equipment.
The land around Church Rock outside Gallup, New Mexico, is marked by abandoned mines and milling sites, just like Karnes County, Texas, but this land has the unwelcome distinction of also being the site of what is considered â?? if we dismiss the long legacy of atomic weapons testing worldwide â?? the second largest radiological release in history. (The “big one” being the Chernobyl meltdown of 1986.)
It was only a few months after the Three Mile Island accident of 1979 when an estimated 90 million gallons of liquid radioactive waste burst a uranium mill dam wall flooding farmland, arroyos, and fields, and permanently contaminating the Rio Puerco River.
President Joe Shirley, Jr., speaking on the 30th anniversary of this disaster on July 16 of this year urged the federal government to undertake a national campaign to clean up uranium-mining wastes that continue to damage human health and the environment.
While Native American communities have experienced high levels of kidney diseases and cancers, only one statistical study of potential radiation effects in Navajo Country has even been performed â?? and nothing specific to the Church Rock area has ever been undertaken, according to Linda Gunter of the non-profit organization Beyond Nuclear.
Earlier today, I spoke with Anna Rondon, a longtime organizer of the Southwest Indigenous Uranium Forum, about the Navajo experience, both past and present, specifically as it relates to uranium and coal mining. Ongoing tensions have followed the arrival of a new wave of uranium prospectors in Navajo Country, expressing themselves most recently in the beating of several Navajo men at Gallup earlier this year.
You can listen to our entire conversation here: