U.S. Water News Online
SANTA FE, N.M.-- A Nuclear Regulatory Commission judge has
endorsed a mining company's plan to extract uranium near two Navajo
Nation communities in northwestern New Mexico.
Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining has raised concerns
about possible groundwater pollution at four proposed mining sites
near Church Rock and Crownpoint.
New Mexico-based Hydro Resources Inc. has asked the NRC for
permits to inject chemicals into the ground to release uranium and
pump the solution to the surface.
The anti-mining group is concerned about how the mining, called
in-situ leaching, would affect an aquifer that supplies drinking
water to surrounding communities.
The aquifer "is the sole source of drinking water for about 15,000
people, almost all of them Navajo," said Doug Meiklejohn, an attorney
for the New Mexico Environmental Law Center in Santa Fe, which
represents the group.
Craig Bartels of Corrales, president of Hydro Resources, said his
company would not pollute the groundwater.
He accused the law center of milking the issue for fund-raising
The NRC staff and NRC Judge E. Roy Hawkens have ruled against the
challenges to Hydro Resources' plan, Bartels said.
"Any reasonable technical person who looks at this finds in our
favor," Bartels said. "So any reasonable person who looks at this has
to say that what they're presenting is not correct."
Eric Jantz, a staff attorney for the law center, said Hawkens'
recent ruling on three sites will be appealed to the full commission.
Another NRC judge in 1999 ruled in favor of the company on a
fourth proposed site, Jantz said. "That's already been appealed and
we lost," he said.
Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. on April 29 signed
legislation that bans uranium mining and processing on the tribe's
The law will probably apply to two of four proposed uranium mining
sites -- one in the Church Rock area and one in the Crownpoint area,
The law might or might not apply to two other sites -- also in the
Church Rock and Crownpoint areas, he said.
"If they are considered within state jurisdiction, the uranium ban
won't apply," he said. "If they are determined to be within Indian
country, the ban would apply."
The 1999 ruling affected one of the Church Rock sites that might
be affected by the Navajo Nation's uranium mining ban, Jantz said.
The anti-mining group could fight the company's efforts in other
possible arenas, including the state level, Jantz said.
The NRC is looking only at licensing issues "and sort of puts
blinders on to everything else" including the tribe's mining ban,
Hawkens has three more issues to decide -- air emissions, mining
effects on cultural properties and the National Environmental Policy
Act, Jantz said.
The company also needs to obtain aquifer exemptions and
underground injection control permits, he said.
Jantz said he expects the company to secure all its necessary
permits by the end of the year.
"It's my understanding and my sense of things since the elections
of last year, that all nuclear licenses are on the fast track," he
Bartels said the company expects to begin mining operations within
a few years, once it addresses the permitting issues and constructs
The price of uranium has climbed from about $7.50 a pound five
years ago to about $30 a pound today, he said.
The price increase has fired interest in new mining efforts,
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