30th Anniversary Commemoration of Church Rock Uranium Tailings Spill

July 10, 2009

Thursday, July 16th marks the 30-year anniversary of the uranium tailings spill in Church Rock, New Mexico. The accident released the second largest amount of radiation into the environment.

The Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment (MASE) has organized an event in order to honor and remember the Dine' communities affected by the huge spill and to take the occasion to reaffirm the Navajo Nation's ban on uranium mining and processing that was set forth in the Dine' Natural Resources Protection Act of 2005. MASE is a coalition of community groups affected by uranium mining who are committed to renewable energy development.

On the morning of July 16th, 1979, an earthen tailings dam at the United Nuclear Corporation Church Rock Uranium Mill failed, spilling large amounts of liquid radioactive waste into the Puerco River in New Mexico, which eventually flowed downstream into Arizona. The incident came on the heels of the March 1979 Three Mile Island disaster. The lesser-known Church Rock spill released significantly more radiation into the environment than the Three Mile Island accident. The Church Rock spill is second only to the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown for the amount of radiation released from an accident.

The spill contributed to the long-term contamination already present in the Puerco River watershed from the release of untreated or poorly treated uranium mine water into the river. The commemorative event serves as a reminder that the Dine' communities throughout the area still carry the burden of the uranium legacy to this day.

Last month, 27 years after the closing of the Northeast Church Rock Mine, a formal cleanup plan was finally issued to take care of hazards left behind. MASE groups are still pushing state and federal agencies for a comprehensive plan to address the uranium legacy.

As more uranium companies are looking to open new mines, many of which would be build on indigenous and sacred lands, it is important to remember the impacts that such operations have on surrounding communities.

The 30th Anniversary Commemoration of the Church Rock Uranium Tailings Spill will take place on Thursday, July 16th from 7 am to 9 pm in Church Rock. The daylong commemoration begins with a prayer walk along State Road 566 from Red Water Pond Road to the site of the spill across from the United Nuclear Corporation uranium mill. Prayers for healing will be offered at the beginning of the walk and at the spill site. The walk will end at the ranch of Larry J. King, where a press conference reaffirming the Navajo Nation's ban on uranium mining will be held. A luncheon and a film showing with a panel discussion will follow the press conference.

Nadine Padilla, an MASE organizer, said, "We have to remember the devastating legacy of uranium mining and how it has affected our people and environment. We can never allow uranium mining again in our communities."

For more information, please call 505 240-3104 or visit the Southwest Research and Information Center web site at http://www.sric.org/Churchrock. Click on "Event Agenda" on the left side of the page for details.

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