Tuesday, May 13, 2003

From Montana to New Mexico: Won't Be Fooled Again

A New York Times article about yet another group of people who unknowingly fell victim to the hazards of the nuclear age and the promise of uranium mining. Now hundreds are dying of lung cancer.
The Diné (pronounced dee-NAY) or "the People," as the Navajo call themselves, have many stories about their origins. One says that as they emerged from the fourth world into the fifth and present world, they were given the choice of two yellow powders. One yellow powder was corn pollen, and that was the one they chose.

The other was the color of the dust that seems to give this land its golden hue, dust the color of yellowcake, the uranium oxide that fueled the nuclear age. So much yellowcake lies below the surface that a mining executive called this place the Saudi Arabia of uranium.

The Spirits said it had to be left alone. But from the late 1940's through the mid-80's, yellowcake was picked and shoveled and blasted and hauled in open-bed trucks, and then dried in mountainous piles at multiple sites in the American West. The Navajo, whose lands extend over western New Mexico, eastern Arizona and southern Utah, were at the epicenter of the uranium-mining boom, and thousands of Navajos worked in the mines. More than 1,000 abandoned mine shafts remain on Navajo land.

The consequences are measured today, decades after the mines closed, in continuing health problems and degraded land.

Mr. Desiderio tells us he worked off and on in the mines from 1953 to 1981 in a variety of jobs. Many miners worked in "dog holes," primitive tunnels with no ventilation that men crawled through to dig uranium ore by hand. "Mom-and-pop operations," Dr. Strumminger calls them.

The larger mines were frequently no better, with substandard ventilation, no face masks for workers and little or no information or education about the long-term health risks.
But never fear....
Hydro Resources Inc., a subsidiary of Uranium Resources Inc. of Dallas, wants to begin a new mining effort in Crownpoint and nearby Church Rock using a process called in situ leach mining. In the process, a mixture of water, dissolved oxygen and sodium bicarbonate is pumped deep into underground uranium beds. The mixture dissolves uranium, and when the liquid is pumped back to the surface, the uranium can be removed, dried and processed.

The water for the leaching would come from the Westwater Canyon Aquifer under Crownpoint, the sole source of drinking water for Crownpoint and its surrounding area.

Hydro Resources plans to provide uranium for the nuclear power industry, create jobs and leave the aquifer safe for drinking.
Won't Get Fooled Again
But the Navajo aren't buying it this time. Mitchell Capitan, a former mining technician and president of the Crownpoint chapter of the Eastern Navajo Agency, the Navajo equivalent of a mayor, founded Endaum, Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining.
The unemployment rate in the area is almost 70 percent, but there is little sentiment that mining jobs are worth the risk. Endaum has the support of all 31 chapters in the Eastern Navajo Agency Council, as well as the new president of the Navajo Nation, Joe Shirley Jr....."This uranium impacts on our water, our air and our cultural identity," Captain said. "We've already had enough uranium."
It's nice to see that sometimes job blackmail doesn't work.