While the nation and the world became aware o£ the disaster at Three Mile Island, the worst nuclear spill in U.S. history, according to officials of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, happened and few Americans are aware of it.

It happened at 5 a.m., on July 16, 1979, when 100 million gallons of radioactive water containing uranium tailings breached from a tailing pond into the north arm of the Rio Puerco, near the small town of Church Rock, New Mexico.

Two hours later, workers shored up the hold in the tailing pond dam, but by 8 a.m. the radiation was detectable in Gallup, New Mexico. Radiation was detected up to 50 miles from the site of the spill. Livestock and people were kept away from the river and children found playing in the water received full-body scans at the Los Alamos nuclear labs in Albuquerque.

Altogether some 1,100 tons of uranium mine tailings (wastes) reached from holding ponds, contaminating 250 acres of land and up to 50 miles of the Rio Puerco.

On the first day of the accident state Environmental Improvement Division spokesman Michael Triviso said that samples of the river water indicated radioactivity 6,600 times the maximum standards for drinking water.

The Rio Puerco flows into the Little Colorado River which flows into Lake Mead which supplies the water for Los Angeles and Southern California.

The Kerr-McGee Company and United Nuclear Corporation operate the uranium mill and waste storage-site.

Those being affected by uranium mining in New Mexico are, for the most part, Navajo and Hopi Indians who are being relocated away from their land which sources say may one day look like nothing more than the surface of a dead moon.

The media's failure to publicize the nation's worst nuclear spill in history and its impact on local residents qualifies this story for nomination as one of the "best censored" stories of 1979.


Greenpeace Chronicles, September, 1979, "Eco-fronts" Worst Nuclear Disaster in U.S. History."