The press reports that a Navajo environmental group is taking its fight against a project to mine uranium near two Navajo communities in northwestern New Mexico to the global stage.
Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining will submit a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights arguing that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to grant Hydro Resources Inc., a license to mine uranium ore near Churchrock and Crown Point, N.M., is a violation of international laws.
The groups contend the mines, first permitted by NRC in 1999, could contaminate drinking water for 15,000 Navajo residents in and around the two communities, which lie just outside the Navajo Nation’s reservation border. In 2005, the Navajo’s tribal government passed a law prohibiting uranium mining within its borders.
The groups cannot take their case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which is separate from the commission, because the United States does not recognize the international court’s jurisdiction.
The Navajo Nation is still suffering the aftermath of previous uranium mining, which left hundreds of abandoned mines and myriad health problems for Navajo people, including high rates of cancer, heart disease and birth defects.
Former Navajo mine workers who removed uranium ore during the 1950s and ’60s to feed the buildup of the nation’s Cold War nuclear arsenal continue to seek workers’ compensation and health care assistance. Just last month, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) reintroduced the “Radiation Exposure Compensation Act,” which would allow more of those former workers to receive restitution.
An environmental impact statement for the project acknowledged that no similar mining operation has fully restored groundwater quality to pre-mining conditions. But URI has received a designation from U.S. EPA that prohibits the aquifer from being used as a drinking water source. That means the company will have to treat the water to meet health and safety standards for livestock or irrigation use, but not for human consumption.
Jantz said that if the company cannot restore groundwater to drinking water standards, the project should not be allowed to proceed. “When the company says they’ll restore groundwater, what that means is they’ll make a run at restoring it, but they can’t fully restore it, so they get a variance from the regulatory agencies,” he said. “It’s just on paper — it’s a legal fiction.”
Uranium prices, which plunged briefly after the Japan nuclear crisis, have rebounded and have risen in recent years as interest in nuclear power development has grown as an alternative to greenhouse gas-emitting energy sources like coal.