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NRC Joins Five Other Agencies in Addressing Uranium Contamination on the Navajo Nation

Dominick Orlando
Senior Project Manager

 

Navajo coverLast year, after five years of work to reduce risks from uranium contamination on territory that is part of the Navajo Nation, the NRC, along with four other federal agencies, reported on our progress to Congress. This week, the five federal agencies issued a plan that spells out how we’ll continue coordinating that work for the next five years.

 The agencies’ second Five-Year Plan builds on lessons learned from the first five years. It reflects new information and defines the next steps to address the most significant risks to human health and the environment. The new plan commits us to working together to reduce these risks and find long-term solutions.

 In October 2007, Congress asked the agencies to develop a plan to address the contamination on Navajo land, which dates back to the 1940s when uranium was in high demand. The Navajo Nation had large uranium deposits but regulations were not what they are today and mining companies left extensive contamination requiring cleanup. Legislation and new regulatory provisions were put in place to address these issues.

 The 2013 report capped off a five-year program the agencies conducted, in consultation with Navajo and Hopi tribal officials, to address uranium contamination on their land. Part of this work was government-to-government consultations with the Navajo.

 The program was a joint effort among EPA, the NRC, the Department of Energy, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Centers for Disease Control and the Indian Health Service. It focused on collecting data, identifying the most imminent risks, and addressing contaminated structures, water supplies, mills, dumps, and mines with the highest levels of radiation. We also learned more about the scope of the problem and the work that still remains.

 The NRC’s role is to oversee the work done by DOE, which is the long-term custodian for three sites storing uranium mill tailings—a sandy waste left over from processing uranium—and one former processing site. We do that by reviewing and, if acceptable, concurring on DOE’s plans to clean up contaminated groundwater, visiting the sites to evaluate how DOE is performing long-term care activities, and reviewing DOE’s performance and environmental reports.

 We will work closely with EPA, DOE, the New Mexico Environment Department, and the Navajo during the cleanup of the Northeast Church Rock site—which EPA and Navajo officials identified as the highest priority site for cleanup. The NRC will also be part of outreach activities detailed in the plan, including participating in stakeholder workshops and contributing, as appropriate, to educational and public information activities.

 Five years from now, we look forward to being able to say that with close coordination among all the parties, we have continued to make major progress in addressing concerns about uranium contamination.

4 responses to “NRC Joins Five Other Agencies in Addressing Uranium Contamination on the Navajo Nation

  1. Jan Boudart October 5, 2014 at 9:58 am

    (sarcastic comment ahead) I guess the industry didn’t know that uranium was radioactive and the precautions should have been taken from the beginning.

    Why, why, why was this allowed to happen?

  2. CaptD September 30, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    One thing about ☢ contamination is that it is the “gift” that keeps on giving, at least as seen from the point of view of those that get paid to deal with it.

    I think it would be wise to insert large penalties (paid by posted bonds) into all contracts that deal with potential radioactive contamination, so that if one occurs, those that caused it will not just be able to change their Corp. name and leave the US Gov’t. (and all US tax payers) on the hook for it!

    If my suggestion was implemented, then I believe that it would save taxpayers huge amounts of money, since the nuclear Industry would be force to work more carefully!

  3. Moderator September 30, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    The report discussed in this blog post is the 2014-2018 plan for addressing uranium contamination on the Navajo Nation. Information on the progress from 2007 to 2012 can be found in the 2013 report at:
    http://www.epa.gov/region9/superfund/navajo-nation/pdf/NavajoUraniumReport2013.pdf

    Maureen Conley

  4. Norman Pierce September 29, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    If I read you article correctly, then I surmise that no work on cleanup has been done in the first 5 years and the progress you report is in planning that is well informed and coordinated.

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