Living in Peace and Wisdom on our Planet

  My Profile  Log In   Register Free Now   
Living in Peace and Wisdom on our Planet Planet Thoughts Advanced       Click to see one of our videos, chosen at random from the database, along with its PlanetThought
 Try a video
Home   About   Books&Media   Resources   Contact  
   News   Quote   Review   Story   Tip   All   Blogs   News   Quotes   Reviews   Stories   Tips
Get Email or Web Quotes
or use our RSS feeds:
New Feed:  Fossil Fuel
 Full  Blog  News
Read & Comment:
A Solar Community In Isr...
'Let's You And Him Fight...
Paul Krugman's Errors An...
Why Climate Change Is An...

Most recent comments:
From Farm To Fork
A Simple List: Things We...
Can the affluent rest at...

Bookmark the site
Contribute $
Easy link from your site
Visit Second Life
Visit SU Blog

By Beyonder 1

Thirty years ago this week - on July 16 - the worst accidental release of radioactive waste happened at the Church Rock uranium mine and mill site. While the Three Mile Island accident (that same year) is well known, the enormous radioactive spill in New Mexico has been kept quiet. It is the U.S. nuclear accident that almost no one knows about. [note: see the video for an earlier nuclear accident - ed.]

On July 16, 1979, just 14 weeks after the Three Mile Island reactor accident, and 34 years to the day after the Trinity atomic test, the small community of Church Rock, New Mexico became the scene of another nuclear tragedy.

Ninety million gallons of liquid radioactive waste, and eleven hundred tons of solid mill wastes, burst through a broken dam wall at the Church Rock uranium mill facility, creating a flood of deadly effluents that permanently contaminated the Puerco River.

No one knows exactly how much radioactivity was released into the air during the Three Mile Island accident. The site monitors were shut down after their measurements of radioactive releases went off the scale.

But the American public knows even less about the Church Rock spill and, five weeks after it occurred, the mine and mill operator, United Nuclear Corporation, was back in business at Church Rock as if nothing had happened. Today, the Church Rock accident is acknowledged as likely the largest single release of radioactive contamination ever to take place in U.S. history (outside of the atomic bomb tests).

Why is the Church Rock spill – that washed into gullies, contaminated fields and the animals that grazed there, and made drinking water deadly – so anonymous in the annals of our nuclear history? Perhaps the answer lies in where it took place and who it affected.

Church Rock was a small farming community of Native Americans, mainly Navajo, eking out a subsistence living off the arid Southwestern land. Nearby, several hundred million gallons of liquid uranium mill tailings were sitting in a pond waiting for evaporation to leave behind solid tailings for storage. On the morning of July 16, 1979, part of the dam wall collapsed, releasing a roaring flood of radioactivity. It was both a predicted and preventable failing. But steps were never taken to avert the disaster.

UNC CEO, David Hann, in later Congressional hearings, described the accident as "a risk, and we undertook this." Several state regulatory agencies had remained silent in the face of warnings by UNC's own consultant that the dam, as constructed, was vulnerable. When cleanup was demanded, UNC completed removal of just one percent of the spilled tailings and liquids. Stagnant pools, where children played, were found to have levels of radiation 100 to 500 times natural background. Sheep and goats were too contaminated to eat. Wells and other drinking water sources were shut down.

However, the accident happened "far from civilization" in a remote area inhabited by possibly the most poverty-stricken and disenfranchised community of people in the country – Native Americans. The massacres and smallpox blankets were over, but another deliberate act of racially-based discrimination – the avoidable radioactive contamination of the Navajo community and likely well beyond it – went unpunished and largely unreported.

Today, the Three Mile Island Accident is remembered, marked and rightly alluded to as a further example of the deadly risks of nuclear power. Rarely is the Church Rock anniversary either known or noted. The long-term effects of this enormous level of radioactive contamination are not yet fully measurable given that health effects resulting from radiation exposure can take decades to appear and can affect future generations.Native American lands in the Southwest are riddled with disused uranium mine and mill sites. The communities have observed high levels of kidney diseases and cancers. Yet only one population-based epidemiological study of health effects associated with uranium mining has ever been conducted on the Navajo Nation. No health study has ever been carried out in the Church Rock area.

Instead, Uranium Resources Inc., which took over the property from UNC, is proposing to open a new, in-situ leach uranium mine at Church Rock. History is only waiting to repeat itself.


