Tom Udall Wants to Ban Uranium Mining Near Navajo Land

The congressional Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee met this past Wednesday to discuss uranium mining and the possibility of changing laws to mandate federal reclamation of uranium mines that have been abandoned since the Cold War. Many people think that the of energy may be in nuclear power, which requires uranium. According to Michael Coleman of the Albuquerque Journal’s Washington Bureau (Navajos Urge Ban on Mining, Mar. 11, 2008), Navajo Nation President Joe “Shirley told the panel that the Navajo Nation has suffered pervasive illness and death because of Cold War uranium mining.” In 2005, Mr. Shirley and the Navajo outlawed all uranium mining on all of the tribe’s lands, saying, “hundreds of Navajo uranium miners have died as a result of exposure to radioactivity and uranium.”
However, in the Journal article, Pete Domenici, who is also on the committee, said, “Much has changed since the Cold War…Uranium mining in the future will be very different than uranium mining in the past…Our job is to get the real facts for the Navajo people, not the facts from the Cold War.” The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the departments of Energy and Transportation are all federal organizations responsible for implementing regulations to protect people from radiation. These regulations, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, “are based on internationally recognized scientific studies.” The Institute’s webpage also feature’s a from the mayor of Fresno, California: “Nuclear energy is, by every measure, the safest form of energy available today…The safety concerns have been met, the economic advantages are being analyzed, so full-speed ahead.”
Coleman noted in his article that “Tom Udall…is pushing for a federal moratorium on uranium mining on or near Navajo land.” There certainly was a time when uranium mining, especially when it was done in a “war-time” environment, posed serious health risks to miners and residents in the immediate area, but does Mr. Udall realize that technology advances with time? Has he considered that new safety regulations have been developed since the Cold War and that Congress and the applicable federal agencies will have much greater power to regulate mining on our near Navajo lands?
As a sovereign people, The Navajo certainly have the right to oppose mining on their lands, but considering that by 2030 our energy demands are expected to increase by 25%, Udall and others would be unwise to pass a blanket ban on uranium mining “near” Navajo Country.