Friday, July 17, 2009

The worst nuclear accident in U.S. history: July 16, 1979, Navajo Reservation

by Ann Garrison

July 16th, 2009, marked the 30th anniversary of the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history, when, at 5:00 A.M., 1100 tons of uranium mining tailings, and 100 million gallons of radioactive water burst through United Nuclear's earthen dam, into the Rio Puerco, at a uranium mine in Church Rock, New Mexico, on the Navajo Reservation.

Three hours and 50 miles downriver, in Gallup, New Mexico, employees of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission tested the Rio Puerco and found it 7,000 times more radioactive than was then deemed allowable.

The best account of this accident and its aftermath may be that within Bruce Johansen's study, "The High Cost of Uranium Mining in Navajoland," first published in Akwesasne Notes,

The tragic, toxic legacy of uranium mining on the Navajo Reservation is also recounted in Abandoned Uranium Mines in the Navajo Nation, and, in a classic documentary, "The Four Corners: A National Sacrifice Area?," which asked the question, "Who is to be sacrificed?" (For America's fossil and nuclear fuels, for its polluting power plants, and, for its imperial nuclear power.) Since the film's release, other environmentally assaulted communities, many also victims of environmental racism, have been named "national sacrifice areas," and, have asked the same question. Navajo reservation

Since finally learning this story, in 2003, I've learned a great deal more from Southwest native environmental and indigenous rights activists from:

Environmental and indigenous rights activist Lori Goodman, of Diné CARE and the Black Mesa Water Coalition.

The Black Mesa Water Coalition,

Diné CARE, and

The Western Shoshone Defense Project.

The Navajo Nation remains under toxic siege, by coal mining, uranium mining, and coal-fired power, even though an EPA doc already suggests that the entire reservation is a Superfund site. The Navajo Tribal Council, in 2005, passed a uranium mining ban, the Diné Natural Resources Protection Act, and thus won a Nuclear Free Future Award, but the ban has been under pressure ever since, and uranium mining claims now surround the Navajo Reservation like an advancing army.

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