On April 29, 2005. Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr., signed what is believed to be the first Native American tribal law banning uranium mining and milling. With dozens of community members and dignitaries looking on, Shirley signed the DinÃ© Natural Resources Protection Act (DNRPA) of 2005, which was passed by the Navajo Nation Council by a vote of 63-19 on April 19. As amended by the Council during floor debate, the act states, “No person shall engage in uranium mining and processing on any sites within Navajo Indian Country.” The law is based on the Fundamental Laws of the DinÃ©, which are already codified in Navajo statutes. The act finds that based on those fundamental laws, “certain substances in the Earth (doo nal yee dah) that are harmful to the people should not be disturbed, and that the people now know that uranium is one such substance, and therefore, that its extraction should be avoided as traditional practice and prohibited by Navajo law.”
In the late 1970s, Navajo uranium miners and their families asked for help to show that their lung diseases had been caused by their work in underground uranium mines in the 1940s-1960s. SRIC staff responded with medical and scientific data, in-community education strategies, and legislative support. As a result, Congress adopted legislation in 1990 to compensate former miners and their survivors. Ten years later, with SRIC’s on going technical support to advocacy groups, the law was amended to cover virtually all uranium miners who worked before 1971.
Despite making great strides in protecting miners’ and community health, compensating former miners and their families, and cleaning up uranium mill sites, significant problems stemming from the legacy of uranium development still exist today in the Four Corners Area. Hundreds of abandoned mines have not been cleaned up and present environmental and health risks in many Navajo communities. Health conditions in those communities have never been studied despite being impacted by uranium development that dates back to the late-40s and early-50s.
Some of these same communities are now confronted with proposed new uranium solution mining that threatens the only source of drinking water for 10,000 to 15,000 people living in the Eastern Navajo Agency in northwestern New Mexico. Since 1994, SRIC has worked with those communities and the community-based group, Eastern Navajo Dinï¿½ Against Uranium Mining (ENDAUM-CCT), to stop the proposed mines through community education, interaction with Navajo Nation leaders, and a seven-year-long legal challenge of the mines’ federal license.
The work of SRIC, ENDAUM-CCT and their law firms – the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) and the Harmon-Curran firm in Washington, D.C. – has erected major roadblocks to the proposed mining, but has not yet terminated the license. Citizen opposition to mining is widespread, and the Navajo Nation leadership recently determined that uranium solution mining is unsafe and that the proposed mines are too risky to the health and environment of the Navajo people.
Against this background, working with Navajo groups and communities to stop new mining and continuing to assess and document the health and environmental effects of past uranium development are the principal focuses of UIAP work.
DESPITE PRECEDENTS SUCH AS THE ABOVE, DISPOSSESSED SOUTHERN AFRICAN NATIONS ARE FORCED TO ALLOW MINING OF URANIUM ON TRIBAL GROUNDS COLONISED BY WHITES AND OWNED BY MULTINATIONAL COMPANIES WORKING IN TANDEM WITH GOVERNMENT AGENCIES.
URANIUM threatens the health of mine workers and the communities surrounding the mines. According to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, uranium mining has been responsible for the largest collective exposure of workers to radiation. One estimate puts the number of workers who have died of lung cancer and silicosis due to mining and milling alone at 20,000.
Mine workers are principally exposed to ionising radiation from radioactive uranium and the accompanying radium and radon gases emitted from the ore. Ionising radiation is the part of the electromagnetic spectrum that extends from ultraviolet radiation to cosmic rays. This type of radiation releases high energy particles that damage cells and DNA structure, producing mutations, impairing the immune system and causing cancers.
Uranium mining companies, including WMC and ERA, claim that they can minimise the risk to ‘acceptable levels’ by attention to proper ventilation of the shafts, and close monitoring of workers to radioactive exposure. However, each time International Commission for Radiation Protection and other experts/organisations conduct a review on “safe” levels of radiation exposure, they conclude that low levels of ionising radiation are more dangerous than was previously decided. On average, these organisations have concluded that the actual danger is twice as bad as they thought twelve years before. This means that people are legally exposed to a certain dose of radiation one year and the next year they are told that the dose was far too high.
