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Navajos Appeal to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights over Proposed Uranium Mining

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The Eastern Navajo Diné is appealing to the international community to stop uranium mining in the Navajo villages of Church Rock and Crownpoint, New Mexico, attorneys for the tribe announced at a press conference on May 16.

Unable to get anywhere during 16 years of battling within the U.S. legal system, the Diné group on May 16 filed an appeal with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. For 16 years Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining (ENDAUM), represented by the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC), has been fighting to overturn a mining license awarded to Hydro Resources Inc. (HRI) by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) so as to avoid contaminating the drinking water of 15,000 people, the law center said in a press release.

“The HRI license marks the first time that any mining company in the U.S. has been federally authorized to mine uranium in a community drinking water aquifer,” said NMELC attorney Eric Jantz in the statement. “This aquifer provides the sole source of drinking water for the mostly Navajo community members represented by ENDAUM. By granting this license, the NRC has failed to uphold its mandate to protect the health and safety of all Americans.”

The NMELC and ENDAUM want the NRC to suspend HRI’s materials license “until such time as HRI has remediated the radioactive surface contamination on Church Rock’s Section 17, and the United States has taken significant and meaningful steps to remediate the abandoned uranium mines within the boundaries of the Church Rock Chapter,” the press release said. It also wants the NRC to submit, for public hearing, “comprehensive baseline groundwater quality and other hydrological, geological and geochemical data.”

In addition the Navajo want the NRC to rescind HRI’s license to mine uranium on Church Rock Section 17 and Unit 1 sites, because of the Navajo Nation’s ban on uranium mining and processing, and says that petitioner Larry King and his family should not be removed from Church Rock Section 17 and that there should be no “forced disruption of his subsistence grazing practices or cultural activities.”

According to Greenwire in The New York Times, the Navajo Nation is already dealing with contamination from previous uranium mines and its attendant high rates of cancer, heart disease and birth defects. Cleanup efforts are taking years, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is evaluating more than 500 sites in the western part of the Navajo Nation.

“This petition is important because it’s the first time that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ever been taken to task for its lax regulations, and it’s also the first time that any grievance has been [filed] based on the human rights aspect of the nuclear field cycle,” said Jantz in a video explaining the filing. “We hope that this petition’s going to shine an international spotlight on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S.’s nuclear energy policy and at the same time keep the uranium mine from going forward in our clients’ communities.”