FEB 21, 2017 8:26 AM PST

The Cherokee Nation Halts Uranium Mining Company's Waste Disposal into Rivers

The Cherokee Nation and state of Oklahoma jointly filed a restraining order against Sequoyah Fuels Corporation to stop the company from disposing radioactive waste near the Arkansas and Illinois rivers. The request was granted by Sequoyah County District Judge Jeff Payton, according to the Cherokee Nation.

Photo: worldnews.indywatch.org

Sequoyah Fuels Corporation, opened by Kerr-McGee in 1970, converted yellowcake uranium into uranium hexafluoride, a compound that produces fuel for nuclear reactors. However, after several accidents with injuries and one fatality, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission began the corporation’s decommissioning process in 1986. It ceased all operations in 1993. 

The Cherokee Nation reports that Sequoyah Fuels collected approximately 11,000 tons of uranium-contaminated sludge in several basins, lagoons and ditches at the site during the decommissioning process. In November of 2004, the state of Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation and Sequoyah Fuels entered into a settlement agreement: Sequoyah Fuels agreed to spend up to $3.5 million to responsibly dispose of the waste off-site. 

And that should have been the end of the story there. But last week the corporation reported that they have not been able to find a suitable location off-site to dispose of the the radioactive waste. Instead, they proposed that they would store it in an onsite location. This was obviously a breach to the agreement between the corporation, state, and Cherokee Nation, and the former two demanded that an expert “review off-site disposal options,” following the Sequoyah County Times.

However, Sequoyah Fuels refused and started to store the waste in the on-site location. This has generated a big debate between the company and the residents of Gore, where the site is, as well as those of the Cherokee Nation. Gore City Administrator Horace Lindley stated firmly: “We don’t want this. We’re not going to take this sitting down.”

“The Cherokee Nation is a staunch defender and protector of our natural resources,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “We will not stand idly by and allow the Arkansas River, one of our most precious resources, and the Cherokee community of Gore to be polluted. The Cherokee Nation will fight for the rights of our people to live safely in their communities, and for the rights of our future generations to inherit an environment free of hazardous pollution.”

For now, while the restraining order is in place, the Cherokee Nation and state of Oklahoma, including the resident of Gore are looking for options to make sure that the waste does not affect their rivers. “We will pursue obtaining an expert review of off-site disposal options for the materials and examine the impact to the community and the environment should this waste be disposed of on-site,” said Sara Hill, Cherokee Nation’s secretary of natural resources. “The safety of the environment, our citizens and all people in and around Gore is our highest priority in this matter.”

The Cherokee Nation, Sequoyah County Times

About the Author
BA Environmental Studies
Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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