Text, photos and video by ERIC SHULTZ
Most of us age 50 and over remember where we were when the TMI2 reactor at Three Mile Island melted down. During the subsequent 34 years, greater catastrophes such as Chernobyl and Fukushima have elicited technocratic responses similar to the one that declared TMI an important lesson for continuing our nuclear industries rather than proof of their inevitable injuriousness to life. Each of these debacles has been worse than those before. Assurances that Fukushima did not release as much radioactive material as Chernobyl rest on the implicit assumption that the Japanese disaster is over, when in fact its reactor cores having melted through their containment pose the most lasting and intractable challenge yet. And the enormous effort by nuclear technology apologists to darn the frayed fabric of public acceptance following such spectacular events may have had the side effect of distracting attention from the injuries that happen at other less attention-grabbing stages of the nuclear fuel cycle.
As La Jicarita readers are well aware, much of our nation’s uranium supply has come from Indian country in northwestern New Mexico. On July 16, 1979, not even four months after TMI, a tailings pond dam at the United Nuclear Corporation ore mill collapsed near Church Rock. A calculated 93,000,000 gallons of liquid waste with the acidity of battery acid carried some 2,000,000 pounds of solid radioactive tailings through the eastern Navajo Nation as far as Winslow, Arizona. Has this, the greatest single environmental release of radioactive contamination in our nation’s history, been largely forgotten? Not by residents in the Church Rock area. La Jicarita editor Eric Shultz marched with them in commemoration of the event and produced the following short video he calls Memory Keepers.