By Rosanne Boyett | Cibola Beacon
GRANTS – “We’re not seeing the predicted nuclear renaissance,” Laura Watchempino, Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment (MASE), told an audience of about 60 people. “The demand for nuclear materials has fluctuated wildly since the onset of the nationwide recession in 2008.”
She made her comments during the community forum that followed a showing of a widely acclaimed documentary, “Uranium Drive-in.”
The film presents a community in southern Colorado that is deeply divided about the prospect of a uranium milling facility locating in the small town of Naturita. The promise of jobs has residents of the economically devastated mining town hopeful for the first time in decades.
Those who attended the Thursday, Oct. 2 film event at Future Foundations Family Center, Grants, shared a variety of reactions to the film.
“This is a great film because it gives both sides of the story,” explained Talia Boyd, Conservation Voters New Mexico Education Fund (CVNMEF) organizer. “Northwestern New Mexico has an extensive legacy of uranium mining, but we hear very little of the adverse impacts it has left behind in our rural towns.”
“Mining booms usually max out in about 30 years,” pointed out one man.
“If the mines opened back up, I would go back underground,” said a former uranium-miner. “I really enjoyed working underground.”
An Acoma resident acknowledged that the prospect of immediate job opportunities appeals to many people. She added, “But it’s not good to put all our eggs in one basket – look at the gaming industry in New Mexico. Relying on one industry does not provide economic security because now there are so many casinos competing for customers.”
Several people pointed out how the residents of Naturita had developed other sources of income after waiting more than five years for the promised uranium mill to begin operations.
One person said, “That part of Colorado is a lot like this area. They have a strong agricultural heritage and a mining legacy.”
“We have a lot of offer here for economic development,” emphasized one woman. “Just look at all the public lands, the Native American culture, and we have Historic Route 66. All of these could attract tourism.”
“Don’t forget the mining museum,” responded Jack Farley, New Mexico Mining Museum guide.
Participants also discussed the health issues that have affected community members who have worked in the uranium mines.
“We need to know the numbers of people who have suffered from mining-related illnesses,” commented an employee of one area mining company. “That information is important so the community can make good decisions.”
“Mining companies only had to keep workers’ records for seven years,” responded a former miner.
“You people are against mining,” said one Grants resident. “I came here mainly because I wanted to hear from Post ’71.”
Boyd explained that Linda Evers, Post ’71 representative, was unable to attend because of ill health. (Editor’s note: Post ’71 members are seeking a Congressional amendment to the federal Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, RECA, provides healthcare benefits for those employed in the nuclear industry through 1971.)
“I’m concerned about the proposed Roca Honda mine on Mount Taylor,” said one woman. “I know the industry has changed how it mines uranium. They have acknowledged that previous methods put underground miners at risk because of poor tunnel ventilation systems. But if they put in better venting that means all the hazardous airborne stuff will be vented outside into the air. We all live downwind from Mount Taylor.”
By Rosanne Boyett | Cibola Beacon