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KOB Eyewitness News 4: Sen. Heinrich tours Navajo Nation uranium mines

SHIPROCK, NM-- The Navajo Nation is still reeling from the Gold King Mine spill as the nation continues to recover from another decades-old mining operation. Uranium mining operations from the Cold War and all the way back to the 1940s are still being felt on the Navajo Nation. Friday, Senator Martin Heinrich toured some key sites.

"We wanted to get a firsthand impression of the problem - the scale of the problem - and have that influence our efforts in Washington as we try to crack the nut of abandoned mines over all," said Heinrich.

What looks like a huge pile of rocks has been the only way to deal with uranium-contaminated waste on 77 acres of land in Shiprock - the site of a mill that handled millions of tons of uranium mined on the Navajo Nation.

The mill tailings remediation will take literally hundreds of years. Federally-funded operations are working on mitigation of those mines. In the meantime, only some of the actual uranium mines have been bricked up.

"I think it is time to change the law," said Heinrich.

Heinrich toured the tailings pile, an abandoned mine and a house built with radioactive bricks. He says that he will be working on new legislation for hard rock mining with the rest of the New Mexico delegation.

"Change the law on federal hard rock minerals which we give away," he said. "We should be taking a small percentage of that and putting it back into cleaning up abandoned mines that cause problems like what we saw in the Animas River in August."

Mining reform on the national level could still take a very long time to clean up.

"We need to make sure that we get all of these mines reclaimed, deal with the tailings piles and make sure we are protecting human health," Heinrich said.