Abandoned uranium mines threaten Navajo people

Oct 19, 2021, 7:05 AM | Updated: 7:57 am
Navajo uranium...
Image of the interior of a uranium mine Photo: Canva

PINEDALE, New Mexico — Navajo residents have been dealing with radiation exposure from over 500 uranium mines for decades.

Uranium mines were built and worked between the years of 1944 and 1986. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, over 30 million tons of uranium were extracted from the mining sites on Navajo lands during that time.

Today, there are 524 known abandoned uranium mine sites on the land that constitutes the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates there could be far more.

The largest release of radioactive material in US history

The presence of the mines on Navajo land has had catastrophic effects. In July of 1979, the Church Rock mines released the most significant amount of radioactive material in U.S. history.

The event known as the Church Rock Uranium Mill Trailing Spill released radioactive material in bulk. The presence of the over 500 abandoned uranium mines has and continues to contaminate groundwater and threaten public, occupational, and environmental health.

According to a press release from the Navajo Nation, there is currently funding for clean-up efforts at only 219 of the known mines. This will leave 305 known sites on Navajo land to harm the surrounding areas, resources, and people.

Navajo residents meet with Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez to discuss uranium mine waste transfer. Photo: Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President

On Saturday, October 17th, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency Executive Director Valinda Shirley met with concerned Navajo Nation residents and members of the Red Water Pond Road Community Association.

Red Water Pond Road Community members live near the Tronox Quivira Mines, and the United Nuclear Corporation Mill Site, and the Northeast Church Rock Mines, the site of the catastrophic release of radioactive material in 1979.

“Our small Navajo communities have suffered long enough.”

The Community Association spoke to President Nez about their opposition to the transfer of uranium mine waste from the Northeast Church Rock abandoned uranium mines to the Mill Site, a disposal location that is close to the Association members’ residences.

According to the press release, President Nez and the Red Water Pond Road Community Association requested a second extension for the comment period on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The Impact Statement is a document prepared by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that describes the would-be impacts of the proposed amendment that would allow for the transfer of hazardous waste to the Mill Site.

The extension will allow more time for Navajo people to comment on the hazards of the abandoned mines and the harm they have caused.

“Our small Navajo communities have suffered long enough,” said President Nez, “and the federal government needs to be held liable for all clean-up efforts.”

A follow-up meeting with the Navajo Nation EPA and Red Water Pond Road Community Association is scheduled this week to continue to support the extension.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories

All News

PUNXSUTAWNEY, PA, USA - FEBRUARY 2: Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Tuesday  morning 6 more wee...
Scottie Andrew, CNN

The bizarre history of Groundhog Day

So how did Groundhog Day go from a kooky local tradition to an annual celebration even those of us who don't worry about winter can find the fun in?
8 hours ago
Indian billionaire Gautam Adani, pictured here, in Ahmedabad India on April 2, 2014 abandoned a dea...
By Mark Thompson, CNN

Adani scraps $2.5 billion share sale as value of his empire collapses

Indian billionaire Gautam Adani on Wednesday abandoned a deal to raise $2.5 billion from investors after a week-long meltdown in the value of his logistics and energy business empire that started when an American short seller accused the conglomerate of fraud.
8 hours ago
Multiple Michigan agencies are investigating what happened to three local rappers, Armani Kelly, 28...
By Michelle Watson and Amy Simonson, CNN

3 rappers have been missing for 10 days since their scheduled performance was canceled, Detroit police say

Multiple Michigan agencies are investigating what happened to three local rappers who went missing 10 days ago after a performance at a club was canceled, Detroit police said.
8 hours ago
A herd of elk ended up on the roadways near I-80 and Foothill Boulevard on Thursday, Jan 26, 2023. ...
Mark Jones

Four elk killed as herd gets too close to I-215 and I-80

Four elk were killed Wednesday after a herd of elk got too close to I-215 and I-80. Two of the elk were struck and killed by vehicles. The other two had to be euthanized after being hit.
1 day ago
Salt Lake City police are investigating a shooting Wednesday night that sent one person to the hosp...
Mark Jones

Salt Lake City police investigating shooting, one person hurt

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City police are investigating a shooting Wednesday night.  Police say the shooting occurred in the area of 1665 S. Riverside Drive at 6:43 p.m. One person was transported by ambulance to an area hospital in critical condition.  Police have been unable to locate a suspect. They say the suspect […]
1 day ago
FILE - House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., pauses during a break in the taping of an interview ...
Mark Jones

Cracks are showing in the coalition of the GOP, according to polling numbers

Recent polling from Schoen Cooperman Research says there may be cracks in the GOP.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...
Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer, the tests that can warn women about potential cancer, and the importance of vaccination.
Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy. This year the event will be held from January 27-29 at the Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina and Sunrise Resort and Event Center in Garden City, Utah. 
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...

15 Easy Christmas Dinner Ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy. Choose from the dishes we’ve highlighted to plan your meal or start brainstorming your own meal plan a couple of weeks before to make sure you have time to shop and prepare.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...

The Best Tools for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Workplace Success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
Abandoned uranium mines threaten Navajo people