Section 17, New Mexico

Encyclopedia Article


At the uranium mine in Church Rock, NM, Section 17 was a site where large reserves of uranium deposits were discovered in the late 1950s. The area was mined heavily in the 1960s and 1970s, and in 1979 Section 17 was at the center of a devastating spill that sent over 1,000 tons of radioactive waste and 93 million gallons of tailing solution into the Rio Puerco River. The Church Rock Mill, which was operated by United Nuclear Corporations, was constructed on private land, but as a result of the spill uranium contaminants were carried downstream about 80 miles into the Navajo Reservation, severely affecting residents who relied on the river for irrigation and watering livestock. It wasn't until much later that serious cleanup operations were implemented, and to this day there is much concern regarding the area's leftover radiation.

Photo Credit: 

"A warning sign placed near the Puerco river by the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Division after the Church Rock Mill uranium spill on July 16, 1979" by EPA is licensed under Public Domain.

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