Letters: Nuclear energy is by no means clean

PNM’s Ron Darnell recently wrote about nuclear energy as clean and abundant energy source with a carbon-free footprint. But this idea of “clean nuclear” is a myth.

Just look at New Mexico’s backyard to see the true costs of the nuclear fuel chain. From uranium mining, milling, and enrichment to fabrication and disposal, I see the harm nuclear causes to our communities. Each step in this cycle leaves the radioactive material more toxic and more expensive to dispose of.

Harm to public health and environment costs continue to mount. And the harm is widespread. “Clean nuclear” power proponents should pause and reflect on the Navajo Nation’s continuing disastrous relationship with this dirty energy source. Our region has been called a National Sacrifice Area, which well describes the impacts Navajo people have experienced on the front end of the nuclear chain. Uranium has two main uses: nuclear weapons and nuclear energy.

Ninety-five percent of uranium is used for these two purposes. Lease agreements with the Navajo Nation allowed nearly 30 million tons of uranium ore to be extracted from 1944 to 1986. This left the Navajo Nation with over 500 abandoned uranium mines, four inactive uranium-milling sites and one abandoned dumpsite.

The Navajo Nation is participating with universities in studies examining the potential health effects from exposure to uranium mine waste. Once groundwater is contaminated from uranium mine tailings, it is impossible to undo the damage. In the end toxic radioactive material requires expensive long-term institutional monitoring. Uranium mine-and-mill tailings are among the most difficult wastes to manage on the planet. The future costs for nuclear power must be re-calculated.

The hidden costs of nuclear power have now reached into the tens of billions of dollars as the starting point to address the environmental costs of the abandoned mines and mills across the U.S. These environmental legacy costs have to be understood and included when proposing new nuclear power plants. We should also remember that nuclear power loan guarantees have not been factored into the equation. Taxpayers are on the hook for these loans that essentially subsidize new nuclear power plants. Approximately 20 percent of U.S. electricity is generated by uranium fuel in fewer than 100 nuclear power plants. And each one of those plants produces waste.

Against this backdrop is a proposal to turn New Mexico into a nuclear waste dump by consolidating spent fuels rods from commercial nuclear reactors around the U.S. Holtec, an international corporation, has applied for a permit to bring up to 170,000 metric tons of high-level nuclear waste for “temporary storage” in Lea/Eddy County. Holtec and nuclear power plant operators await permission from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for “temporary” storage — but permanent repository sites for nuclear waste are unclear and elusive. And this nuclear waste material must be transported through New Mexico communities along its way.

There is a wealth of well-documented national scientific literature that describes the health and safety issues connected to nuclear power. PNM should consider the life cycle impacts of the energy it uses and join us in striving for a truly clean energy future. As this nation continues to struggle with environmental and public health issues related to nuclear energy, we demand evidence that nuclear energy is “clean and carbon free” and affordable.

For most, nuclear power is out of sight, out of mind. But we should remember what the American scientist, Dr. Carl Sagan, once remarked, “Remarkable claims demand remarkable evidence.”

Robert Tohe
Senior Organizing Representative
Sierra Club
Mexican Springs, N.M.

NACE has right to turn away products

After reading the Nov. 21, 2018, edition of the Navajo Times I was greatly disappointed by the story of a Navajo entrepreneur who could not sell her cosmetics inside Navajo Arts & Crafts Enterprise (“NACE denies Diné-owned makeup line”).

As a former employee of NACE, I know firsthand about the strict procurement guidelines for vendors who wish to do business with the company. Others have been turned away over the years but you do not read about their “struggles” in the paper. You cannot be a fly-by-night operation to do business with NACE and the policies that are in place govern the quality assurance for products sold by the company.

I also know for a fact that the company reserves the right to do business with vendors. It was clear to see that the owner of Ah Shi Beauty Makeup chose to tarnish the oldest Navajo Nation enterprise by running to the newspaper for her smear campaign. To say the least, her decision to do this was unprofessional and unethical.

I am surprised the Navajo Times even ran the story. NACE has always protected Navajo silversmiths, artists, weavers and craftspeople. As a customer today, I was disappointed to see electronics and other items that are not authentic Navajo (Native) arts/crafts. The enterprise was developed to promote the beautiful culture and talents of our Navajo artists.

Perhaps the young lady that is attempting to launch her makeup line should have more respect for the tribal entities and businesses that paved the way for Navajo entrepreneurs today. Running to the newspaper and crying foul over her denial is not only distasteful, but disrespectful to Navajos who work hard daily to promote the beauty of Navajo jewelry, arts and crafts.

Anyway, thank you for letting me voice my concerns.

Velda Anderson
Sawmill, Ariz.

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Categories: Letters