MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

SRIC Uranium Project Update

Season's "Greetings"—President Clinton, all 88 delegates to the Navajo Nation Council, and two top-ranking officers of a Dallas-based uranium mining company received hundreds of brightly colored postcards through the mail this past holiday season. These were not customary Christmas greetings cards. Rather, the cards contain a succinct message from citizens of the Navajo Nation and surrounding communities in the Four Corners Area: "Say 'No' to Uranium Mining on Navajo Lands."

Nearly 1,500 of the blue, yellow and orange cards were signed by citizens from throughout the region at two Honor The Earth concerts held in Window Rock, Arizona, and Albuquerque in October. The "action" cards were promoted by the tour's featured act, the Indigo Girls, and were prepared and sponsored by Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining (ENDAUM), a Navajo grassroots group that has spearheaded opposition to proposed new uranium solution mines in the Diné communities of Church Rock and Crownpoint in northwestern New Mexico.

About 600 of the cards call on President Clinton to issue an executive order "barring federal agencies from approving new uranium mining on Navajo lands without the consent of the Navajo Nation or its people."

Another 600 cards urge Navajo Nation Council Speaker Edward T. Begay and the other 87 Council delegates to "adopt a resolution opposing any form of uranium mining on Navajo lands, supporting cleanup of old uranium sites, and promoting protection of Diné communities by addressing uranium's impacts on our health, water, air, land and livestock." They assert that Navajos do not want to live through another era of uranium's impacts.

About 300 cards admonish the president and top environmental official of Hydro Resources, Inc. (HRI).

"We don't want HRI mining uranium on Navajo Iands!"

The cards demand that HRI and its parent firm, Uranium Resources, Inc. (URI), "immediately withdraw" their proposal to construct and operate uranium in situ leach (ISL) uranium mines and processing plants proposed for sites in and near Church Rock and Crownpoint.

ENDAUM and SRIC collaborated with Diné CARE (Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment) in cosponsoring the Indigo Girls concerts, which drew crowds of about 1,600 in Window Rock and about 2,200 in Albuquerque. The Native American rock-blues band Indigenous and folk rock performer Jackson Browne also performed. The concerts were part of Honor The Earth's 17-city and reservation tour designed to highlight native peoples' struggles over religious rights and impacts of the nuclear fuel cycle.

In remarks given at the Window Rock concert, ENDAUM's administrative officer, Kathleen Tsosie, told the crowd that the proposed mines in the Eastern Agency are an important policy issue for people throughout the Navajo Nation. She said ENDAUM wants to prevent the health problems and environmental impacts that have devastated so many Navajo families and communities over the past 50 years of uranium development in the Four Corners Area.

Cleanup Bond — On November 21, HRI filed its long-awaited financial assurance plan, which purports to set forth the bases for the estimated cost of cleaning up one of the company's proposed ISL mining sites at Church Rock and its proposed central uranium processing plant in the town of Crownpoint. Experts for ENDAUM and SRIC, along with SRIC staff members and attorneys with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, reviewed the plan and submitted to the NRC a formal legal brief stating that the plan is inadequate.

The five-member Commission, acting on an administrative appeal filed by ENDAUM and SRIC in mid-1999, found in May that the NRC staff erred in failing to require HRI to submit a financial assurance plan prior to receiving a license to construct and operate the Crownpoint Uranium Project. The Commission barred HRI from "using" its license until it submitted and obtained NRC approval of the plan, which must describe and justify the techniques and costs of decommissioning, decontaminating and reclaiming the mining sites and restoring groundwater contaminated by the ISL mining process. Such approval, if given, is yet several months away; in the meantime, HRI is effectively barred from mining at any of the three proposed mining sites.

Health Research — For more than 20 years, SRIC has compiled and disseminated to the public the key findings of medical, scientific and environmental research on the impacts of uranium mining, especially on native people. Over the last several years, at the request of community-based advocacy groups, SRIC has stepped up its efforts to document the human health costs of uranium development in support of national legislative and local community education initiatives. This work has proved valuable in both policy and educational arenas.

First, between 1996 and 1999, SRIC staff compiled and summarized medical studies on illnesses and mortality among uranium workers in support of the work of nongovernmental organizations and tribal governments to obtain key reforms of the federal Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA). The collective work of organizers for workers' groups, advocates for radiation victims, medical and scientific researchers, and technical support organizations like SRIC contributed to adoption of the RECA Amendments of 2000, a bill that President Clinton signed into law on July 11, 2000.

The "new RECA" expands the universe of workers eligible for federal compensation to include open-pit uranium miners, uranium millworkers and ore-hauling truck drivers; expands the list of compensatory illnesses and causes of death to include several cancers in addition to lung cancer, certain nonmalignant respiratory diseases, and diseases of the kidney.

The amendments also make clear that Native American religious practices and customs are to be accommodated when the government makes decisions to award or reject compensation claims.

The current law's cut-off date for eligibility remains December 31, 1971, and the maximum compensation payment for uranium miners remains $100,000.

Second, SRIC staff, working with researchers from the University of New Mexico's Center for Population Health earlier this year, prepared a slide presentation on the history of uranium health and environmental research in Navajo communities since 1950. The presentation was given first at the Spring 2000 Navajo Community Research Conference in Kayenta, Arizona in April 2000, and later updated for use as a training module for Navajo teachers attending a week-long, intensive curriculum development seminar in Gallup in July. Both events were sponsored by Diné College's Uranium Education Program in Shiprock, N.M.

At the Kayenta conference, the slide presentation sparked considerable commentary among a group of Navajo elders from the Monument Valley, Arizona, area where uranium development took place between the mid-1940s and early--1970s. One man said that information given in the presentation confirmed what he had feared for many years: that livestock that graze and drink water in uranium mining areas can accumulate radioactive substances and heavy metals in their edible muscle and organs in levels that may harm the animals themselves and that could contribute to excessive doses in the people who eat the livestock meat. The man and other elders encouraged researchers at the conference to communicate this important information directly to communities affected by uranium mining.

For more information — These and other examples of SRIC's ongoing work on uranium health impacts are available for review and downloading from SRIC's web site, www.sric.org/uranium.

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"In Alice in Wonderland, poor Alice was plagued by the problem of regulating her own size. One side of the caterpillar's mushroom made her grow, and the other made her shrink, and Alice was hard put to consume the right stimulus at the right rate to achieve the right size. If she erred on one side, she would swoop into hugeness; if on the other, she would instantly dwindle. Twentieth-century efforts at the management of nature bring Alice's dilemma to mind. The goal is to get humanity's role in nature back to the right size, neither too big or too small, neither too powerful nor too powerless. Like Alice, the manager finds it difficult to regulate the rate of change; a seemingly subtle move will have enormous repercussions; causing humans abruptly to become huge again; and a seemingly forceful and direct move will meet implacable resistance from nature, causing them to appear as creatures of great self-importance and little actual stature. Swinging from huge to tiny, dominant to dominated, humanity's place in nature changes from day to day, hour to hour."
--Patricia Nelson Limerick
The Legacy of Conquest
W.W. Norton & Company
1987, New York, New York

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