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Settlement for cleanup of 94 abandoned uranium mines on Navajo Nation

Staff Writer |
The United States and the Navajo Nation have entered into a settlement agreement with two affiliated subsidiaries of Freeport-McMoRan for the cleanup of 94 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation.

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Under the settlement, valued at over $600 million, Cyprus Amax Minerals Company and Western Nuclear, Inc., will perform the work and the United States will contribute approximately half of the costs.

The settlement terms are outlined in a proposed consent decree filed today in federal court in Phoenix, Arizona. With this settlement, funds are now committed to begin the cleanup process at over 200 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation.

The work to be conducted is subject to oversight of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in collaboration with the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency.

The Navajo Nation encompasses more than 27,000 square miles within Utah, New Mexico and Arizona in the Four Corners area

The unique geology of the region makes the Navajo Nation rich in uranium, a radioactive ore in high demand after the development of atomic power and weapons at the close of World War II.

Many private entities, including Cyprus Amax, a successor-in-interest to Vanadium Corporation of America and Climax Uranium Company, and Western Nuclear, mined approximately thirty million tons of uranium ore on or near the Navajo Nation between 1944 and 1986.

The federal government, through the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), was the sole purchaser of uranium until 1966, when commercial sales of uranium began. The AEC continued to purchase ore until 1970. The last uranium mine on the Navajo Nation shut down in 1986.

Many Navajo people worked in and near the mines, often living and raising families in close proximity to the mines and mills where ore was processed.

Since 2008, federal agencies—including EPA, the Department of Energy, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Department of the Interior, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Indian Health Service—have collaborated to address uranium contamination on the Navajo Nation.

The federal government has invested more than $130 million to address the legacy of abandoned uranium mines on Navajo lands.

PA has also compiled a list of 46 “priority mines” for cleanup and performed stabilization or cleanup work at 9 of those mines.

Further, EPA’s cleanup efforts have generated over 100 jobs for Navajo citizens and work for several Navajo owned businesses. The settlement announced today includes 10 priority mines and is expected to create many jobs for Navajo workers.

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