Is the Navajo Nation President Being a Hypocrite about Uranium Mining

According to the U.S. Energy Information nvidia, about 80 percent of the electricity in New Mexico is generated each year by burning coal. The irony is that the dominant anti-nuclear group in New Mexico, Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC), has shown no evidence of denouncing coal consumption. According to Don Hancock, an SRIC Administrator who directs the non-profit organization’s Nuclear Waste Safety Program, the group’s “spiritual mentor” is John W. Gofman. The former nuclear physicist is an aging, eccentric author who was discredited by the Atomic Energy Commission and was branded by the nuclear power industry as “beyond the pale of reasonable communication.” As a kind gesture, Hancock gave us a copy of a Gofman “cartoon book,” whose theme revolves around Thoreau’s essay, “Civil Disobedience.” Another cosmic ally is Amory B. Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a favorite Don Hancock icon.

While Gofman championed solar energy in his hey day, Lovins presently espouses hydrogen as a primary solution for transportation, wind, and increasing efficiency through natural gas. However, neither wind power nor solar energy is a relevant energy source in New Mexico. Hydroelectricity supplies about 0.7 percent of New Mexico’s electricity generation. Despite the hoopla and hyperbole, all of other renewable energy sources combined supply New Mexico with a mere 0.6 percent of its electricity. Coal is, in a very big way, the overwhelming reason why New Mexicans are not living in darkness and without heat or air conditioning.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, about 2400 people die every year from the air pollution caused from each million tons of sulfur dioxide emitted. In 1999, it is estimated that over 1.05 billion tons were produced, releasing 11.856 million tons of sulfur oxides and more than 5 million tons of nitrous oxides. Having personally inspected the first floor library of SRIC headquarters, no anti-coal mining literature was discovered. There appears to be scant fund-raising interest from these environmental activists to close down New Mexico’s large coal mines. In fact, more U.S. coal mining deaths were reported in 2005 than deaths from uranium mining (zero). heard no worries at SRIC over the blackening of coal miner’s lungs, but the staff appeared very concerned over the radon gas emitted from uranium mining. Uranium mining in New Mexico came to a standstill about twenty years ago. Coal mining continues as it has for seven decades.

Don’t expect the coal mines of New Mexico to be closed any time soon, though. No matter how deadly coal mines are, coal production is irreplaceable at this time. According to the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, tax revenues from coal in 2001 exceeded $30 million. Nearly one-half of the state’s energy needs are met through coal-generated power. The coal industry employed 1,800 people in 2001. New Mexico is the country’s leader for methane gas production from coal beds. Coal is the state’s third largest source of revenues.

An EPA Toxic Release Inventory report published in 2000 reported that two power plants and their coal mines in New Mexico’s San Juan County released 13 million pounds of chemical toxins into the Four Corner’s area (New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado). It was also reported that 6.5 million tons of solid waste was buried by the two San Juan County power plants on their sites or at nearby coal mines. Those airborne toxins were minuscule compared to over 300 million pounds of other emissions, such as particulates and nitrogen dioxide released into the air, and which can travel for hundreds of miles. Reports confirm those power plants were among the worst polluters in the United States. The eighth worst emitter was Giant Refining, about 17 miles from Gallup, New Mexico, which emitted 608,000 pounds according to the EPA report. Any visitor to the Gallup area can readily smell the stench circulating in the air.

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