Senator Tom Udall explores legacy uranium mining on Navajo lands

October 7, 2011 • Aaron Mintzes

Yesterday I attended a hearing of the Senate's Environment and Public Works subcommittee on Children's Health and Environmental Responsibility. The topic concerned the federal government's work cleaning up the contamination from legacy uranium mining and milling operations. The uranium legacy sites are a lasting reminder of our nation's Cold War efforts to build atomic weapons stockpiles in our arms race against the Soviet Union.

Chairman Tom Udall (D-NM) recalled during his opening statement the tragedy from the Church Rock uranium mill spill in 1979 when a tailings pond breached its dam spilling 1100 tons of radioactive mill waste and 93 million gallons of mine effluent in to the Puerco River. I had never heard of this event. I knew about Three Mile Island that happened the same year. I even remember Chernobyl. But Church Rock, second only to Chernobyl in terms of magnitude, occurred on Navajo lands and has never received the publicity of those other events.