Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

February 12, 2009

Who's That Nuking at My Door?

Navajo vice president tours renewable, nuclear energy facilities in France

By Kathy Helms

Dine Bureau
Gallup Independent

WINDOW ROCK – Navajo Nation Vice President Ben Shelly is in Paris, France, this week to look at renewable energy and the recycling of nuclear fuel.

Sherrick Roanhorse of the Vice President's Office said Shelly is one of nine tribal leaders invited by the International Institute for Indigenous Resource Management in Denver. “The trip is purely educational. It's to educate tribal leaders about energy policy, energy technology, and it's to make the tribal leaders aware of energy projects.

“The United States currently does not recycle spent fuel rods by the United States' 104 reactors,” Roanhorse said.

According to its Web site, the Institute and Areva – the world leader in nuclear power – organized a series of site visits to Areva energy facilities in France for a tribal delegation from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Osage Nation, and Navajo Nation.

Also in the delegation are representatives of the Council of Energy Resource Tribes and Sinte Gleska University in Mission, S.D. The site visits are intended to further inform tribal leadership on the wide range of energy and sustainable development issues that already are the focus of national and international energy and climate policies and programs, the announcement states.

Areva has manufacturing facilities in 43 countries and a sales network in more than 100. The nuclear giant has a front-end division that deals with uranium ore exploration, mining, concentration, conversion and enrichment, nuclear fuel design and fabrication.

The company also designs and constructs nuclear reactors, while its back-end division specializes in the treatment and recycling of used fuel and cleanup of nuclear facilities. It also has a transmission and distribution division that provides systems and services designed to transport and distribute electricity from the power plant to the final user.

The Arizona Legislature is considering House Bill 2623, to add a renewable energy standard. Under the bill, nuclear energy would be considered renewable energy. The “Renewable Energy Policy” would include tax credits and incentives relating to the production and distribution of solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, nuclear, hydro generation, agricultural waste and landfill gas power.

“Renewables is one answer. It's not the whole answer, but it's one answer to economic development,” Roanhorse said. “What's driving our whole energy policy is just to try to develop what we have, as well as bring more jobs to our people, and we're looking at different avenues.

“But we're not building a nuclear plant. We're not discussing it, we're not thinking about it, and it's not on our agenda because the Navajo Nation Council and the Navajo Nation as a whole oppose uranium mining and milling. It's the law of the land. We follow that.”

When asked whether the Nation was looking at selling uranium to a foreign entity, Roanhorse said, “I can't answer that. There's no talks of uranium mining or anything of that nature. It's too premature to talk about uranium mining or future nuclear facilities.” He said the group is looking at biomass – the burning of wood fuels – and wind energy, and that the vice president did tour a nuclear recycling fuel site.

Due to the projected Navajo Nation budget shortfall of more than $15 million, the executive branch imposed travel restrictions for its staff on Feb. 6, according to George Hardeen, communications director for the Office of the President/Vice President.

Roanhorse said the vice president's round-trip plane ticket on United Airlines from Albuquerque to Paris cost only $646 and was paid for by the Division of Natural Resources, with the Institute footing the bill for all other costs. The initiative was spearheaded by the Division of Natural Resources, he said. “They're looking at all sorts of energy. Our primary interest is renewable energy, but we also wanted to learn more about nuclear recycling.”

Hardeen said the Navajo ban on uranium mining and processing is the law of the land and will remain so until the Navajo people decide otherwise.

“That's not to say that Navajo leaders should close their eyes when invited to learn about the latest technology, but it will be the Navajo people who will change that law, if they change that law. It's not something that the vice president can do or the president can do, or that they would choose to do.”

Resources Committee Chairman George Arthur, who was unaware of the vice president's trip or that it was being paid for out of the division's budget, said, “That's interesting, because I'm getting my education right here on Navajo with people that are party to some of these discussions and I don't have to travel very far to get good information on renewable energy like wind power and solar energy. It's just next door to us.

“As far as nuclear interest is concerned, I'm kind of puzzled that one particular leadership should be having to travel abroad to expand on the industry or to be educated in respect to nuclear development when that in itself has been very devastating to our own Navajo people. I, for one, took the initiative to put forth a legislation that I assume the Navajo Nation leadership upholds and will uphold in respect to the banning of nuclear development, either mining or processing activities.”

Budget and Finance Committee Chairman LoRenzo Bates also said that the Navajo Nation has spoken on the uranium issue “and before any possibility of that being considered, it most definitely has to be brought back to the Nation for consideration. But given the lack of any further revenue outside of the casinos, outside of Desert Rock that has yet to become a reality, a president may end up looking at some sort of involvement with uranium.

“But up until then, that president cannot be beating around the bush. A president has to come out and let the people know that this is what's being considered. This back-room tactics doesn't cut it with the Navajo people. At some point there will be a president that's going to have to deal with the matter.”

Also read: Nuclear trash heap, deadly for 250,000 years

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