Rita Capitan has been worried about her water since 1994. It was that fall that she read a local newspaper article about another. uranium mine, the Crownpoint Uranium Project, underway near her home.
Capitan has spent his entire life in Crownpoint, New Mexico, a small town in the eastern Navajo Nation, and is no stranger to uranium mining that has persisted in the region for decades. But it was around the time the article was published that she began to learn about the many risks associated with uranium mining.
“As members of the community, we couldn’t just sit back and watch another business come in and take what is very precious to us. And that’s water – our water, ”Capitan said.
To this end, Capitan and her husband, Mitchell, founded Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining (Endaum). The group’s fight against uranium mining in their home country has continued for nearly three decades, although the industry’s disastrous health and environmental effects have been common knowledge for years.
Capitan’s most recent concerns are with Canadian mining company Laramide Resources, which, through its US subsidiary NuFuels, holds a federal mining license for Crownpoint and nearby Church Rock. Due to the speed at which operations like this can take place, Laramide has not started mining in these areas, but is getting closer by the day.
While the U.S. legal system hasn’t given them much recourse to fight mining, Capitan and other members of the community see new hope in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Endaum and the New Mexico Environmental Law Center filed substantial evidence with the commission last week, alleging that the US government and its Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) violated their human rights by allowing uranium mines in their communities.
The petition to the commission will not necessarily provide Endaum with legal recourse. However, a favorable recommendation could help them in future legal proceedings against uranium mining projects while also guiding future advocacy on mining policy, said Eric Jantz, senior attorney at the New Mexico Environmental Law Center.
He said it would also be a form of justification: “There is a moral value in an international human rights body exposing the abuses of the nuclear industry and the complicity of the US government in these. abuse. “
While these mines have yet to begin operating, the looming threat hangs over the heads of local residents – especially given the murderous history of mining for radioactive metal on the Navajo Nation since the war. cold.
“There are four generations of Navajo who have had to deal with the existing contamination and who basically live in the middle of or next to radioactive waste dumps,” Jantz said. “And the federal government has ignored these communities for the past 70 years. “
The type of mine in question uses in situ leaching (ISL) technology, also known as in situ scope (ISR), the most common form of uranium mining. This involves drilling holes in the earth to reach the mineral deposit. A chemical solution is pumped underground, often into the aquifer, to dissolve the uranium deposit. This solution is then pumped to the surface with the mineral in tow for processing.
“Crownpoint’s mineralization has already been shown to lend itself to ISR techniques,” Laramide said on its website.
The inhabitants are however deeply concerned about the risks of pollution. On the Navajo Nation, most uranium deposits are found in aquifers. Drilling in these aquifers can leach radioactive uranium into the water, contaminating both the underground supply and water absorbed from the surface.
Laramide did not respond to a request for comment. On its website, it says it has an “on-property aquifer exemption” from the Environmental Protection Agency.
More than 500 abandoned uranium mines lie on Navajo Nation lands today, each a potential vector for releasing more radioactive particles into the air and water, in addition to the damage already done. Uranium mining caused higher rates of cancer, respiratory disease and kidney disease among the Navajo people. From the 1970s to the 1990s, cancer rates on the reserve doubled, according to his government.
To date, no mining company has fully cleaned an aquifer it has polluted by in situ leaching, according to the nonprofit Earthworks.
Laramide’s proposed uranium mining operation would involve drilling in the Westwater Canyon aquifer – which provides water to approximately 15,000 Navajo. For many residents of Church Rock and Crownpoint, increasing uranium mining is simply a non-starter.
Larry King, a Church Rock resident who previously worked at a uranium site, has respiratory problems and heart disease, according to testimony filed with the commission. He has been campaigning against Laramide and other uranium projects for more than two decades and says the fighting has robbed him of normalcy.
“Those 24 years should have been the best years, when I could have enjoyed my life. I didn’t, ”King said.