Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(September 16 2005) On September 9, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) gave the go-ahead to a temporary high-level radioactive waste storage site, Private Fuel Storage (PFS), on Native American land in Utah.

(634.5716) NIRS - In response to the announcement of the NRC's endorsement of PFS, Michael Marriotte, Executive Director of NIRS said, "The decision today by the NRC commissioners to approve a private nuclear waste site on the Goshute Indian reservation in Utah is the latest example of environmental racism on the part of the federal government. The commissioners, who voted 3-1, have now condemned a tiny impoverished tribe in Skull Valley to generations of environmental and health risks by approving a plan to ship 44,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste and park it in plain site on Indian land."

Background Nearly 450 organizations - from grassroots Native American environmental justice groups to national public interest and environmental groups - petitioned the NRC Commissioners to reject the dangerous and racist proposal put forward by the utility consortium, Private Fuel Storage. NRC Commissioner Gregory Jaczko is to be thanked for his clear-headed rejection of this outrageous proposal.

PFS presents transportation dangers, security risks, and environmental justice violations and could result in the shipment of 44,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste beginning as early as 2007. These 4,000 rail shipments are unprecedented, far surpassing the total number of high-level radioactive waste shipments carried out in the U.S. since the beginning of the Atomic Age in 1942. Shipments would travel through highly populated regions in dozens of states with little to no preparation for emergency response teams. Each container would hold over 200 times the long-lasting radiation released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb. These containers are vulnerable to accidents and terrorist attacks that could result in the release catastrophic amounts of deadly radioactivity. Thus, they represent mobile Chernobyls and potential dirty bombs on wheels rolling through our communities. This plan is a fatally flawed shell game, unnecessarily risking transport of dangerous high-level radioactive waste all across the country to a temporary dump, only to have it moved again someday to someplace else, doubling the transportation risks.

Once parked at Skull Valley, the 4,000 containers of waste would be a radioactive bull's eye for terrorists as it is directly upwind of Salt Lake City. The facility would also be at risk from the 7,000 annual fly-overs by F-16 fighter jets, fully loaded with munitions and ordnance, traveling between Hill Air Force Base and the Utah Test and Training Range, one of the biggest and busiest bombing ranges in the country. One accidental fiery crash could unleash deadly amounts of radioactivity that would blow with the wind and rain onto one of the country's biggest and best cities. NRC Chairman Nils Diaz, who voted in favor of licensing the dump, stated at the National Press Club earlier this year that such crashes did not need to be of concern because the radioactivity would not extend beyond two miles. Not only could the radiation travel much further than two miles, he failed to note that the Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation community is within two miles of the proposed dump.

Nuclear industry whistleblower Oscar Shirani and NRC whistleblower Dr. Ross Landsman have revealed major quality assurance violations in the design and manufacture of the Holtec waste storage and transportation casks planned for use by PFS. These violations call into question the structural integrity of the containers themselves and their ability to withstand transport and storage accidents and terrorist attacks. NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Judge Peter Lam, the only engineer on the panel, cited such defects in design and manufacture of the casks as one reason for his voting against the PFS license in a rare 2-1 split decision earlier this year.
PFS is merely the illusion of a solution to the problem of what to do with deadly radioactive waste. In its mad rush to build the first new nuclear reactors in 30 years, the nuclear industry has shown its desperation and disregard for safety and justice by this outrageous PFS proposal. The NRC has shown its complicity by approving the license.

Grace Thorpe, daughter of "the Athlete of the Twentieth Century" Jim Thorpe and an emeritus member of our board of directors, was instrumental in stopping the high-level radioactive waste dump targeted at her Sauk and Fox Indian Reservation in Oklahoma. Rufina Marie Laws was instrumental in stopping the dump targeted at her Mescalero Indian Reservation in New Mexico. In fact, the nuclear establishment has targeted scores of tribes, but until now all such proposals have been stopped.

Margene Bullcreek and other Skull Valley Goshute tribal members opposed to the PFS dump will continue to struggle against this threat to their community and sacred homeland, and they will not be alone. Our organization, along with hundreds of others, will fight this dump at every turn, until it is defeated.

Source: NIRS statement, September 9, 2005

Contact: Kevin Kamps, Nuclear Waste Specialist at NIRS, kevin@nirs.org