The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is starting what could be a $1 billion, years-along process to clean up abandoned uranium mines on Navajo Nation land in northern Arizona. There are more than 500 abandoned uranium minds on the sprawling Indian reservation that cuts across northeastern Arizona as well as parts of Utah and New Mexico.
From 1944 to 1986, mining companies extracted more than 30 million tons of uranium from mines on Navajo land. The mining was fueled by the U.S. Cold War with the former Soviet Union and the super powers’s nuclear arms race.
Uranium is key to nuclear weapons and northern Arizona, in particular the Navajo Nation, had deep deposits. Private companies often hired Navajos to work at the mines.
Uranium has been linked to lung, stomach, breast, bone and reproductive cancers as well as kidney failures, sterilizations and birth defects among Navajos.
That includes miners and their families as well as Navajos who didn’t work in the mine but were exposed or impacted via uranium in drinking water and even building materials used to build homes and other buildings.
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