American Indians from two tribes marched along U.S. 191 Thursday to protest a uranium mill's proposal to become a radioactive-waste dump.
Members of the White Mesa Ute tribe and the Blue Mountain Navajos marched to the Energy Fuels nuclear mill, which is about three miles south of Blanding.The march was to memorialize the 100 or so American Indian gravesites that have already been destroyed as a result of the mill's operations and to prevent any further desecration of sacred Indian land, said Preston Truman, a member of the Downwinders military watchdog group and a member of the state Radiation Control Board.
Truman said the march was also to show Indian solidarity behind Norman Begay, a White Mesa Ute who has petitioned the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a hearing on the Indians' concerns.
An administrative judge from the NRC was in Blanding Thursday to tour the mill and to consider whether Begay has legal standing. He will rule on Begay's petition later.
The proposal is a license amendment that would allow Energy Fuels, formerly UMETCO, to dispose of about 2.6 million tons of low-level radioactive tailings from an old mill in Monticello.
Begay said he represents Indians from many tribes who believe sacred Indian lands in and around the Energy Fuels site would be further desecrated should the mill become a waste dump. Of particular concern is a 640-acre Indian-owned site about one mile north of the mill. Known as "Avikan," the land contains an ancient Hopi temple next to which the Native American Peoples Historical Foundation plans to build a cultural and genealogical center.
In addition to desecrating Avikan, the importation of the waste would endanger tribal members, many of whom walk along the highway where huge trucks would haul the tailings. The waste would also threaten groundwater supplies used by the tribe, whose reservation is downslope from the mill, Begay said.
Energy Fuels officials say groundwater is safe because of a thick layer of rock between the waste-disposal cells and the aquifer.