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noise report by J. Judge & O. victOr
Abandoned Uranium Mines on and around the Navajo Nation | EPA
chance of getting sick.”
The World Health Organization also acknowledges children and the elderly in its study
of radiation as “the more vulnerable members of the population.” He fondly recalled how children learned how to take activism into their own hands by persuading classmates and teachers to sign a petition for removing uranium contaminants from the water supply.
“There were three little students passing around a petition. For the sake of the kids and the sake of the elders, we need clean water. People are not satisfied with how they are get- ting their water.” Mr. Yazzie also shared how the water crisis impacted both students and agriculture. “The students have a community garden at the school but they cannot use it. People are not planting. There are people who made money off that, and others grew plants for themselves because grocery stores are so far away. People had to let their plants die in Shiprock after the Gold King Mine.”
He described Sanders as a community rooted in traditional ways of life where many people raise herds of sheep for both economic livelihoods and personal consumption. “When the sheep are butchered, their insides are green.” Exposing animals to radiation damages their kid- neys, decreases body weight, and reduces reproductive capabilities. Eating meat from livestock exposed to radiation is also dangerous because the highest levels of uranium exposure occur when drinking radioactive water or consuming food contaminated by radioactive materials.
Sanders is not the only community whose water has been tainted by radioactive pollut- ants. Shiprock, Pinon, Cove, Tuba City, Oljato, Blue Gap, and Tachee are some of many areas affected by uranium poisoning from the 500 abandoned uranium mines on Navajo lands. The Diné word for uranium is łeetsó, which translates to the descriptive phrase, “the dirt that is yellow.” Similarly, refined uranium is referred to in English as “yellowcake.” Uranium con- taminants in water complicate the already limited access to water people in rural areas face, as the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency estimates ≈ 54,000 people living on the Navajo Nation are not receiving piped water from public water systems. Living on re- mote ancestral lands, they often travel long distances to haul water from stations or unregu- lated sources, such as springs and livestock wells. These unregulated sources are dangerous because not only do they contain uranium, but also arsenic and bacterial contaminants.
Mounds of tailings are left behind after uranium is milled from raw ore during the steps it takes to create yellowcake. To the casual observer, they appear to be harmless piles of gravel and sand. However, tailings are dangerous radioactive materials that emit radon, an odorless, tasteless, and highly carcinogenic gas. Radon is one of several products of uranium’s decay as it goes through its half-life. Until recently, residents near uranium mines often used tailings for the construction of their homes without knowing the radioactive hazards associated with tailings. And there are widespread accounts of children playing in tailings piles and aban- doned mine areas. The failure of these private mining companies to clean up and barricade contaminated areas puts innocent people of all ages in harm’s way.
In cooperation with the Obama Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies, the Navajo Nation issued a five-year-plan in 2014 addressing uranium contamination and the demolition of radioactive homes. Also, plans are underway for Sanders to develop an infrastructure for new water sources in cooperation with the Ari- zona Department of Environmental Quality.
Anadarko Petroleum, a corporation which bought Kerr-McGee in 2006, is paying a $5 bil- lion legal settlement to resolve claims regarding Kerr-McGee’s 85-year long history of environ- mentally unethical practices worldwide. In 1990, Congress sought to make amends offering an official apology and financial compensation of up to $150,000 to former uranium miners by passing the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. However, bureaucratic difficulties made eligibility for compensation difficult for former miners and widowed spouses to obtain.
The Navajo Nation outlawed uranium mining in 2005 after decades of detrimental effects on human health and the health of the environment’s delicate systems. Though tribal and federal organizations are addressing the water crisis, problems associated with uranium’s le- thal legacy still exist and are far from being resolved. Corporations seeking to exploit Grand Canyon’s watershed shows that hunger for uranium-rich lands has not faded away with the Cold War. The aftermath seen on the Navajo Nation indicates that continuing to extract ura- nium will continue the consequences of uranium exposure to people and the environment.
It is crucial for grassroots organizations like DRI to save lives by spreading awareness among communities to help prevent uranium exposure. Instead of being victimized by uranium min- ing, affected individuals are empowered by taking a stand. Groups such as Diné NO NUKES and Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining are also campaigning against detrimen- tal nuclear policies by opening the dialogue of environmental, social, and cultural injustice. Mr. Yazzie cited a local Flagstaff organization, Black Mesa Water Coalition that inspired him to take action. Black Mesa Water Coalition is composed of advocates for environmental jus- tice who fought against the exploitation of Black Mesa by Peabody Coal Company.
Nuclear energy proponents often tout it as a cheap, clean fuel, but damage to human life and the environment suggest otherwise. The burning of nuclear fuel may have no carbon footprint, but it has an enormous radioactive footprint that outsizes its alleged benefits, to the point where the federal government still does not have a concerted plan of what to do with the nation’s spent nuclear fuel. Operating costs and constructions costs of nuclear facili- ties are notoriously expensive. One of the costs impossible to quantify is the grief over the loss of loved ones due to radiation-related diseases.
Harnessing Arizona’s famously abundant sunshine through solar energy is a viable solution to the problems associated with nuclear energy. Expanding the solar energy grid reaps the benefits of renewable energy without the issues associated with extracting harmful materi- als. Renewable energy is a solution because the Earth’s natural processes are used in a non- exploitative way and can meet the energy demands accompanying a growing population.
One does not have to join an organization to help the environment. All individuals can be cognizant of where their energy comes from and then use that knowledge to take action for anti-nuclear causes. Contacting government representatives, disseminating information, and adjusting one’s own personal energy use are just some of the ways that anyone can help the environment. It is important for everyone to contribute to positive changes in energy usage because repeating the tragic errors of our recent history may create irreversible consequenc- es. From powerful policy makers to concerned citizens, we can all make a difference. | the NOISE arts & news | AUGUST 2017 • 9

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