6. THE WORST NUCLEAR SPILL IN U.S. HISTORY GOES UNNOTICED
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."