Remove uranium contamination from Diné land

The gale-force winds that swept across New Mexico on Friday, driving fires and evacuations, gave Diné residents in a small western New Mexico community an opportunity to demonstrate first hand the danger they live with every day.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) members were in the Red Water Pond Road community, about 20 minutes northeast of Gallup, to hear local input on a controversial plan to clean up a nearby abandoned uranium mine. It was the first visit anyone could recall by NRC commissioners to the Navajo Nation, where the agency regulates four uranium mills…

As commissioners listened to 20 or so people give testimony over several hours Friday afternoon, high winds battered the plastic sheeting hung on the sides of the Cha’a’oh, or shade house, making it hard for some in the audience of many dozens to hear all that was said. “This is like this everyday,” community member Annie Benally told commissioners, mentioning the dust being whipped around outside by the wind. “They say it’s clean, it’s ok. But we have more piles back there and you see it blowing this way.”…

Benally was referring to piles of contaminated radioactive soil and debris at two adjacent abandoned uranium mines. One mine is near enough to the shade house that its gate is visible. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to move some of that waste to a mill site regulated by the NRC, where contaminated groundwater is still being cleaned up. To drive north of Church Rock to the Red Water Pond Road community is to appreciate how close that mill site is to the surrounding community. It sits one mile south of the shade house, on private land but right next to a highway driven every day by local residents.

I came to the Southwest decades ago to work in the Navajo Nation. That didn’t work out. But, before leaving Arizona, I lived in the medical community in Chinle. A center for medical services for the Diné people. Daily radiological numbers in many locations in the Navajo Nation were higher than anything I’d seen in my lifetime.

Everyone recognizes that. Regional and national politicians know this. They do little or nothing to offer these people a safer life.

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