Arizona Congressman Tom O’Halleran hosted his second annual Uranium Town Hall meeting on May 30, 2018, at the Cameron Chapter House in Cameron, Arizona. In attendance was one of the five agencies within the Navajo Nation, the Western Agency, which encompasses an estimated 111 abandoned uranium mine sites. The public meeting gave federal and tribal entities an opportunity to provide a brief update on their work on uranium-related issues within the Navajo Nation.
Also in attendance were Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, Navajo Nation Council Delegate Walter Phelps (Cameron, Coalmine Canyon, Birdsprings, Leupp, and Tolani Lake), and Arizona Senator Jamescita Peshlakai. Officials from the Cameron Chapter House, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Navajo EPA, Navajo Abandoned Mine Lands, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Legacy Management (LM), and Navajo Department of Health were also present.
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye discussed the fact that there currently are more than 567 abandoned and unmitigated uranium mines on the Navajo Nation and that uranium mining companies are still seeking mining permits.
When addressing the transportation of uranium across Navajo lands, regardless if these routes run along federal and state highways, he stated, “Our sovereignty needs to be honored. If Navajo law says don’t transport uranium through Navajo lands that should be the final word.”
Representing DOE at the meeting was Mark Kautsky, LM site lead for the Shiprock, New Mexico, Disposal Site and Tuba City, Arizona, Disposal Site. Kautsky addressed LM’s current work on the two former uranium mill sites and the office’s goal of protecting human health and the environment.
He explained that restricting the use of groundwater is necessary near LM’s disposal cells so that communities are not exposed to contamination, as is having grazing restrictions in place.
“I recognize that grazing is an important aspect in Navajo culture,” said Kautsky. “We compensate folks who have historical grazing privileges in those areas.”
He added that LM accomplishes much of its mission, in part, through a cooperative agreement with the Navajo Nation Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action program.
On June 7, 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved an amendment, introduced by Congressman O’Halleran, allocating $1 million from DOE to help clean up abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation.