Nuclear War: Uranium Mining and Nuclear Tests on Indigenous Lands
Yakima, Colville, Nez Perce, Coeur d'Alene, Spokane, Kalispell, Umatilla, Klickitat
Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state has caused dramatic increases in cancer rates among indigenous peoples. Radioactive gases and fluids released between 1944 and 1977 directly affected fish and wildlife. Eight out of nine reactors at the facility were water-cooled from the Columbia River, affecting the fish that provide food and economic subsistence.
In 1957, Dawn Mining Co. began operating the Midnight Mine only a few miles from the Spokane Reservation in Washington state. The mine was closed in 1981. The leftover uranium mining pits hold contaminated water. One pit has 450 million gallons of contaminated water; another holds 150 million gallons of less contaminated water. A major concern is the contaminated water seeping into Lake Roosevelt.
Havasupai, Kaibab Paiute
Energy Fuels Nuclear is developing Canyon Mine. The Canyon Mine, along with the Sage Mine, will be built on the southern rim of the Grand Canyon. Canyon Mine will disturb 17 acres of land for a 1,400-foot shaft and surface facilities. The site, which sits on top of a major aquifer, is also near the Cataract Creek and could contaminate both bodies of water. The site also lies near and partially on sacred religious lands.
Uranium mining and aboveground nuclear-weapons tests have occurred for about 50 years on and around these reservations. Since 1942, the reservation lands and the surrounding areas of the Navajo and Hopi have been mined for uranium. From 1946 to 1968, 13 million tons of uranium were mined on the Navajo Reservation. The largest underground uranium mine on Navajo and Hopi lands operated from 1979 to 1990. The worst nuclear accident happened at Uranium Mill, which is south of the Navajo Reservation. More than 1,000 open-pit and underground uranium mines on the reservation are abandoned, unreclaimed, and highly radioactive. Some 600 dwellings on Navajo tribal lands are contaminated with radiation. Former uranium mining and milling districts of the Navajo Reservation suffer from cancer and leukemia clusters and birth defects.
Western Shoshone, South Paiute
The Nevada Test Site is in the traditional land-use area of the Western Shoshone and South Paiute. The U.S. government appropriated the land in 1951 for exploding nuclear weapons. The Western Shoshone are the most bombed nation on the earth: 814 nuclear tests have been done on their land since 1951. Substantial radioactive fallout has contributed to a high concentration of cancer and leukemia on the reservation.
Uranium and gold mining occurs in the Black Hills of South Dakota, a sacred area for the Lakota. The U.S. Department of Energy wants to use more of the land for such mining because the area is rich in mineral deposits. Half of the gold mined in the United States each year comes from the Black Hills. The mining sites in the Black Hills could threaten underground water directly underneath the operating mines. Mining is seen as one cause of epidemic levels of sterility, miscarriages, cancer, and other diseases on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Radioactive waste from the Sequoyah Plant in Gore, Oklahoma, was spread on Cherokee lands for testing as fertilizer and demonstration purposes. The Cherokee National and Native Americans for a Clean Environment sued to shut down the plant. The plant was recently shut.
Mescalero Apache, Prairie Island Mdewakanton, Minnesota Siouz, Skull valley Goshutes, Lower Brule, two Alaskan native communities, Chickasaw, Sac and Fox, Eastern Shawnee, Quassarie, Ponca.
These tribes have all applied to be sites for Monitored Retrievable Storage (MRS), a temporary solution to the problem of storing vast amounts of high-level nuclear waste. Such waste now sits at 110 nuclear power plants. The MRS sites would keep the waste for 40-50 years. The safety of these plants is still under question.
Inuit, Chipewyan, Metis, Anishinabe
A German company wants to establish the Baker Lake Mine i the Northwest Territories, 40 miles from an Inuit settlement. The 50 percent unemployment rate in this community gives the company leverage in opening the mine. The project include one uranium mill, two open pits, and tailings covering 20 square miles.
Serpent Lake Band
Rio Algom Corp. opened the Elliot Lake Mine in 1953. The Serpent Lake Band lives directly downriver from the complex and has been affected by uranium mining and its leftover tailings. Until the early 1960s, all waste went untreated. By 1980, so many tailing were being dumped in the headwaters of the Serpent River that liquid wastes during the summer were between half to two-thirds of the total water flow. On the reservation, there are many cases of diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, fetal death, and deafness.
