Poisoned once, uranium mining threatens the Navajo again
The Church Rock mine, located in New Mexico is the site of one of the worst nuclear disasters.
On July 16, 1979, the dam at Church Rock burst, sending eleven hundred tons of radioactive mill wastes and ninety million gallons of contaminated liquid toward Arizona. The spill left no casualties, but contaminated the Rio Puerco as a water source and contaminated water 70 miles downstream from the site.
Today, nearby residents continue to suffer the consequences of this toxic spill.
Proposed Mine vs. Navajo Nation
New mine proposals at Church Rock and Crownpoint are in situ leaching operations (ISL) owned by Hydro Resources Inc (HRI).
The proposed mines could contaminate the sole drinking water source for 15,000 Navajo citizens.
A legal battle erupted between the Navajo Nation and Hydro Resources Inc., over the proposed ISL mines. At issue: whether 160 acres owned by HRI is part of Native American territory.
The outcome will govern whether its underground injection permit is subject to regulation by the EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) or the New Mexico Environment Department. HRI claims that it owns both the land and the mineral rights to the property, while the EPA claims that some of the property is indeed Indian territory, and therefore subject to SDWA regulations.
In November 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the last legal challenge to the HRI license to mine uranium at an aquifer that supplies drinking water to Navajo communities. The case marked the first time that a community had sued the Nuclear Regulatory Commission over the issuance of an ISL license.
Although HRI has been permitted to proceed with ISL mining operations, Navajo groups continue to fight other venues against potential land and water contamination.