Navajos Observe 30th Anniversary of Uranium Spill

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CHURCH ROCK, N.M.—Community members and environmental activists commemorated July 16 as the 30th anniversary of a massive uranium tailings spill that Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. called “the largest peacetime accidental release of radioactive contaminated materials in the history of the United States.”

The accident occurred when an earthen dam, operated by the United Nuclear Corp., failed and let loose 94 million gallons of toxic wastewater into the north fork of the Rio Puerco on Navajo Nation lands. Within days, contaminated tailings liquid was found 50 miles downstream in Arizona.

About 100 Navajos and non-Navajos, including members of the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment (MASE) and other environmental groups, walked a five-mile stretch through the remote mesa lands of Church Rock to the site of the July 16, 1979 spill. They stopped at Larry King’s ranch along New Mexico Highway 566 for a speech by the Navajo president.


Land purchased for area’s Shoshone tribe

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An international gold mining company has purchased more than 3,600 acres in Northern Nevada to be set aside for the Western Shoshone, who consider the land historic and sacred, the company said.


Great Basin Gold Ltd. said it purchased the Rock Creek Canyon property in Lander County for $825,000 late last week from Colorado-based RLF Nevada Properties.

The company said it also is providing seed money for a planned conservancy fund and has retired the mineral rights.

Fight against foreign nuclear waste dumping in Utah continues

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An eight-state radioactive-waste-management entity plans to appeal a federal court ruling that said a company can dispose of foreign nuclear waste at its facility in the western Utah desert.

A judge last month ruled against the Northwest Compact, which includes Utah and seven other states. The compact’s executive director, Mike Garner, said officials decided Monday to take the case to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

Salt Lake City-based EnergySolutions Inc. wants to import up to 20,000 tons of low-level radioactive waste from Italy. After processing in Tennessee, about 1,600 tons would be disposed of in Utah.


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Meanwhile the Kingston plant was incinerating 5 million tons of coal every year and dumping the ash at the edge of the river. Every so often, bulldozers would sculpt bottom ash, the heavy and coarse material left in the furnaces, and dirt into the dike, raising it a few feet one year and a few feet more another year, then add interior barriers until it was actually several ponds—cells, in the jargon—enclosed by one massive levee. It grew longer and wider and higher, but the sides were always seeded with grass so that after more than fifty years it had come to resemble a well-manicured mesa, standing upwards of sixty feet high on eighty-four acres of riverbank. And if a little ash water seeped out, which it had for decades, or part of the dike blew out, which it did in 2003, the TVA dutifully patched the walls and mopped up the puddles, and nobody fretted about it because nobody paid it much mind.

The dike was not merely breached. It did not spring a leak. It collapsed, most of the northern and western walls disintegrating into mud and mush just before one o’clock in the morning on December 22. When it fell away, the wet ash behind it—more than a billion gallons of gray slurry, a hundred times more than the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez—gushed out with the fury of a reservoir bursting through a dam, which, really, was exactly what it was.

But it’s still filthy. Getting it out of the ground, depending on the method used, is at best dirty and dangerous and at worst ecologically ruinous. Washing it—literally cleaning it—is a grimy process that often involves filling valleys and hollows with lakes of poisonous black water held back by dikes not unlike the one that collapsed at Kingston. Burning it releases an assortment of toxins that, according to one study, kill an estimated 24,000 people each year—people who, on average, die fourteen years before they otherwise would have. The Kingston plant, for instance, primarily uses a low-sulfur coal and has scrubbers to capture nitrogen oxides, yet in 2007 its stacks still vented approximately 50,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, 12,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, 1,700 tons of hydrochloric acid, 329 tons of sulfuric acid, and ten tons of ammonia, as well as lesser (though not insignificant) amounts of arsenic, barium, chromium, cobalt, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium, vanadium, and zinc—all of which, in case that sounds like a multivitamin, are not things anyone should be breathing. That’s the inventory from only nine furnaces in east Tennessee; there are 1,470 more incinerating coal in 616 other power plants across the country—roughly a third of which have no pollution controls at all. Finally, there is carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that is helping steam the planet to perhaps catastrophic temperatures; coal burned in the United States each year releases about 2 billion tons of CO2, a full third of the nation’s entire output of that particular gas.

Navajos seek help for families of uranium miners

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SHIPROCK, N.M. (AP) — Navajo Nation members will travel to the nation’s capital this summer to try to obtain compensation for as many as 15,000 dependents of former uranium mine workers who are suffering from disease and birth defects.

The Navajo Nation Dependents of Uranium Workers Committee members will lobby congressional leaders and request a congressional field hearing on the issue in Shiprock or Window Rock, Ariz.

The committee also wants to amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to extend compensation to the family members of former uranium workers.

Groundwater movement from Northern NV mines

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Source: Las Vegas Sun

Closing mine part of bigger battle

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This open pit gold mine is part of a complex operated by Newmont Mining Corp. near Carlin. The EPA alleges that one of the Carlin mines and another in Nevada improperly disposed of mercury, allowing it to leach into the ground from tailings ponds. The company says it sells, not disposes of, most mercury from the site.

A Northern Nevada gold mine that was recently allowed to reopen after being among the region’s worst emitters of airborne mercury had its roasting operations halted recently by state regulators.The company had failed to install state-mandated mercury reduction equipment on time.