By Jacqueline Keeler
Uranium, it’s now part of Navajo DNA. With over 500 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation, people living near these mines are exposed daily to radiation exposure at a rate several times higher than normal background radiation. Last week, President Donald Trump announced he was summarily reducing the Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent, thereby opening archaeologically rich sites to uranium mining.
From the 1940s to the 1980s, 30 million tons of uranium were extracted from mines on the Navajo Nation. Today, more than 500 abandoned uranium mines remain on the reservation, which stretches 27,000 square miles from the south rim of the Grand Canyon past Gallup, New Mexico, and north to the San Juan River in Utah, poisoning the water and carrying in the dust. Only one mine has been cleaned up. It is estimated that total cleanup will cost between $4 billion to $6 billion and could take a century to complete. A recent study by researchersfrom the University of New Mexico found 85 percent of Navajo homes had uranium contamination, and Navajos living near these mines have higher levels of uranium in their bones than 95 percent of the American population. Even infants have been found to have uranium in their urine.
In a penetrating series of articles on uranium mining’s legacy in the Navajo Nation, published by the Arizona Republic in 2014, Lillie Lane, the Navajo Nation’s Environmental Protection Agency outreach coordinator, told the newspaper the radiation has tainted their chromosomes. “I think we are still in the infant stages of seeing what the impacts are in the gene pool of the Navajo people,” she said.
On Friday, the Washington Post broke the story that Energy Fuels Resources, owners of the Daneros Uranium Mine and the White Mesa Uranium Mill, had lobbied the Interior Department to reduce the monument because it impeded their business interests in the area, effectively refuting Zinke and Trump’s claims energy interests did not play a role. In a May 2017 letter to the Interior, the company’s chief operating officer, Mark Chalmers, urged the monument be reduced because there are “many known uranium and vanadium deposits located within the newly created (Bears Ears National Monument) that could provide valuable energy and mineral resources in the future.”[…]