Roundtable addresses effects of uranium mining on Navajo

Washington, D.C. (AP) 11-07

Rep. Tom Udall says he is committed to continuing a dialogue on the effects of uranium mining on Navajo people and to seek justice for those who have been harmed.

The New Mexico Democrat convened a roundtable discussion recently on the prospects of renewed uranium mining in Navajo country, the health affects associated with the industry, the environmental aspects of mining and the federal Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

Udall was joined by Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah; Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz; leaders from the Navajo Nation and directors of federal agencies. “This is an opportunity for all parties to come together to outline specific steps that Congress, the federal agencies and the Navajo Nation can take towards rectifying past wrongs and creating safer communities on the Navajo Nation,” Udall said.

The congressmen plan to take the suggestions made at the roundtable and work together to draft legislation to amend RECA to cover uranium workers who toiled in the industry after 1971. Those workers currently aren’t covered under federal programs.

Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. once again emphasized the need for a federal moratorium on uranium mining both within the reservation’s boundaries and beyond in what’s commonly referred to as a checkerboard of Indian and non-Indian land.

The Navajo Nation is the largest American Indian tribe, spanning 27,000 square miles into parts of New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. The tribe banned uranium mining and processing on its land in 2005, but companies have been trying to revive it as uranium prices soar.

If the federal government “can respect our sovereignty and support us with the law, that’s the biggest thing I’d like to see,” Shirley said in an interview.

Those who worked in the mines have experienced devastating health effects, and Shirley said exposed mining and milling sites on the reservation have yet to be cleaned up.

“The greater tragedy is that years and decades later, their families who live in the same areas are experiencing health problems today because the remnants of uranium activity continue to pollute the land, the water and their lives,” he said. “It would be unforgivable to allow this cycle to continue for another generation.”

The discussion came on the heels of a hearing held by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The committee chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., has asked federal agencies to report back to him during December on what they can do to help clean up the contamination on the Navajo Nation and to address health problems.