Arizona dream and nuclear reality
The uranium boom of the 1940s made mines sprout like mushrooms in parts of Arizona. Eventually the need for nuclear fuel declined and after decades the facilities were abandoned, and left to contaminate the environment.
This North-East part of Arizona encompasses part of America’s Navajo nation. Native American governed territory, rich in uranium, but ruined by America’s demand for it.
“It’s a different world. We don’t have money. We don’t have the funds the people from the dominant society have. We also have conditions we’re trying to live through. Like living in the abandoned uranium areas here and drinking the contaminated waters that we have drank,” says Faye, a Navajo Nation Citizen from Blackmesa, Arizona.
Beginning in 1944, nearly four million tons of uranium ore were extracted from Navajo lands, under the auspices of private companies and the US government. The radioactive resource was in high demand for development of atomic power.
After four decades, corporations closed shop but neglected to clean up. Abandoned mines, homes, and drinking water were left contaminated with elevated levels of radiation. Residents were left behind to battle deteriorating health conditions.
Elsee Tohomie an Old Woman of the Navajo Nation, says that her knees are aching and walking became difficult for her.
“I’ve been diagnosed with some form of cancer. I feel pain below my chin.I’m taking medication now,” she says.
US officials say radionuclides in the air and drinking water have been linked to thousands of cases of lung cancer, bone cancer and impaired kidney function.
“This is for my eyes. This is the one I need to take for high blood pressure. This is what I take for my thyroids,” says forty year old cancer survivor Rolanda, also a resident of Blackmesa. Arizona.
Rolanda, a mother of three, says the people of the Navajo nation have been exploited by corporations and abandoned by their government.
“You have no generation. There’s nothing after me. My daughter don’t want to have kids cause she says they’re gonna come out deformed. My son don’t want to have kids. But I have one that has kids, but there’s problems,” she says.
In 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency launched a five year plan to clean up the Navajo nation, which included five hundred abandoned sites extending to Utah and New Mexico.Twice a month, fresh drinking water is delivered to some 54,000 citizens.
Contaminated homes have been rebuilt and people relocated. But many still say federal officials have fallen short were it really matters, helpingto rebuild a decent quality of life.
Raymond "Don" Yellowman, a Leader and Activist Nee-Navajo from Tuba City, Arizona, says that "the communities [are] still suffering the effects of uranium and other metals. There are no roads, no education and no opportunities for young people.”
“I’ll be here. I don’t have a place to go. I don’t have a choice,” says John, Navajo Nation Citizen of Tuba City, Arizona.