Monday, March 21, 2011

Navajo activists for another way, beyond coal and nuclear, after Japan

Lori Goodman of Diné CARE, lifelong environmental
activist, of Citizens saUnited Against Ruining
Our Environment, and the Navajo Nation.
Photo:  Craig Barrett

KPFA Weekend News Anchor Anthony Fest:  In 1979, the same year as the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the Navajo Nation suffered the worst uranium mining accident in U.S. history, when 1100 tons of mining tailings and 100 million gallons of radioactive water burst through an earthen dam, into the Rio Puerco, at a uranium mine in Church Rock, New Mexico on the Navajo Reservation.  

In 2005, the Navajo Nation passed the world's first and only indigenous ban on uranium mining, but mining corporations and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have attempted to ignore or override that ban.  KPFA's Ann Garrison spoke to lifelong Navajo environmentalist Lori Goodman, with Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment about the Navajo response to the Japanese nuclear catastrophe:  

KPFA/Ann Garrison:  Lori, how have the Navajo people reacted to the Japanese nuclear power catastrophe?

The Navajo Reservation is 26,000 square miles, in
Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico.   With a quarter
million people, it is the largest native nation in
the U.S.
Lori Goodman:  Well, the Navajo people understand what's happening in Japan, and that the situation that they're in is because of the electrical power that they were receiving, in that case from a nuclear power plant.  And, in the case of the Navajo people, we have two of the largest coal-fired and most polluting power plants in the western United States on the Navajo Nation.  And so they see that as one and the same, and they also understand that there's a better way to generate electricity, by harnessing the sun and the wind.

KPFA:  What is the stage of your renewable energy proposal.  A lot of intellectual infrastructure but no capital source---is that still the case?

Lori Goodman:   Ah, yes, it is.  We really need the California ratepayers to go back and say "OK, we will buy energy from the Navajo Nation, from renewable energy sources."

KPFA:  And are the mining corporations and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission still pressuring you, trying to ignore or override the historic uranium mining ban?

Lori Goodman:  Yes, the day after it was signed, they all went into action to try and lift the ban, or sidestep.  That's going on.

Warning not to  drink
 from the Rio Puerco,
1979, after the earthen dam at
U.S. Nuclear's uranium
mine burst. Eleven
hundred tons of tailings
and 100 million gallons of
radioactive water spilled
into the the river, before
Navajo miners, working
without protective gear,
could repair it. 
KPFA:  And what's the state of the attempt to clean up the toxic mess left by the many years of uranium mining?

Lori Goodman:  Church Rock now is a Superfund site, but we have three other Superfund sites on the Navajo Nation from uranium mining.  And there's also a need to have 20 or 30 more other Superfund sites, but unfortunately the Superfund has not been reauthorized, so there are no funds there, so people are dying and getting polluted daily.

KPFA:  Lori, you're also on the Board of the Peace Development Fund.  Would you like to say anything about the connection between nuclear power, weapons, and war?

Lori Goodman:  Well, I think the Peace Development Fund sees that as one and the same.  There's no such thing as peaceful nuclear energy.  It's all destructive, as we see that being played out right now in Japan.  And I do want to say that Peace Development Fund has set up donations for the communities that live next to the nuclear power plants in Japan, because we understand those people that live next to these plants are also environmental justice communities.   So Peace Development Fund wants to ensure that those people get help because most of the time they're overlooked, just as we saw in Katrina.

KPFA:  Lori, thank you.  It's an honor to speak to you for KPFA.

Lori Goodman:  Thank you for having me.

KPFA:  Goodman also said that if California stopped using nuclear power, they would hugely reduce the pressure to overturn the Navajo uranium mining ban, the only native claim to resource sovereignty of its kind.

For Pacifica, KPFA Radio, I'm Ann Garrison.

KPFA Radio archive URL:


  1. Thanks for posting the link to this at GPCA wall. Look up the work of Dr. Stefanie Raymond-Whish (NAU) regarding uranium as an estrogen mimic and the prevalence of breast cancers on the Navajo reservation. Raymond-Whish is Navajo and both her mother and grandmother had breast cancer.

  2. treaty after treaty, we have all experienced the injustice of the justice system. The u.s. government knows they have not lived up to there promise to protect tribal people, and their lands. The larger question is who in this maze of the justice system, is going to stand up for the tribal people and their sovereign rights.


  3. II"ve followd this story of cancers on the Navajo Reservation, though I don't plan to do any more reporting on that at the moment. If I had time to further pursue this story now, it will be about the possible mechanisms for preventing the re-licensing of the Diablo Canyon and San Onofre Nucler Power Plants.

  4. Ann,Thank you for this timely post remembering that incident and updating. Saw this on bay-native circle facebook,very important work continues and remembering the origin's of the circle of uranium-beggining to end-where it comes from,and where they want to put it when it's spent.The industry is gearing up for Major push at this time and we must stand strong with the truth.