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
Energy development in New Mexico has long been at the expense of communities, especially their land, water, culture, and health. Uranium development left more than a thousand abandoned mines, thousands of sick or dead miners and other workers, contaminated water and soil that present an on-going health threat, and other problems. To provide electricity to other states, coal-fired power plants in northwestern New Mexico have mined millions of tons of coal, belched thousands of tons of mercury and other toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases, and consumed thousands of acre-feet of water, despite the state’s semi-arid climate and water shortages. Nonetheless, new coal-fired plants are being proposed, including the Desert Rock plant on Navajo land, that would further add to the health and environmental burden on the area. The continuing operation of another coal-fired plant, the Mohave plant, depends on water from Hopi land to carry coal to the plant.
The first nuclear bomb was developed and exploded in New Mexico in 1945, and Los Alamos and Sandia labs remain essential participants in the U.S. nuclear weapons industry. They are prime locations in a new “Bombplex” to be developed over the next 20 years to produce a new generation of nuclear weapons. The world’s first underground repository of defense nuclear waste is the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southeastern New Mexico. And now the Bush administration and nuclear power companies are promoting a “nuclear renaissance” with New Mexico as a key target. The administration’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) announced a year ago now includes three New Mexico sites, more than any other state, as potential locations for a new system of reprocessing which is environmentally devastating and would cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
Articles in this issue explore various aspects of current developments related to WIPP, GNEP, Bombplex, Desert Rock, and Hopi water use. But a central aspect regarding all of these projects is citizen and community concerns and outright resistance.
At the site of the proposed Desert Rock coal-fired plant, Navajos have blocked access to drill wells to determine the water availability at the site, and are actively involved in many efforts to stop the plant. Hopis are organizing against proposed federal government approval of water use for coal transport to the Mohave plant for as long as it operates.
At hearings around the country near the proposed Bombplex sites in November and December, there was strong opposition to the plans, and few supporters among the hundreds of people who commented. At each of the four hearings in New Mexico, there was significant opposition and calls for the government to fully comply with our Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations for nuclear disarmament.
There will be public meetings at the sites targeted for GNEP spent fuel storage and reprocessing in February and March, and the opposition at many sites is already apparent. And the new health and safety requirements in the WIPP operating permit already found prohibited items in one waste container that resulted in suspension of some waste shipments.
Although New Mexico is a major target for those unnecessary and expensive projects that threaten health and the environment, similar struggles occur in other places. Recognizing the international aspects of uranium development, more than 300 people from around the U.S. and about a dozen other countries came together at the Indigenous World Uranium Summit at the Navajo Nation capital in Window Rock, AZ from November 30-December 2. The Declaration from the Summit is included in this issue. The next issue will provide extensive excerpts from the Summit’s proceedings, as well as reflections on future developments.
The continuing and increasing threats to New Mexico and Navajo and Hopi lands must be stopped or changed by local action, and, in many cases, changes in national or international governments and corporations that will also require action by people far away from this area.
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“We, the Peoples gathered at the Indigenous World Uranium Summit, at this critical time of intensifying nuclear threats to Mother Earth and all life, demand a worldwide ban on uranium mining, processing, enrichment, fuel use, and weapons testing and deployment, and nuclear waste dumping on Native Lands.”
Declaration of the Indigenous World Uranium Summit December 2, 2006