Environmental Protection

New Mexico Navajo Fight Uranium Mine Approval

Navajo communities in New Mexico are challenging the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's approval of a source materials license for an in situ leach uranium mine in federal court. Oral arguments are scheduled for May 12.

The Navajo communities of Crownpoint and Church Rock, New Mexico, with the assistance of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, Eastern Navajo Dine against Uranium Mining, and Southwest Research and Information Center, will fight the NRC and Hydro Resources, Inc., demanding that they stay off Navajo lands in New Mexico.

Representatives from the Law Center will address a panel of federal judges in Denver asking that the NRC decision to allow mining be set aside.

"The importance of our hearing on May 12 cannot be overstated," said Eric Jantz, Law Center attorney. "We are talking about the land, water, air, and health of two whole communities. There are people on this land grazing their cattle and hauling their daily drinking water." 

As the price of uranium has increased during the past seven years, rising from $7/lb to $68/lb., the state of New Mexico has seen a dramatic rise in the number of exploratory permits requested by mining companies during the past year, with a dozen applications currently under review.

Hydro Resources, Inc. has four proposed mines in the Church Rock-Crownpoint region. In 2006, the NRC approved the license for all four sites. The Law Center filed a lawsuit in 2007 against the NRC to overturn the license, arguing that the commission violated the Atomic Energy Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and its own regulations when it issued decisions on numerous issues. On behalf of its clients, the Law Center is appealing the following points:

• Hydro Resources failed to prove that it will protect groundwater from contamination by uranium and other toxic heavy metals.
• The company failed to ensure that the health of residents near the mines would be protected from damaging radioactive air emissions.
• Hydro Resources' proposed financial bond for the site is inadequate to ensure that the site(s) would be cleaned up in the event that the company is unable to undertake reclamation of the land and/or water impacted by the mining.

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