Bitter Cold War Legacy Highlighted in "Favorable" Navajo Settlement

Vol. 43 No. 2

Dana J. Stotsky is a career enforcement attorney with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He is on detail to the Navajo Nation Department of Justice during 2011–2012.

The United States clearly “won” the Cold War, as evidenced by the 1989 disestablishment of the U.S.S.R. As with any war, to the victor belong loss and pain, too. There is no better illustration of this than the radiologic ordeal continuing to this day on the Navajo Nation. The Navajo, readily answering the call from the United States for uranium ore to support the Manhattan Project during World War II, allowed extensive mining on their lands in the American Southwest. During the Cold War, the Navajo Nation allowed five uranium mills to be built, enabling production of weapons-grade, enriched uranium. The tribe benefitted from these activities with increased employment for its members, who often lived and raised families in close proximity to the mines and mills. In the end, nearly four million tons of uranium ore were extracted from Navajo lands. And yet today, long since the last victory march ended over twenty years ago, the devastating legacy of radiologic contamination from mill wastes and from hundreds of abandoned uranium mines haunts the tribe and threatens existential Navajo ways.

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