(December 15, 2006) NIRS is overjoyed to announce that it has helped defeat the environmentally racist Private Fuel Storage (PFS) high-level radioactive waste dump targeted at the Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation in Utah.
(650.5769) NIRS - On September. 7, 2006 the U.S. Bureau of Land Management rejected transportation plans for shipping 44,000 tons of highly radioactive waste from commercial nuclear reactors across the country to PFS. The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs likewise rejected the lease agreement between the nuclear utility consortium comprising PFS and the pro-dump, disputed Skull Valley Goshute tribal chairman Leon Bear.
Although PFS may appeal these rulings, this dump has very likely been defeated, once and for all, after a bitter decade-long struggle. This tremendous environmental justice victory also sets an important precedent against the nuclear establishment's 20 year long effort to dump radioactive wastes on scores of Indian reservations across the country, and casts further doubt on the proposed national burial site for high-level radioactive wastes targeted at sacred Western Shoshone land at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
NIRS wishes to extend its heartfelt congratulations and thanks to all the organizations and individuals who contributed to this tremendous environmental justice victory. PFS first began targeting Skull Valley in 1996. And for many years before that, the "Nuclear Waste Negotiator" from the U.S. Department of Energy - with cash in hand - tried wooing the Skull Valley Goshute tribal council into "temporarily hosting" America's irradiated nuclear fuel.
The greatest commendations, of course, go to Margene Bullcreek and her organization Ohngo Gaudadeh Devia Awareness (OGDA), Sammy Blackbear, the Bullcreek and Blackbear families, Lena Knight, Daniel Moon, and other Skull Valley Goshutes who have suffered tremendous sacrifices and painful punishments for many long years, for their tireless opposition to the proposed dump. Through it all, they have persevered and now triumphed. Their victory not only protects their own community and its future generations, but countless millions who live along the routes through dozens of states that were targeted for transporting the atomic wastes to Utah.
Now is no time to simply forget about the Skull Valley Goshute community. The State of Utah, the County of Tooele, the City of Salt Lake, and even the federal agencies that for so many years have been complicit in targeting this community for an atomic waste dump must now help provide resources for alternative, healthy economic development. All those communities across the country spared "Mobile Chernobyls" should also help out. As has been the case for many long years, non-profit groups such as OGDA, Indigenous Environmental Network, the Seventh Generation Fund, HEAL Utah, and the Shundahai Network will continue to advocate and organize for healthy economic development at the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation. Especially meaningful is Honor the Earth's proposal to install solar power panels on the reservation. This effort deserves the fullest support.
Unfortunately, PFS has caused many deep wounds in the Skull Valley Goshute community that will likely take a very long time to heal. Although pro-dump chairman Leon Bear was recently unseated in tribal elections, and anti-dump tribal members Marlinda Moon and Lena Knight were elected vice-chairwoman and secretary, respectively, the election is being contested, and non-Indian, pro-dump lawyers (paid by tribal funds) who have worked with Leon Bear for years are still pushing to revive the proposal. Dump opponents must remain vigilant to defend this victory.
PFS proceeded further than any such proposed dump ever had before, even scandalously receiving a license to operate from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission earlier this year. But numerous tribes had fended off similar threats in the past two decades. The five Native Nations of the Colorado River (the Quechan, Chemehuevi, Fort Mojave, Colorado River, and Cocopah Tribes) successfully fought off a so-called "low" level radioactive waste dump targeted at their sacred Ward Valley in southern California, a struggle that lasted throughout the 1990s and was only won within recent years. Rufina Marie Laws with Humans Against Nuclear DumpS (HANDS), and others at the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico, first fended off the Nuclear Waste Negotiator, and then PFS itself, before PFS set its sites on Skull Valley. Grace Thorpe, founder of the National Environmental Coalition of Native Americans, not only stopped the high-level radioactive waste dump targeted at her Sauk and Fox Reservation in Oklahoma; she also then hit the road, and helped other Reservations organize against similar threats. Grace even helped abolish the Office of the Nuclear Waste Negotiator once and for all, in 1994. Western Shoshone spiritual leader Corbin Harney and his Shundahai Network, as well as the Western Shoshone National Council and the Western Shoshone Defense Project, have for decades not only opposed dumping radioactive wastes at their sacred Yucca Mountain, but have also resisted nuclear weapons testing at the adjacent Nevada Test Site. Joe Campbell of the Prairie Island Mdewakanton Dakota Tribe has devoted decades of his life to warning and protecting his community against the threats posed by the twin reactor nuclear plant and its stored wastes on the Mississippi River flood plain, just hundreds of yards from the tribal day care center.