Cree, Chipewyan, Metis
Saskatchewan Province has been called the "Saudi Arabia of Uranium Mining." Four uranium deposits are being mined, the largest of which is Cigar Lake, with estimates it could supply 14,000 tons of uranium annually. Construction is planned to begin in 1994. The other mines in this area are Cluff Lake (now shut), Key Lake (which produces 12 percent of the world's uranium), Beaverlodge, and Rabbit Lake.
From 1975 to 1977, a half million gallons of untreated waste went into Wallaston Lake. Radioactive contaminates still leak into the lake through groundwater channels.
The Roxby Downs Mine/Olympic Dams has one of the world's largest deposits of uranium, producing 1.5 million tons of tailings a year. This affects an area of "mound spring," where artesian water naturally rises to the surface, that has a profound significance to local aborigines. The miners refuse to grant compensation to the aboriginal caretakers of the land for the sacred sites that have been destroyed by mine development. Olympic Dam operates under considerable secrecy and prohibits the Kakatha access to sacred sites without an escot of company personell.
The CRA Company has discovered one of Australia's largest uranium deposits inside Rudall National Park on indigenous lands. The mining would affect a women's sacred dreaming site at Mount Cotten, and mining would be done directly on Martujarra lands. The Martujarra have been unable to stop the mining because they have no property rights to their land.
Workers at the Argyle Diamond Mine smashed several ceremonial boards at Noonkanbah while searching for diamonds and uranium. Noonkanbah is a sacred site for the Yungnora. The Yungnora community was able to prevent more prospecting by blocking 98 out of 101 CRA-proposed sites. This pressured CRA to move out of the other three spots, including Noonkanbah.
Ranger Mine operates adjacent to aboriginal sacred sites at Mount Bockman and is surrounded by the Kakadu National Park.
Nabarlek Mine, located in the Northern Territory, is on aboriginal lands and adjacent to an aboriginal sacred site. In March 1981, contaminated water escaped from the plant's runoff pond at Nabarlek and entered the creek system of the Buffalo and Coopers creeks.
From 1952 to 1963, the United Kingdom exploded nine aboveground nuclear bombs in Emu, Monte Bello, and Maralinga, affecting 11 aboriginal tribes. Radioactive contamination was widespread, and entry into large contaminated areas is still prohibited.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL AMERICA
Yanomami, Yekuana, Munduruku, Kayapo, Bau-Megragnoti, Menkranotire
Uranium mining companies are moving into indigenous lands, where the Yanomami pose an obstacle. Brazil's then-president, Fernando Collor, had allowed the companies to mine and exploit radio-active minerals in almost all the Yanomami territory.
Shuar, Archuara, Cfan, Huaorani, Quechua, Secoya, Siona
These groups in Ecuador are encountering various problems with uranium mining and exploration on their lands.
Mapuche, Techueleche, Chaco, Mataco, Choroti, Toba, Mocobi, Pilaga, Chrguanos, Chinguancos, Quenchua.
In Argentina, Mapuche Uranium Mine and the Chubut Uranium Mine re situated on traditional Techuelche and Mapuche territory. The government also dumps nuclear waste from its military and civilian nuclear programs on indigenous territories.
The Peruvian Nuclear Energy Institute, with the assistance of other countries, has been exploring Peru's uranium resources. The government has the right to explore and develop uranium fields located on indigenous lands.
From 1960 to 1965, France conducted aboveground nuclear-weapons tests in the Sahara desert, but it has released no information on contamination or on the people affected. There are also large deposits of uranium in the Hoggar Mountains that if mined are potentially harmful to the Tamacheq and other indigenous peoples.
Uranium is the major export of Niger, amounting to 90 percent of the country's 1980s exports. Niger's infrastructure is centered around uranium mining. The mining occurs mostly in the desert region, which not only causes ecological damage to the land but also affects nomadic tribes.
The world's largest phosphate resources are in Morocco. The mining of phosphate intersects the traditional migration routes of the Beduin.
The world's second-largest open-pit uranium mine is in Namibia, owned by the Rossing Co. Most of the mining is done by hundreds of Ovambo laborers who live in neo-colonial housing villages and work under an apartheid management system. They are exposed to high levels of radiation from radon gases. There are concerns that water-borne radiation from tailings left from mining operations could contaminate the Khar River.
The French Atomic Energy Commission started searching for uranium in Gabon in 1948. Mining began in 1961. The now closed Okla mine was in an area originally inhabited by the Bambuti.
