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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.

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Uranium Resources has one of the largest uranium holdings in the United States. The company argues that its mine should be allowed to proceed because New Mexico has the largest uranium resource base in the country and because domestic uranium production supplies less than 10 percent of U.S. nuclear power plant fuel needs.

"Our project will be a major contributor to addressing the need for domestic uranium production to supply U.S. nuclear power plant needs," Ewigleben said.

"Our license will allow us to produce one million pounds of uranium per year for the initial project, after which we will demonstrate certain restoration parameters and can then move forward to produce up to three million pounds per year," he said.

Jantz says that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholds the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's decision that Hydro Resources does not have to clean up existing Cold War-era radioactive waste on its Church Rock Section 17 property.

"The waste currently exposes residents to dangerous levels of radiation that are above regulatory limits; new mining would add even more radioactivity to the air," says Jantz.

"We thank Jantz, the New Mexico Environmental Law Center and the whole team for continuing the good fight on our behalf," says Larry King, ENDAUM board member and one of the 15,000 Navajo people who would be impacted by the Hydro Resources mine.

"It's been a very frustrating and long road but we won't back down," said King. "We plan to continue working together to protect our land, water and families."

The Church Rock community has been contending with uranium contamination since the 1970s. On July 16, 1979, the dam at the United Nuclear Corporation's Church Rock Uranium Mill broke and spilled 1,100 tons of milled uranium ore and 94 million gallons of heavy metal effluent into the Puerco River - the largest release of radioactive waste in U.S. history.

The Church Rock Uranium Monitoring Project was initiated by Churchrock Chapter of the Navajo Nation in 2003 to assess environmental impacts of abandoned uranium mines and build capacity to conduct community-based research with policy implications.

Their May 2007 report found that significant radiation from both natural and mining sources remains in the area and the community is dedicated to finding remedies for this contamination.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.

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