Winona LaDuke at Honor the Earth and Tom Goldtooth at Indigenous Environmental Network, and their stellar staffs, deserve tremendous thanks for the decades of leadership they have provided in this fight to defend Indigenous communities and Mother Earth against the deadly risks of radioactive wastes.
A Washington, D.C. lobby day organized by NIRS board of directors member Susan Alzner in July 2005 - featuring such artists as Ani DiFranco, her band and entire road crew; the Indigo Girls, representing Honor the Earth; NIRS core group members Joan Macintosh and James Cromwell; and U.S. Congressman and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich - put the PFS issue on the radar screens of congressional offices as well as the Dept. of the Interior. Public Citizen utilized the Freedom of Information Act to uncover the fact that BIA had no documentation whatsoever justifying its original rubberstamp approval of the dump targeted at Skull Valley. U.S. Public Interest Research Group helped secure and lead the dozens of meetings on Capitol Hill and with federal agencies that made this lobby day such a success.
NIRS core group member Anne Sward Hansen attended an April 2005 NIRS press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, just one example of her many active years of opposition against PFS.
Additional Indigenous and non-Native allies -- too numerous to list - also deserve thanks and congratulations for their tireless defense of Native lands, which has defeated dozens of proposed atomic waste dumps aimed at Indian lands in the past.
It is right and proper to celebrate the defeat of PFS. But the broader fight against radioactive racism is far from over. Sacred Western Shoshone Indian land at Yucca Mountain, Nevada is still being targeted for the national permanent dumpsite for high-level radioactive waste, despite the Treaty of Ruby Valley of 1863, and despite the site's seismic, volcanic, and hydrological hazards. The U.S. Department of Energy is now targeting the Walker River Paiute in western Nevada for a rail route to ship 77,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste from all over the country to Yucca Mountain. Uranium mining companies, with NRC complicity, are attempting to circumvent a Navajo ban on uranium mining, milling, and processing on tribal territory. In its bid to sell the reactor to atomic giant Entergy, nuclear utility Consumers Energy is pressing to extend by 20 years the operations at the already 40 year old, dangerously deteriorated Palisades nuclear plant in the predominantly African American town of Covert, Michigan; NRC itself admits the reactor site almost certainly contains Native American archaeological and perhaps even burial sites that remain unprotected. As part of its nuclear sale to Entergy, Consumers Energy seems to be seeking to off load onto state taxpayers its liability for the radioactive contamination of soil, groundwater, and lake sediments it has caused, as well as for the high-level radioactive wastes still stored at the site of its decommissioned Big Rock nuclear power plant; the land and Lake Michigan shoreline there are sacred to the Odawa Indians. And nuclear giant Entergy wants to build a new reactor in the impoverished, predominantly African American County of Claiborne, Mississippi. The list goes on and on - the vigilance of atomic watchdogs must continue too, to counter this outrageous radioactive racism.
NIRS has been honored and privileged to work with all of those listed above, to be a part of these many struggles against radioactive racism, and for environmental justice.
Source: Prepared by Kevin Kamps, Nuclear Waste Specialist, NIRS, Dec. 12, 2006. For information on PFS and the Skull Valley Goshutes, see www.nirs.org/radwaste/scullvalley/skullvalley.htm
Contact: Kevin Kamps at NIRS