The legacy of uranium mining on Navajo lands | On Point | nuclear

FILE – This Nov. 13, 1975, file photo, shows signs along the Rio Puerco warning residents in three languages to avoid the water in Church Rock, N.M. after a uranium tailings spill. A group representing Navajo communities is presenting its case to an international human rights body, saying U.S. regulators violated the rights of tribal members when they cleared the way for uranium mining in western New Mexico. (AP Photo/SMH,File)

For more than 40 years, millions of tons of Uranium ore were mined from Navajo lands to make nuclear weapons.

Thousands of workers were exposed to deadly radiation. Those workers are about to lose funding to cover their health costs.

“The money will not fix the health problems of the folks behind us, but just and fair compensation will help begin the healing process,” Navajo Nation president Jonathan Nez says.

Radioactive particles are in the dust, the water, in homes. Workers and their children have unusually high levels of radiation exposure.

But efforts to extend and expand benefits for victims have all failed year after year.

“I had one Navajo elder woman who made the trip to Washington D.C. to testify,” Sen. Ben Ray Luján says. “And she asked Congress one simple question, ‘Are you people waiting for us all to die so the problem goes away?’”

Today, On Point: The toxic legacy of uranium mining on Navajo lands.


Phil Harrison, senior consultant with the Navajo Uranium Radiation Victims Committee. He’s a member of the Navajo Nation and was also an underground uranium miner.

Amber Crotty, Navajo Nation council delegate. (@Kanazbah)

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Leslie Begay, a former uranium miner who recently had double lung transplant from radiation exposure.

Sen. Ben Ray Luján, U.S. senator from New Mexico. (@SenatorLujan)

Dr. Kaitlin Kelly-Reif, an epidemiologist at the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Doug Brugge, professor and chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Connecticut.

Transcript: A Former Uranium Miner On The Toxic Legacy Of Radiation Exposure

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: Leslie Begay lives in Coyote Canyon, New Mexico, on the Navajo Nation. He was 21, had served in Vietnam, when he started working in the uranium mines in 1983.

LESLIE BEGAY: It was just a rain jacket, safety glasses and a hardhat. That’s it. That’s all we had. Nothing else. It wouldn’t even matter. Even if you were wearing a spacesuit, it will still get on you.

…(read more


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