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The U.S. Nuclear Weapons Program Left ‘a Horrible Legacy’ of Environmental Destruction and Death Across the Navajo Nation 

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

Navajo uranium miners have died of lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses. They weren’t told of the risks, and they want compensation for radiation exposure continued.

”…………… Despite the stunning beauty of the 27,000-square-mile Navajo Nation, which encompasses parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, the land is marred by a toxic history: a “horrible legacy” of uranium mining and processing that began in 1944, with the U.S. nuclear weapons program and has slowly killed Navajo miners and their families, littered the land with 523 abandoned mines and tainted pristine aquifers with radioactive ore and the dry air with radioactive dust. 

Harrison, 70, and his father Phil Harrison Sr., were both uranium miners. Harrison worked in the mines for only three months, but his father worked there for 20 years and died at 44 from lung cancer. The 1990 Radiation Exposure Compensation Act presumes that an increased incidence of lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses among the miners was caused by large doses of radiation and other airborne hazards they were exposed to. 

The Navajo fought for years to have this law enacted. To date, $2.5 billion in benefits have been paid out to 37,000 claimants—uranium miners and so-called “downwinders” affected by nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s and 1960s at the Nevada Test Site, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. 

Now, with the law scheduled to “sunset” in July 2022, another reckoning is at hand, as Harrison and other Navajo activists, downwinders, Catholic leaders and peace and environmental organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists lobby Congress to extend the act and add new beneficiaries. Those include all uranium miners who have come down with cancer or respiratory illnesses since 1972 and thousands of additional downwinders in Nevada and Arizona.

“The tragic legacy of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation continues to this day, perhaps to an extent that would not have occurred if it weren’t taking place in a rural American Indian community,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez told a House Judiciary subcommittee in March. In prior testimony, he referred to the Navajo’s “horrible legacy,” and said that “past uranium activity has devastated Navajo families, traditions, and our Mother Earth.”

With the Biden administration making environmental racism a top priority, and pressure building to extend the radiation compensation act, an international campaign is gaining momentum to make “ecocide”—systematic and longlasting environmental devastation—a crime, like genocide, before the Internaitonal Criminal Court in the Hague. 

The United States is not among the 123 member nations of the court and thus would not be subject to sanction for environmental destruction in America, should ecocide eventually become a crime, in a process that could take seven years or more. But ecocide’s champions say that making it an international crime would have a powerful moral impact by associating environmental destruction with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes that are an affront to humanity at large. 

In their 1995 book “Ecocide of Native America: Environmental Destruction of Indian Lands and Peoples,” Donald A. Grinde Jr. and Bruce E. Johansen wrote that Kerr-McGee opened the first uranium mine on the Navajo Nation in 1948: 

“There were no taxes at the time, no health, safety or pollution regulations, and few other jobs for the many Navajos recently home from service in World War II,” they wrote. “Labor was cheap. Thirty years after mining began, an increasing number of deaths from lung cancer made evident the fact Kerr-McGee had held miners’ lives as cheaply as their labor. As Navajo miners continued to die, children who played in water that had flowed over or through abandoned mines and tailing piles came home with burning sores.” 

In their 1995 book “Ecocide of Native America: Environmental Destruction of Indian Lands and Peoples,” Donald A. Grinde Jr. and Bruce E. Johansen wrote that Kerr-McGee opened the first uranium mine on the Navajo Nation in 1948: 

“There were no taxes at the time, no health, safety or pollution regulations, and few other jobs for the many Navajos recently home from service in World War II,” they wrote. “Labor was cheap. Thirty years after mining began, an increasing number of deaths from lung cancer made evident the fact Kerr-McGee had held miners’ lives as cheaply as their labor. As Navajo miners continued to die, children who played in water that had flowed over or through abandoned mines and tailing piles came home with burning sores.”

………Harrison points into the distance, where a few houses can be seen. “Probably around 300 miners from this area alone have passed on from lung disease or lung cancer,” Harrison said. “The fathers are gone from this area. … So it’s just the widows and the kids.”…………….. https://insideclimatenews.org/news/27062021/nuclear-weapons-navajo-nation-uranium-mining-environmental-destruction-health/

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

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