Navajo Uranium Miners: Giving Their All

Living on Earth
The World

One day in 1950, a Navajo man named Paddy Martinez picked up a few yellow rocks while herding sheep east of Crownpoint, New Mexico. His handful of ore turned out to be uranium. And the find, together with discoveries in Utah, sparked a series of mining booms that changed life forever in the southwest. By the mid-fifties the entire region was firmly entrenched in the nuclear age. But as hundreds of families who mined the uranium would later find out, the yellow ore was poison. In the generation since the old mines shut down, dozens of Navajo miners and others have died of lung cancer. Many more suffer from debilitating respiratory diseases. Now, a new mining company wants to go after the yellow rock. Last month at a hearing held by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Navajo citizens heard promises that, this time, extracting the uranium will be safe. Living on Earth’s Sandy Tolan covered the uranium mining story in 1982. Last month we sent him back to Navajo country.

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