The Nuclear Regulatory Commission appears to have slowed its timeline for deciding whether to let another federal agency house uranium-contaminated debris on a mill site it regulates near Church Rock. Local Navajo people and Navajo Nation officials object to the plan, saying the proposal doesn’t move debris far enough away from the community.
“It’s very surprising to me, in a good way,” Eric Jantz, an attorney for the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, said Thursday of the slow down in the commission’s approval process contained in a May 4 letter.
“Typically, the NRC sits back and waits for formal appeals, but this time they got involved at a critical juncture,” said Jantz, who represents the Red Water Pond Road Association, an organization formed by residents who live near two large abandoned mines and the mill site just north of Church Rock. The center has litigated on behalf of the community for decades to force cleanup of abandoned uranium waste and to resist future uranium mining.
The slow down by the commission follows a historic visit in April that NRC commissioners made to the Red Water Pond Road community, about 20 minutes northeast of Gallup. The commissioners wanted to see the mine and mill sites for themselves, and to hear what residents and Navajo officials, including Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, thought.
The EPA plan to move the uranium contaminated mine debris to the mill site, in the works for more than a decade, would clean up one of the largest abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation. It’s one of more than 500 abandoned mines on the Navajo Nation. But it wouldn’t move the debris far, which is why Navajo residents exposed to the mine waste for more than 40 years oppose the plan. Community members at the April visit urged commissioners to not allow the EPA to move the mine debris to the mill site that has itself been undergoing cleanup for years.