The accelerated assessment of Gordy's ranch came six days after Greer presented his radiation results from the site to the Geological Society of America. A geologist who was present at the society meeting said that, based on Greer's findings, a cleanup of the mine should be a high priority. "The sooner, the better," said Michael Phillips, a professor at Illinois Valley Community College. Because the uranium at this mine is on the surface of the land, people and animals are more likely to come in contact with it, he added.
But the preliminary assessment of the site is just the first step on a long road to a cleanup that is years and possibly even decades away. The time lag between an assessment and a remediation job depends on what scientists find at a particular mine, said Andrew Bain, EPA remediation project manager. The U.S.'s five-year plan for the Navajo Nation's uranium mines only covers assessment, not cleanup. The EPA started remediating the reservation's largest mine, the Northeast Church Rock Mine in New Mexico, in 2005, and doesn't expect to finish until 2019. "We have no estimate for how long it'll take to clean up all the mines," agency spokesman Tenley said.
As for the price tag, the recent Tronox settlement will only cover a fraction of the overall cleanup. Just assessing the uranium mines in the Navajo Nation costs the EPA about $12 million every year, said Tenley. Remediation would cost more, he added. How much more? "In the hundreds of millions," he said.
All this means a long wait for residents like Gordy, though they've already waited more than 20 years since the close of the Cold War. "It's taking forever to get it cleaned up," said Don Yellowman, president of Forgotten People. "It seems like everyone's aware but nobody's taking notice. We don't understand."
This article is provided by Scienceline, a project of New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program.