Khoikhoi, Bantu-speaking groups
South Africa has conducted one known nuclear-weapons test, on September 22, 1979. South Africa has three principal uranium deposits: Palaborwa, Witwatersrand, and Karoo Basin (Cape Province). The Bantu-speaking peoples are exposed to the hazards of mining and radioactive emissions from tailings because they work in these mines or have settlements nearby. South Africa is one of the world's largest producers of uranium and platinum-group metals. The mining industry is relatively unregulated, which results in many environmental problems, especially for black communities where mining smelters spew sulfur dioxide and toxic air pollutants. The traditional territory of the Khoikhoi in Northern Cape Province is slated to be a dump for radio-active materials.
FORMER SOVIET UNION
Kazakh, Khanti, Mamsi, Evenk, Yakut, Chukchee, Eskimosy
The former Soviet Union conducted at least 713 nuclear-bomb tests above and below ground at many sites, affecting many indigenous peoples. The two main testing and nuclear sites are located at Semiplantinsk in Kazakhstan and Antic Island of Novaya Zemlya in Siberia. Although the government conducted no known health-effects research, it can be assumed that radioactive fallout affected local indigenous peoples. The Chukchee suffer from tuberculosis, 90 percent have chronic diseases of the lung, and the average life expectancy is 45 years.
Ho, Santal, and Mundu
Judugara Mine produces 200 tons of yellow cake annually and affects the Ho, Santal, and Mundu. Many workers in the mine are tribal people who are illiterate and are forced to do the dirtiests jobs. They are exposed to high levels of radiation and don't have the proper protective gear. Many indigenous miners suffer from a high incidence of lung disease.
Rajasthani and Bhil
The one confirmed nuclear underground test in 1974 in India caused the Rajathani and Bhil tribes to move from their traditional lands.
Uigur, Kazakh, Kirghiz, Xibo, Tadzhik, Uzbek, Tatar, Western Mongols, Tibetan
All these peoples are affected in one way or another by uranium mining, bomb testing, and nuclear waste disposal. Uranium mines are scattered all over China. An "atomic factory" planned in the Gobi desert will affect such minorities as Mongols, Muslim Dugans, and Hui Chinese. Some of the world's richest uranium sources are located in Tibet, but the area is generally unsuitable for large-scale uranium mining. One hot spot for uranium mining in Tibet is the Riwoche Hill, a sacred site to Tibetans.
In May 1982, Taiwan started to dump low-level radioactive waste on the island of Lanyu, which is populated by 2,900 Yami. The first dump site is two miles from their villages. Strong opposition has mounted among the Yami against the establishment of a second nuclear dump. Ironically, Taiwan plans to establish its fifth national park in the vicinity of the dumps.
In the 1940s and 1950s, the United States used Bikini, Enewetak, and Johnson atolls and Christmas Island for testing nuclear weapons. Among the short-term effects on the indigenous people were nausea, vomiting, and hair loss. Four weeks after tests, the white-blood-cell counts of many islanders were down 70 percent. The long-term health effects include high rates of cancers, miscarriages, birth defects, leukemia, and thyroid tumors. Four decades later, the people of Bikini Atoll are unable to return home, despite U.S. government promises that their homeland would be inhabitable again; the level of radioactive contamination is still too high.
Moruroa and Fangataufa
In 1966, France started testing nuclear weapons in French Polynesia.
Judith L. Boice, "Searching for Uranium in Western Australia," Campaign for Indigenous Peoples Worldwide, 1993.
Julian Burger, Gaia Atlas of First People, Anchor Books, 1990; Future for the Indigenous World, Gaia Books, 1990.
Kimberly Craven, "Information Compiled for the World Uranium Hearing Briefing Book," Southwest Research and Information Center, 1992.
High Country News, December 1990.
IWGIA Newsletter No. 28/29, 1981; Survival International, Press Release, September 23, 1986.
Ester Krumbholz and Frank Kressing, Uranium Mining, Atomic Weapons Testing, Nuclear Waste Storage: A Global Survey, World Uranium Hearing, 1992.
Arjun Makhijani, Radioactive Heaven and Earth, International Commission to Investigate the Health and Environmental Effects of Nuclear Weapons Production and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, 1991.
"Minority Trends Newsletter," Summer 1992.
Monitor Service, September 14, 1987 and May 5, 1988.
Roger Moody, The Indigenous Voice: Visions and Realities, Vol. 1, Zed Books, 1988.
Roger Moody, Plunder! Native Nevadan, June 1992.
Roger Moody, paper submitted to the World Uranium Hearing, 1990.
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John Redhouse, "Overview of Uranium and Nuclear Development on Indian Lands in the Southwest," Redhouse/Wright Productions, 1992.
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Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.