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Udall: $1 Billion to Clean up Uranium Mines in Navajo Nation a Major Step Toward Repairing Historic Environmental Injustice


Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Senator Tom Udall, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs and Environment and Public Works committees, issued the following statement after the U.S. Department of Justice announced that the U.S. government has entered into a settlement to clean up the toxic remains of abandoned uranium mines in the Navajo Nation and elsewhere. Through the settlement, the defendants - Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and its subsidiary, the Kerr-McGee Corp. - will pay $985 million toward the cleanup of approximately 50 uranium mines in and around the Navajo Nation where where radioactive waste remains from Kerr-McGee mining operations. Additionally, the Navajo Nation will receive more than $43 million to address radioactive waste left at a former uranium mill in Shiprock, N.M. The settlement is the largest environmental enforcement recovery ever by the Justice Department.

"The Cold War took a toll in the West, perhaps most tragically in the Navajo Nation. Over the years, the federal government failed to ensure the safety of uranium workers, their families, and the people affected by the hazards of exposure to radioactive materials. Uranium mining companies emerged overnight, left a legacy of sickness and contamination, and then tried to walk away with impunity.

"Today's settlement helps to right a historic injustice to the Navajo people, the surrounding communities, and the environment. But while this settlement applies to 50 abandoned sites and the radioactive remains left at the Shiprock Mill, an estimated 521 abandoned uranium mines are scattered across the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. This settlement is a big step forward, but even decades after mining operations closed up shop, we still don't know the full scope of contamination. It remains monumental injustice, and I will closely follow the progress of cleanup conducted with these funds and continue the fight until the job is done."

Udall has fought throughout his career for resources to clean up the legacy of uranium mining in New Mexico. In 2013, he introduced a bill with Senator Martin Heinrich to amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to apply to uranium mining. In 2011, as chairman of the EPA Subcommittee on Children's Health and Environmental Responsibility, held an oversight hearing on the status of cleanup operations at legacy uranium mining and milling operations in New Mexico and elsewhere in the United States. Officials from the EPA, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) testified about federal cleanup efforts. Udall has also urged federal agencies to move aggressively on uranium cleanup from his position on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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