Native Sun News: Walk hits uranium mining sites on reservations

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Participants in the NPT Peace Walk For A Nuclear Free Future travel through Cameron, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation. Photo from Facebook

Buddhists visit Navajo, Hopi radioactive sites on U.S. Prayer Walk For Peace
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. –– Buddhist pacifists on a U.S. Prayer Walk for Peace and a nuclear-free future culminated a tour April 9 of Navajo and Hopi lands negatively impacted by uranium mining.

According to the walk’s leader, Buddhist nun Jun-san Yasuda, the visit was part of a cross-country journey is an effort to bring an urgent message to the American people and the United Nations about “the constant and worsening use of the nuclear materials and technology.”

Participants consist of people from around the world, including some Japanese survivors of the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant meltdown and disaster that began in March 2011 when a tidal wave unleashed the largest nuclear incident since the Ukraine’s Chernobyl plant radioactive release in 1986.

“Seventy years since the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we have since learned their full impact, not just on the residents of those cities but on places and people where the uranium was mined, the bombs tested, the waste stored,” notes the Peace Walk’s statement of purpose.

Linking actions to the U.N. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty talks, “We will visit Native American communities where people continue to suffer from all the stages of the nuclear chain,” it states.

The mobilization is organized by members of the Nipponzan Myōhōji, a small Nichiren Buddhist order that is actively engaged in the global peace movement. The group is the most pacifistic of seven religious movements in Japan, according to academic survey results.

Monks, nuns and followers beat hand drums while chanting and walk throughout the world promoting peace and non-violence.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is an international mandate for the prevention and elimination of nuclear weapons. Every five years, nuclear-armed states hold a review conference at the United Nations to work on the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

The 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons has been scheduled for April 27 to May 22, 2015, at U.N. Headquarters in New York.

Article IV of the treaty promotes “peaceful use of nuclear technology,” however, the level of radioactive exposures in regions of abandoned uranium mines and other nuclear installations have been destructive and deadly in many instances, promoters of the Walk for Peace say.

“This walk hopes to bring this strong message before the nuclear power states,” they said in a written statement.

They launched the action on March 21 on the shore of the Pacific Ocean just outside of San Francisco, and departed from Flagstaff on April 5 for the Navajo-Hopi portion of their tour, which ended at Big Mountain, a Navajo-Hopi center of resistance to extreme energy extraction.

“The walk in northern Arizona was: to first recognize how natives and non-natives are confronted with, knowingly or unaware, the uranium mining developments near the Grand Canyon,” organizers said.

The uranium mine in the Red Butte Traditional Cultural Property of the Havasupai Tribe of Arizona. The Grand Canyon sits six miles to the north. Photo by Bruce Gordon / Ecoflight

On April 7, a U.S. District Court judge denied a request to halt new uranium mining at the Canyon Uranium Mine, located six miles from Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim. The Havasupai tribe and a coalition of conservation groups had challenged the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to allow Energy Fuels Inc. to reopen the mine without initiating or completing formal tribal consultations and without updating an obsolete federal environmental review dating to 1986.

At stake are tribal cultural values, wildlife and endangered species, and the risk of toxic uranium mining waste contaminating the aquifers and streams that sustain the Grand Canyon and Colorado River, according to the non-profit Center for Biological Diversity.

“This uranium project could haunt the Grand Canyon region for decades to come,” said Katie Davis of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Uranium mining leaves a highly toxic legacy that endangers human health, wildlife and the streams and aquifers that feed the Grand Canyon,” she said in a written release April 8.

She said it is “disappointing” to see the federal government “prioritizing the extraction industry over the long-term protection of a place as iconic as the Grand Canyon.”

Havasupai Tribal Chairman Rex Tilousi, said the tribal government wants more consultation from the U.S. Forest Service under the National Historic Preservation Act “before they let the mining company damage Red Butte, one of our most sacred traditional cultural properties.”

The Havasupai Tribal Council was set to meet this week to talk about appealing the ruling.

Roger Clark of The Grand Canyon Trust called the decision “bad news” for protecting Grand Canyon and tribal sacred sites.

“Over the last two decades, we’ve learned how uranium mining can pollute aquifers that feed canyon springs and Havasu Falls,” he said in the April 8 statement.

He complained that the Forest Service “has ignored that information and failed to require Energy Fuels to take reasonable steps to prevent contamination of water, sacred sites and public lands.”

The would-be developer, Energy Fuels was responsible for 25 percent of all uranium mining in the United States in 2013, according to the Toronto-based company’s information. It operates the only conventional uranium mill in the United States, located in White Mesa, Utah.

It also claims a suite of uranium mining properties in Utah’s Henry Mountains.

In Wyoming, it has the Sheep Mountain, Gas Hills and Juniper Ridge mining projects. In New Mexico, it shares the Roca Honda uranium mining project with Sumitomo Corp. of Japan.

In Arizona, it is producing uranium at the Pinenut strip mine and seeking permits for the EZ Complex strip mines, as well as developing Canyon Mine.

On the map of the peace walk were visits to Cameron and Tuba City where Navajos and Hopis are experiencing water contamination from living next to abandoned uranium mines for decades.

(Contact Talli Nauman, NSN Health and Environment Editor at

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