Settlement Reached to Clean Up Navajo Nation Uranium Mines

Cyprus Amax and Western Nuclear have agreed to perform removal site evaluations, engineering evaluations, cost analyses, and cleanups at the 94 mines. In return for that commitment, the United States, on behalf of the Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy, agrees to place $335 million into a trust account to help fund the cleanup.

The U.S. Justice Department and the Navajo Nation announced recently that the United States and the Navajo Nation have entered into a settlement agreement with two affiliated subsidiaries of Freeport-McMoRan, Inc. for the cleanup of 94 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation. Under the settlement, valued at some $600 million, Cyprus Amax Minerals Company and Western Nuclear, Inc., will perform the work and the United States will contribute approximately half of the costs. The settlement terms were outlined in a proposed consent decree filed last week in a federal court in Phoenix, and the funds are now committed to begin the cleanup process at more than 200 abandoned uranium mines.

DOJ said the work to be conducted is subject to oversight by EPA in collaboration with the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency. "This remarkable settlement will result in significant environmental restoration on Navajo lands and will help build a healthier future for the Navajo people," said John C. Cruden, assistant attorney general for DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "We appreciate the extraordinary commitment by Freeport's affiliated subsidiaries to clean up 94 mines and to achieve this settlement without litigation. The Justice Department is always ready to work cooperatively with the Navajo Nation and responsible private parties to address the legacy of uranium mining on Navajo lands."

"This historic settlement will clean up almost twenty percent of the abandoned mines on the Navajo Nation. Cleaning up the uranium contamination continues to be a top environmental priority for our Regional office," said Alexis Strauss, action regional administrator for the EPA Pacific Southwest.

The Navajo Nation encompasses more than 27,000 square miles within Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona, an area rich in uranium. The federal government, through the Atomic Energy Commission, was the sole purchaser of uranium until 1966, when commercial sales of uranium began. The AEC continued to purchase ore until 1970, and the last uranium mine on the Navajo Nation shut down in 1986, according to DOJ.

The settlement agreement resolves the claims of the United States on behalf of EPA against Cyprus Amax and Western Nuclear; of the Navajo Nation against the United States and against Cyprus Amax and Western Nuclear; and of Cyprus Amax and Western Nuclear against the United States. Cyprus Amax and Western Nuclear have agreed to perform removal site evaluations, engineering evaluations, cost analyses, and cleanups at the 94 mines. In return for that commitment, the United States, on behalf of the Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy, agrees to place $335 million into a trust account to help fund the cleanup.

The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.

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