06/18/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Butterfly Effect: From McCain's Lips To The New Mexico Desert

The butterfly effect theorizes that a change in something innocuous can have huge consequences, that the flapping of a butterfly's wings might create a tornado on the other side of the world.

On June 9, Sen. John McCain flapped his wings. During a speech in Richmond, Virginia, a donor for his campaign asked him if his energy program amounted to "nuclear, and drill wherever we've got it." McCain's response? "You just gave my speech. Thank you my friend."

Thousands of miles away near Church Rock, New Mexico, dust kicks up around Teddy Nez's feet. "The wind always blows this way," he says, leaning into the wind and holding his red-and-white Oklahoma State hat on his head. "And it blows all the radiation waste onto my house and our land."

Nez's wife's family has lived on this land for five hundred years, and he has called it home for more than thirty. Their house sits on Navajo Reservation land, roughly five hundred feet from an abandoned uranium mine that shut down in the early 1980s. Last year, he and his family were temporarily moved to a hotel while the Environmental Protection Agency cleaned the radioactive debris from his house. It had been there for decades.

The mining of uranium, the mineral used to create nuclear power, was banned on Navajo land in 2005. Last year, Nez said the bulldozers returned to the areas surrounding his property. They weren't mining, but he worries their escalating presence means they plan to stay for a while.

Reservation land and public lands are separated by nothing more than barbed-wire fences, and the number of mining claims in New Mexico has shot up over the past few years. According to a May 10 Los Angeles Times article, uranium mining claims in the southwest have increased from 4,333 in 2004 to 43,153 in 2007.

As gas prices and energy concerns have risen, the presidential candidates have all jumped on the alternative-energy bandwagon. The uranium market has not overlooked the mention of nuclear power as a form of alternative energy. The price of uranium went from less than $10 a pound 6 years ago to roughly $65 a pound earlier this year.

"I see ads on the computer encouraging people to invest in the oncoming uranium boom and I want to scream," said Leona Morgan, an organizer with the Southwest Research Information Center in Albuquerque. Morgan is a member of the Navajo Nation and is helping the fight against a mine near her hometown of Crownpoint, New Mexico.

Morgan, Nez and other anti-uranium-mining advocates know they will have to wait and see how the November elections will effect the future of uranium mining on their land. "Mining is all about politics," Morgan said. "People just don't realize the connection unless they live near here."

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