The Cold War Threat to the Navajo
New York Times Editorial, FEBRUARY 12,
It is alarming that the nuclear power
industry is talking about resuming uranium mining near
a Navajo reservation. A mining company has applied for
permits for a new mine on privately owned land in New
Mexico just outside the reservation’s formal boundaries
but within what is commonly known as Navajo Indian Country.
Regulators must not allow this to proceed until the
enormous damage inflicted by past mining operations
has been fully addressed.
Residents of the Navajo Nation are haunted
by radiation threats from more than a thousand gaping
mine sites abandoned after the cold war arms race. After
decades of uranium mining — and accumulating evidence
of spikes of cancer and other diseases — mining companies
walked away from their cleanup responsibilities.
The federal government has also shamefully
failed its tribal trust obligation to deal with what
Representative Henry Waxman has aptly termed “an American
The California Democrat is investigating
a history of shocking neglect that would not be tolerated
elsewhere. Among the horrors: shifting mountains of
uranium tailings; open mines leaching contaminated rain
into drinking water tables; wind-blown radioactive dust;
home construction from uranium mine slabs; and even
the grim spectacle of children playing in radioactive
swimming holes and ground pits.
Tribal elders finally forbade mining,
alarmed at the sudden rise in cancer deaths. Federal
help across the years has been sporadic at best, with
only half the mines ever sealed. Prodded into action
by Congressional hearings and detailed reports in The
Los Angeles Times, a half-dozen agencies are now vowing
stronger remedies, including the resumption of long-stalled
toxic testing. Far greater resolve is called for. The
House oversight committee is rightly demanding a coordinated
five-year remediation plan from the agencies most involved.
The government must finally honor its
obligation to seal the mines and deal with their myriad
dangers. Talk of opening even one new mine — which could,
of course, lead to others — adds grave insult to the
severe injury already done.