The new limits mean that the annual risk of death (from cancer) for a uranium miner is 1 in 1250, which is nearly ten times the risk of fatal injury in Australian industry generally, which is 1 in 20,000.
Even so the uranium industry has protested that the ICRP’s new limits would be uneconomic for underground mining. In the Roxby mine underground miners have received up to 30 milliSv a year. The dose limits which the NHMRC has adopted permit a health risk which is clearly unacceptable.
It is widely agreed in the scientific community that there is no safe level of radiation exposure. Because it can take more than twenty or more years for cancer produced by low levels of ionising radiation to become apparent, it is not easy to trace the cause. It is imperative that long term medical records be kept of all workers, residents and their children, including those conceived after leaving Olympic Dam and Ranger, and yet this is not being done.
At present there is no independent monitoring of the Roxby Downs or Jabiru communities. We are the only ‘developed’ nation which has no such monitoring system in place. In twenty years time, when the health effects of uranium are emerging, the people will be left to pick up the costs, just like the asbestos mining communities before them.
Information by the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (WA) and the MAUM public education sheet on Ionising Radiation And Health.
Anti-Nuclear Alliance of Western Australia
THE Mainstream Media is still carrying reports of a “blackout” in Cape Town, despite allegations of an “accident” at Koeberg, South Africa’s only commercial nuclear power station. In an attempt to play down the consequences of human error and mechanical breakdown at the plant, the strange story about a possible “scram” at Koeberg, has now turned into a small fable about “tripped switches” and “accidental power outages”, caused by a freak of nature.
Despite consternation from residents and homeowners, and criticism from environmentalists, Eskom and the Atomic Energy Corporation, maintain that nuclear energy is safe and have no plans to either shutdown Koeberg, or halt the billion rand Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) project. Instead of spending money on safe, geothermal energy from beneath the earth’s surface, the South African government is wasting time and money on antiquated nuclear technology. The PBR was rejected by Germany decades ago after public concern about the safety of nuclear energy.
Check out http://hotrock.anu.edu.au/ for news about Australia’s geothermal programme that deploys “hot rocks” to create renewable energy and sustainable power resources.
PS: I tried using Smartcape’s public access terminal to post to my blog yesterday and sadly the system doesn’t work. 5 terminals hooked to one pentium acting as a server do not make for easy computing, so Smartcape is actually dumb and an example of cosmetic development.
YESTERDAY’S near meltdown at Koeberg, South Africa’s only commercial nuclear power station resulted in a “scramble” by employees to shut the reactor down. The ensuing blackout plunged Cape Town’s flatland into darkness and left thousands stranded. Traffic jams and frozen lifts were reported all over the city.
The automatic shutdown caused after a warning system reported a fault inside the reactor was “no cause for concern” according to officials, and was the second time in two years that the reactor had to be shut down.In scenes reminiscent of Three Mile Island, (depicted in movies like The CHINA SYNDROME), the reactor core begun to flare out of control, before tracking rods could be inserted.
Luckily the situation rectified itself after the safety mechanism scrambled allowing a general shutdown of reactor activity. Failure of such mechanisms have been blamed for both the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters. At Chernobyl, engineers running an experiment were unable to shut down the reactor, and the resulting meltdown breached containment areas resulting in the devastation of the surrounding environment,loss of life of hundreds of thousands and an airborne plume of radiactive dust that reached as far as Iceland.
There are currently no workable plans for evacuating Cape Town in the event of a containment breach at Koeberg. Although the Koeberg reactor has already reached the end of its productive cycle,the power station has been allowed by authorities to run for nearly a decade past its specifications. The blackout thus represents both a material and engineering breakdown. Decommissioning of such a plant is however considered too costly, as the core will be “hot” for millenia. The half-life of plutonium for example, is measured in thousands of years — the time it takes for such material to become half as reactive.
Despite warnings from interest groups such as Koeberg Alert and Earthlife Africa, Eskom continues to pursue nuclear energy as a “viable alternative to coal and gas”, and has done virtually nothing to implement renewable and environmentally safe energy. With insurance at a premium, the company is unlikely to get backing from any financial institution for such a project without help from central government. Now is the time to sue Cape Town local government for protection from the threat of future disaster, not after such a disaster has happened!