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The fight to preserve pure water in Nebraska from uranium mining contamination

water-radiationFlag-USAWater first! Lakota women and ranchers lead charge to close toxic uranium mine , Ecologist, Suree Towfighnia / Waging NonViolence 13th October 2015 The impending renewal of the license for a uranium mine in Nebraska has ignited a years long resistance among those – most of them women – for whom good health and safe, clean water in the Ogallala aquifer is as important as life itself, writes Suree Towfighnia. But for others, jobs and money come first. Now the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must reach its decision.

With a population of around 1,000 people, the rural town of Crawford, Nebraska was an unlikely setting for a federal hearing.

But it became the site of one in late August thanks to the dogged determination of a group of Lakota and environmental activists, as well as geologists, hydrologists and lawyers – all of whom have been fighting the permit renewal of a uranium mine located in town.

The region is ripe with stories from the brutal Indian wars, when Lakota and neighboring tribes fought over western expansion.

Today, this intersection of frontier America and Native resistance is a battleground in the war between environmental advocates and energy corporations, only this time allies from all sides are joining forces in the effort to protect their water.

The Crow Butte Resources, or CBR, uranium mine is comprised of thousands of wells at the base of Crow Butte, a sacred site located within Lakota treaty territories.

For the past couple of decades CBR has mined uranium using the in situ leach process, which injects water under high pressure into aquifers, extracts uranium ore, and then processes it into yellow cake.

Each year 700,000 pounds of uranium is produced here and shipped to Canada, where it is sold on the open market. CBR has applied for a permit renewal and expansions to three neighboring sites.

Pure water must be protected at all costs

Cindy Meyers, a rancher and resident of central Nebraska, drove four hours to attend evidentiary hearings regarding the renewal of the mine’s permit. It’s not unusual for Meyers to travel with her own water, which she gets directly from a well on her land that’s tapped into the Ogallala aquifer – considered the largest, underground freshwater source in the world, covering eight states from South Dakota to Texas…….

Debra White Plume is a Lakota grandmother who was raised on the treaty territories of the Pine Ridge Reservation located across the border in South Dakota. She shares the Lakota worldview that water is sacred.

About 10 years ago, White Plume began to notice a rise in illnesses and premature deaths among her neighbors. She heard about wells testing high for radiation, arsenic and lead. This information concerned White Plume, who lives on hundreds of acres of family land and relies on her wells for drinking water.

She is an experienced researcher and organizer from decades spent protecting the nearby Black Hills, sacred sites and preserving the Lakota way of life. During her research, through ceremonies, and prayer, she connected local contamination to the Crow Butte uranium mine located just outside reservation lands.

My water is my bond

Early in 2008, White Plume was one of 11 individuals and organizations, including the Oglala Sioux Tribe, who filed to prevent the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or NRC, from issuing a permit renewal to Crow Butte Resources.

It’s been a long, slow process of submitting documents, waiting on environmental impact studies and other delays. The hearing was the final step needed for the Atomic Licensing Board – which rules over the NRC – to make its determination on the permit…….

Older women were eager to share that they have been fighting CBR since their arrival in the town. “They promised us good and fair leases, that they would only stay 20 years and that they would leave the water and land exactly as it was when they arrived”, recalled one grandmother who was urged by her family not to give her name.

“They are trying to renew their permit and expand to three more sites. So, we know they lied to us.”

Giving women a voice

A few months ago, Kile and her sister Colleen Brennan grew tired of the lies they heard around town and founded the Sisterhood to Protect Sacred Water in order to give women a voice in the uranium debate.

The two sisters noticed how men and youth talked about money and tax benefits when they discussed the uranium mill; and older women discussed health and human welfare, questioning high rates of cancer and premature deaths.

The Sisterhood was inspired by the success of others, including White Plume and the Clean Water Alliance, who are fighting off efforts by Powertech / Azarga to open a uranium mine near the Black Hills.

The Sisterhood spent the summer organizing the community, hosting screenings and educational events where people could safely share mine facts and concerns. They raised money to purchase “Protect Sacred Water, No Uranium Mining” yard signs and placed them around town………

White Plume is optimistic that the townspeople will learn of the dangers of the uranium mine, its impact on their water and the future of their town. “I have a lot of hope that they lose fear, take courage and develop the sense that they are obligated to question authority”, she said. “In this town that means [questioning] Cameco and the NRC.”

The Atomic License Board judges will host a conference call later this month, on 23rd October, to answer remaining questions. Although the NRC gave preliminary permit approval to CBR, the judges have the final ruling, which is expected to be granted in early spring……..


October 14, 2015 - Posted by | opposition to nuclear, Uranium, USA

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