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Radioactive Waste Contaminates the Land and Water

The U.S. Nuclear Weapons Program Left ‘a Horrible Legacy’ of Environmental Destruction and Death Across the Navajo Nation   Inside Climate News,  By Cheyanne M. DanielsAmanda Rooker, June 27, 2021 ”……………Radioactive Waste Contaminates the Land and Water

Uranium is recovered from the earth in two ways. The first is conventional mining of the ore, in which miners dig the rock out of open pits that strip away the topsoil. The second, which is the most common extraction method in the United States, pumps chemicals into groundwater to dissolve uranium from the rock, known as “situ leaching.”

After the extraction, the ore is taken to mills, where it is crushed, ground up and dissolved to be solidified, dried and packaged.

Regardless of the extraction method, mining and milling uranium leaves behind radioactive waste that contaminates water and the land, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Waste from open pit mines is often left in piles outside the mine, while tailings from the milling process remain radioactive and contain hazardous chemicals. 

“Wind can blow radioactive dust from the wastes into populated areas and the wastes can contaminate surface water used for drinking. Some sites also have considerable groundwater contamination,” according to the EPA website. 

The EPA is conducting water studies at three areas on the reservation that have been affected by historical mining to “inform future investigations and potential cleanups by EPA and private parties.”

The Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education said in a June 2020 study that while high concentrations of uranium and arsenic may be found naturally in some areas, contamination is “especially troublesome on the Navajo Nation, where past (uranium) mining activity may have contaminated water supplies.”

Out of 82 unregulated wells sampled for the study, nine exceeded the maximum contaminant level for drinking water standards for uranium and 14 exceeded standards for arsenic. Because of these contaminants, a study published by the Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology in March 2020 found that nearly 30 percent of Navajo homes had to rely on hauling water to meet their needs.

The lack of drinking water affects not only the Navajo living on the reservation, but their livestock and land usability, as well.

The EPA began investigating the effects of the uranium mines in the Cove region in January 2015, after a settlement from Tronox, a company spun off from Kerr-McGee in 2006, provided almost $4.4 billion for cleanup of more than 50 abandoned uranium mines. Forty-two of the mines are on or near the Navajo Nation, which received $45 million in the settlement, and 32 are in the Cove area, where more than 7 million tons of ore were mined, according to the EPA

The funds allowed for the assessment and cleanup of 230 of the 523 abandoned uranium mines across the reservation, which is ongoing. In the Northern Abandoned Uranium Mine Region, where the Cove Chapter is located, 121 of the 229 mines are targeted in the cleanup process.

Kerr-McGee was among the companies that extracted a total of 30 million tons of uranium ore from the Navajo land from 1944 until 1986. In his testimony in March before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Nez, the Navajo Nation president, said that “not a single one” of the 523 abandoned mines on Navajo lands “has been cleaned up properly.”

June 28, 2021 - Posted by | environment, indigenous issues, USA, wastes

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