comments_image Comments

Navajo Community Groups Appeal To Highest Court To Stop Uranium Contamination of Drinking Water

For the first time the NRC has licensed a uranium mining operation in a community drinking water supply, in spite of never having restored such an aquifer to pre-mining condition.

SANTA FE, New Mexico, January 26, 2011 (ENS) -  The New Mexico Environmental Law Center today appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a lower court decision that allows uranium mining in the Four Corners region of New Mexico. The appeal claims the mine would contaminate drinking water used by some 15,000 Navajo people.

Two community groups - the Eastern Navajo Dine against Uranium Mining and the Southwest Research and Information Center - represented by the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, have been fighting the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Hydro Resources, Inc., for the past 16 years, demanding that they keep out of Navajo communities in New Mexico.

Today they turned to the highest court in the United States.

The appeal contends that a two-to-one decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in March threatens all of the residents in the area with radioactive contamination as the mine endangers the sole source of drinking water for some 15,000 people in the Crownpoint and Church Rock communities.

"Today is an important day for the people of Church Rock and Crownpoint," said Eric Jantz, lead attorney with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center. "The community is letting the government know that they will not give up the fight and they will continue resisting these proposed uranium mines."

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has granted a license to mine uranium in Crownpoint and Church Rock to Hydro Resources, a subsidiary of the Texas-based Uranium Resources, Inc.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Hydro Resources Inc.'s Section 8 property in Church Rock is not in Indian Country.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with the Navajo Nation as intervenor, had argued previously before the 10th Circuit that because "the community of reference," or Churchrock, is in Indian Country, Hydro Resources' land must be considered Indian Country, too.

This is the first time that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has licensed a uranium mining operation in a community drinking water supply, says Jantz, "despite the fact that no aquifer in which in-situ leach uranium mining has occurred has ever been restored to pre-mining condition."

During the administrative proceeding after which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted Hydro Resources a uranium mining license, Eastern Navajo Dine against Uranium Mining, ENDAUM, presented evidence that the proposed uranium mining operation would contaminate large areas of groundwater, including the Navajo communities' primary drinking water source.

ENDAUM argued that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission changed its interpretation of its regulations governing radioactive air emissions to accommodate Hydro Resources' operations, which would result in exposing Church Rock residents to levels of radiation in excess of regulatory limits.

The Navajo group also argued that Hydro Resources' groundwater reclamation plan would fail to protect drinking water, and that the government is not requiring an adequate bond to clean up the mine should Hydro Resources abandon the site.

However, in March 2010, a three judge panel refused to overturn the NRC's licensing decision and on May 18 the full 10th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to rehear ENDAUM's arguments, finding that the company's Section 8 property is not in Indian Country.

Don Ewigleben, president and CEO of Uranium Resources Inc., parent company of Hydro Resources, said in July, "The significance of this ruling lies in our ability to now take the actions necessary to advance this property toward production."

"URI's objective is to be in a position to begin uranium production in New Mexico by the first half of 2013, assuming the renewal processes move forward in a timely manner, a recovery in uranium prices and the availability of financing for the necessary capital expenditures to build the infrastructure," said Ewigleben.

See more stories tagged with: