During the Cold War, mining companies extracted four million tons of uranium from Navajo land to make nuclear weapons. Uranium left a deadly legacy. And the federal government is still cleaning up the contamination.
The Department of Energy piled the uranium tailings, the mining waste byproduct, inside lined pits and sealed them with clay. In Monument Valley federal workers have found uranium contamination in the groundwater.
“For years the attitude was science can fix anything,” said April Gil, environmental team lead for the Department of Energy’s Legacy Management. “You just wait long enough, someone will come up with an idea and we’ll be able to put Mother Nature back to the natural state. And we’ve not been able to do that with uranium.”
But Gil says they’re not giving up. Scientists continue to try different methods to reduce uranium contamination. And the federal government has supplied clean water systems for the communities in the meantime.