Related reading:
  Why Should Nuke Guarantees Cost Less Than Home O... (Jul-5-2012)
  Obama's Atomic Solyndra? (Apr-18-2012)
  Fukushima Disaster Contaminated Ocean With 50 Mi... (Dec-16-2011)
  Protective Flood Berm Collapse At Ft Calhoun Nuc... (Jun-28-2011)
  ""Sandbags" and "nuclear power pla..." (Jun-28-2011)
  Let's Join Japan & Junk New Nukes (May-11-2011)
  Will The Nuclear Power Industry Melt Down? (Apr-29-2011)
  "There's never been a death because of radiation ..." (Apr-29-2011)
  Could A Solar Green White House Finally Face The... (Oct-15-2010)
  On Being A Pro-Nuclear Environmentalist (Oct-7-2010)

Click one tag to see readings related specifically to that tag; click "Tags" to see all related readings
^ top
Add a comment    
  Follow the comments made here? 
  (Please log in or register free to follow comments)
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Jul-21-2009)   
Yes, David. Many people believe that they can hoard gold instead of money or hide away someplace. When food becomes the new currency, many of our preconceptions about how money works and where it comes from will evaporate in a puff of logic.
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Jul-21-2009)   Web site

Thanks for your insights on the specific choices that can be made regarding fruit and other crops. I find it quite unfortunate that the world is still ruled primarily by commercial thinking rather than by benefit to society and individuals. It appears that may only change dramatically when we are all feeling the encroachment of hunger and poverty.
Comment by: MarySaunders (Mary Saunders) (Jul-19-2009)   

The biocide part of this story is yet to be told. One of the highest miscarriage rates in the nation is that of the Shoalwater tribes in Washington. Horrific herbicides have been sprayed directly in the water where they fish, to rid the shores of a seagrass called Spartina. This grass is cared for and applauded in the Potomac, yet herbicides are sprayed, at taxpayer expense, in Willapa Bay in which the surfactants alone are alarming, even before you get to the active ingredients. Different ones are used on the cranberry crop, and the water from that gets into the bay. Some day this story will be told, when enough wealthy people are harmed to stop this. Already, the cranberry trade is having trouble. It is widely known that it is one of the most likely to be contaminated fruit. People who know this turn to other fruits, and there are many to turn to. Goumi fixes nitrogen and makes delicious berries. It needs no fertilizer. Growing this fruit is better for the land than using expensive and toxic substances. Unfortunately, corporations fund ag departments at universities. They pay professors and interns. It makes it difficult for independent scientists who must beg for funds to try to save lives.
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Jul-18-2009)   

The problem with the "national security" argument is that nobody ever questions whether we need to have a nation at all, let alone whether a country full of gun nuts (myself included) needs to be defended from the Red Menace or the Yellow Hordes.
We do not have a military to defend Americans. We have a military to pursue American Interests, which means corporate interests.
Without the business and government collaborations that suck the life out of us and the planet, we would all be "just folk", with a few skirmishes here and there. People who live locally don't really care what the government or corporations say because they don't need Them.
(As per: )
A conservative that wants less government or a liberal that wants less corporate destruction can have both by doing things for themselves and through cooperation with neighbors rather than competition for faux 'causes' (especially the monetary ones) that are contrived by someone farther up the opportunistic ladder.
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Jul-18-2009)   Web site

Yes and yes. Once in a while it is indeed national security -- and most of the time it is imposters taking a ride on the guise of national security. They follow their own doom down, accomplishing nothing but damaging their own lives and those around them.
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Jul-18-2009)   

Another example of how far radioctive nuclear power can go wrong at almost any stage of the process from cradle to grave.

Another reason it was kept so quiet is probably related to the military applications and "national security": always the catch-all phrase that allows the biggest frauds to be buried in plain sight.

^ top 
About author/contributor GuestWriter welcomes occasional articles and opinion pieces from writers who are not regular contributors. Their contributions will be listed under the "GuestWriter" name, and additional attribution will be shown in accordance with the agreement with the original writer and source of the PlanetThought.

Visit Green Wave Email Marketing
Email Marketing for You and Your Planet

We won a Gotham Green Award for 2010, on Earth Day! Thank you Gotham Networking for this award.

See the attractive event brochure.

Recommended Sites

  Member of:
GOtham Green networking
Green Collar Economy
New York Academy of Sciences
Shades of Green Network

     Members/Affiliates *

Approaching the Limits
    to Growth
Environmental News Network
Heroin and Cornflakes

* Members of PlanetThoughts      
  communities on SU or MBL,      
  and blog article affiliates      

  Other Favorite Blogs
21st Century Citizen
Center for Bio. Diversity
Easy Ways to Go Green
Good Bags
Opposing Views

Valid my RSS feeds

We Do Follow

  Volunteer      Terms of Use      Privacy Policy  

Copyright © 2023 All Rights Reserved.
Except for blog items by David Alexander: Some Rights Reserved.