Navajo And Federal Officials Agree To Clean Up 24 Priority Abandoned Uranium Mines

Feb 20, 2020

Officials with the Navajo Nation and federal government finalized an agreement last week in the ongoing effort to clean up hundreds of abandoned uranium mines on the reservation. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

Workers grade and cover a waste pile from an abandoned uranium mine on the Navajo Nation northeast of Gallup, N.M., in 2009.
Credit U.S. EPA

The settlement will provide funding and resources to clean up two-dozen priority sites in the Navajo Nation communities of Blue Gap and Black Mesa, among others. Officials say they pose some of the biggest public health threats out of the more than 500 abandoned uranium mines in the area, and estimate the cleanup along with a water study near Four Corners will cost more than $16.7 million.

The agreement is the second phase of a settlement reached five years ago between the tribe and the Justice Department. It’s thought the total cleanup costs could reach several billion dollars and take decades to complete.

Thirty million tons of uranium ore were extracted from Navajo lands during the Cold War, and abandoned mines remain a top health concern among tribal officials.