Monday, July 19, 2010

Scientists Back Navajos' Uranium Mining Fight: Tribe fears contamination of drinking water

Indian Country

RED ROCK, N.M. - Navajos fighting proposed uranium mining in an area once devastated by a radioactive spill, were bolstered by scientists who criticized the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for approving new uranium mining that could result in the contamination of drinking water for 15,000 Navajos and ultimately lead to kidney failure.

"I’ve never seen such poor science, poor accountability and poor traceability," said Mike Wallace, a groundwater hydrologist who has worked in the nuclear industry at WIPP in New Mexico and the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada.

Speaking to Navajos gathered at Red Rock State Park, Wallace said the final environmental impact statement for the uranium mining proposed by Hydro Resources, Inc., for Crownpoint and Church Rock, is flawed.

Referring to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approval of a license, now being challenged by interveners, Wallace said, "They are not taking this area or these people’s concerns seriously."

Mitchell Capitan, Navajo cofounder of the grassroots group Eastern Navajo Against Uranium Mining (ENDAUM) told the gathering: Speaking in Diné and English, Capitan said, "There’s always going to be accidents. Our water is more sacred and our water is clean; they want to dirty the water in our communities."

Richard Abitz, geo-chemist and environmental scientist, urged Navajos to stop the legacy of uranium mining now. "There is a gross misrepresentation of the geological structure in the final environmental impact statement."

'They think in-situ mining will be done easily without contamination or accidents, but that is not the case.'
— Mitchell Capitan Eastern Navajo Against Uranium Mining

Wallace predicted that nearby drinking wells of the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority and BIA will be contaminated. "In five years time, the uranium contaminated water would reach the NTUA well. In 10 years, it would reach the BIA well.

"It is enough to cause renal damage.

"These wells are the sole source of drinking water for thousands of people that live in the area."

Abitz said in-situ leaching uses a hydrogen peroxide mixture to strip the uranium from the rock, which kills tissue and destroys cells in human and animal life. The addition of oxygen and sodium bicarbonate called oxygenates causes uranium and other radioactive substances and trace metals to be liberated from the rock into the groundwater.

Further, he warned that it would be HRI who would be responsible for monitoring the wells and taking action if there is an accident, spill or emergency. Urging a halt to the proposal, Abitz said, "Water is needed for life, uranium is not needed for life. We can get by without uranium, we can not get by without water."

Abitz said judges have too often taken the stance that they are judges who know nothing of the mining industry and accept the data of corporations, claiming the corporations are in the know.

"It is a fallacy," said Abitz, who manages restoration of uranium-contaminated groundwater at the government’s Fernald uranium plant near Cincinnati, Ohio.

Abitz said the water taken from the extremely pristine Westwater Canyon Aquifer near Crownpoint for uranium mining and used for flushing out chemicals would not be replaced in our lifetimes.

Currently, the pristine water meets the high standard of the World Health Organization. The clean water standard is 0.002 mg of uranium contamination per liter.

"It takes hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, to transform aquifer water back into a drinkable condition. Abitz agreed with Wallace that there is no doubt that the contamination will reach Navajo water supplies. "It will make its way into the Crownpoint water supply."

Abitz said the number of Navajos already suffering from diabetes, which also affects kidney functions, compounds the risk of renal failure. "Uranium is toxic to the kidneys, it slows down kidney function."

Mitchell Capitan said when ENDAUM formed 10 years ago, Navajos had no idea they would be fighting HRI for a decade.

"We don’t want that uranium mining polluting our clean water, our clean air."

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source: 16mar04