Indigenous Groups Call for Clean Up of “Homegrown” Radioactive Pollution
From Clean Up the Mines
On January 28, representatives of Indigenous organizations from the Southwest and Northern Great Plains and supporters called for “no nukes” in a protest addressing radioactive pollution caused by 15,000 abandoned uranium mines (AUMs) posing a toxic threat in the US. The demonstration was held at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) headquarters in Washington, DC, to call for immediate clean-up of these hazardous sites, protection of Indigenous sacred areas from uranium mining, and for intervention in communities where drinking water is poisoned with radioactive contamination. The groups charged that the EPA has been negligent in addressing these toxic threats that severely threaten public health, lands, and waterways.
“Native American nations of North America are the miners’ canaries for the United States trying to awaken the people of the world to the dangers of radioactive pollution,” said Charmaine White Face from the South Dakota-based organization Defenders of the Black Hills.
Indigenous communities have been disproportionately impacted as approximately 75 percent of AUMs are located on federal and Tribal lands. A majority of AUMs are located in 15 western states with the potential to impact more than 50 million people.
Outside of the EPA headquarters the groups chanted “No More Churchrock Spill, No More Fukushima!” and “Clean Nuclear is a deadly lie!” in response to the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which they say promotes nuclear power.
Activists dropped a massive banner declaring “Radioactive Pollution Kills” with the image of a Miner’s Canary and a radiation warning symbol inside EPA headquarters.
In the days leading up to the protest, Clean Up The Mines, Defenders of the Black Hills, Diné No Nukes, Laguna and Acoma Coalition for a Safe Environment (LACSE), Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment (MASE), and Indigenous World Alliance (IWA) met with members of Congress, the Department of Interior, the Department of Agriculture, and the EPA.
The Clean Up The Mines! campaign is focused on passing the Uranium Exploration and Mining Accountability Act that would ensure clean-up of all AUMs. The act was submitted two years ago as a draft to Congressman Raúl Grijalva, D–Arizona, but has yet to be introduced to Congress.
Currently, no comprehensive law requires clean-up of the dangerous abandoned uranium mines, meaning corporations and federal government agencies that benefitted from the uranium extraction do not have to take responsibility for the continuing harm they have caused.
“This is an invisible national crisis. Millions of people in the United States are being exposed as Nuclear Radiation Victims on a daily basis,” said White Face. “Exposure to radioactive pollution has been linked to cancer, genetic defects, Navajo Neuropathy, and increases in mortality. We are protesting the EPA today because we believe that as more Americans become aware of this homegrown radioactive pollution, then something can be done to protect all peoples and the environment. In the meetings we had in DC, not only were AUMs discussed, but we also talked about radioactive pollution from coal dust, coal smoke, and in water. These show a need for amendments to the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.”
The groups addressed extreme water contamination, surface strip coal mining and power plants burning coal laced with radioactive particles, radioactive waste from oil well drilling in the Bakken Oil Range, mill tailings, waste storage, and renewed mining threats to sacred places such as Mt. Taylor in New Mexico.
“With adherence to out-dated, racist policies promoting colonialism, such as the 1872 mining law, Indigenous peoples across the country will continue to be oppressed, and we will continue to demand that our land be returned and restored to its original condition, to that of before the colonization by the United States,” stated Leona Morgan of Diné No Nukes. She continued, “The United Nuclear Corporation mill tailings spill of 1979, north of Churchrock, New Mexico, left an immense amount of radioactive contamination that down-streamers, today, are currently receiving in their drinking water. A mostly-Navajo community in Sanders, Arizona has been exposed to twice the legal limit allowable for uranium through their tap–this is criminal!”
Diné No Nukes is a collective focused on educating the general Navajo population about the issues created by the US Atomic Energy Commission, as well as ongoing and new threats from the nuclear industry.
Tommy Rock, a member of Diné No Nukes and graduate student from Arizona stated that the water crisis in Flint, Michigan was extremely similar to the crisis in Sanders. “The regulatory agencies are responding by sending the Army National Guard to provide bottled water for the community of Flint. However, the small community of Sanders which is also predominantly an Indigenous community that is off the reservation is not receiving the same response from the state regulatory agency or the state legislatures and the media,” stated Rock, who worked on a recent study that uncovered levels of uranium in the drinking water system of residents and an elementary school in Sanders that violated the drinking water standard for uranium. Rock called for the community of Sanders to be included in the second Navajo Nation 5-Year Clean-Up Plan and an amendment to the Clean Water Act.
“In 2015 the Gold King Mine spill was a wake-up call to address dangers of abandoned mines, but there are currently more than 15,000 toxic uranium mines that remain abandoned throughout the US,” said White Face. “For more than 50 years, many of these hazardous sites have been contaminating the land, air, water, and national monuments such as Mt. Rushmore and the Grand Canyon. Each one of these thousands of abandoned uranium mines is a potential Gold King mine disaster with the greater added threat of radioactive pollution. For the sake of our health, air, land, and water, we can’t let that happen.”
The delegation was supported by Piscataway Nation and DC area organizations such as Nipponzan Myohoji Temple, Popular Resistance, Movement Media, La Casa, NIRS, and the Peace House.