Yucca Mountain slated for nuclear waste storage
Sara Zia
March 1998

Yucca Mountain, in Nevada, is a land mass sacred to the Western Shoshone people who are the traditional inhabitants of the area. The land is officially entrusted to the Western Shoshone Nation under the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley. Yucca Mountain is also the proposed site of a high-level nuclear waste repository.

High-level nuclear waste is accurately described as one of "the most dangerous substances ever created by humankind," remaining deadly for 250,000 years. It is the result of the tons of waste generated by atomic fission for nuclear power and military production of nuclear warheads. The Department of Energy (DOE) and nuclear industry's solution to this inescapable flaw of nuclear energy has been to hide the waste among the hidden by storing on reservation land--dumping one shameful fatal result of dominant society upon another.

The case at Yucca Mountain stands as a glaring example of the US government's continued violation of official treaties with indigenous nations in order to perpetuate its military industrial complex.

Current US law, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, mandates a thorough study of the effects of a nuclear waste repository in the proposed area before its establishment. But even the study is a violation of the 1863 treaty without the full consent of the Shoshone people. The nuclear industry, of course, does not care about the treaty or any environmental guidelines. In fact, the recent discovery of radioactive contamination from above ground nuclear tests in the area, found more than 500 feet below the surface, is part of growing evidence that Yucca Mountain would not meet the current guidelines (particularly since the mountain sits on 30 earthquake faults which have produced hundreds of seismic events greater than 2.5 in magnitude over the past twenty years).

Because of these and other problems, the DOE, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are rewriting the guidelines until they have been changed to fit the Yucca Mountain site. These shifting standards are manifested in the form of the 1997 Nuclear Waste Policy Act which is still pending in Congress. The act would literally put up a "parking lot type slab" directly adjacent to the mountain site. Since it is still debatable whether Yucca Mountain will be officially found as scientifically "suitable," the nuclear industry has suggested that Congress an "interim" storage site that would be licensed for 100 years. This creates only a very temporary situation and allows the industry to continue producing waste with no permanent solution.

The 1997 Nuclear Waste Policy Act is also referred to as the "Mobile Chernobyl" Bill, for it would allow the transport of high-level nuclear waste on the highways and railroads to arrive at the Yucca Mountain site. Currently, low-level nuclear waste is transported all over the country with no public oversight or knowledge. According to the Shundahai Network, an indigenous peace group in Nevada, "The regulatory definition of 'high level waste' only includes spent nuclear fuel rods and the liquid and sludge from the reprocessing of nuclear fuel. Everything else, even though it might be as intensely radioactive and deadly as high level is still regulated separately as 'low level'. . . This nuclear waste is dumped in steel drums, cardboard boxes and plastic bags in shallow unlined trenches on land that is sacred to the Native Peoples of the areas."

If the bill is approved, it would set into motion some 86,600 metric tons of nuclear waste on as many as 79,300 truck and 12,600 rail shipments. It would travel through 43 states within 1/2 mile of 52 million people.

Under current legislation the nuclear utilities are responsible and liable for waste storage until a permanent repository is licensed and in place. The proposed changes to federal law would shift the ownership and liability from the industries to the American taxpayer since our money would be subsidizing the transport process. The U.S. Senate passed the 1997 Nuclear Waste Policy Act (S-104) in April of 1997, the House passed a counter-part bill (HR 1270) on October 30th. The vote on the jointly approved bill will be sometime within the next two months, though still unannounced. You can write your senators and representatives at addresses listed below.

The current viable alternative suggested by anti nuclear activists is dry-cask storage at the site of the reactor. Dry-cask technology presently exists and is used at several reactor sites. They have been show to provide safe storage for up to 100 years. This would reduce the risk presented by the idea of transportation to off-site waste dumps as well as "buy time" for new technologies to develop and the policies on nuclear waste to change.

This is only a piece of the intricate web of destruction and greed that the nuclear industry is built on. An effective solution, of course, is to immediately cease the use of nuclear power and replace it with renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind power. Also we must work to stop the physical process of nuclear technology at its beginning point, uranium mining, and support the land rights struggles of indigenous people to retain what little land left promised in treaties.

Sens. Bob Graham or Connie Mack, US Senate, Washington DC 20510
Reps. Karen Thurman, Cliff Stearns or Corinne Brown, US Representatives, Washington DC 20515

Or call the Whitehouse switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

For more information contact:
--Shundahai Network, 5007 Elmhurst Ln., Las Vegas NV 89108. (702)647-3095. www.shundahai.org

--Nuclear Information and Resource Services, 1424 16th St NW # 404, Washington DC 20036. (202) 328-0002. www.nirs.org

--Western Shoshone Defense Project, PO Box 211106, Crescent Valley, NV 89821. (702) 468-0237.

previous article [current issue] next article
Search | Archives | Calendar | Directory | About / Subscriptions |

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional eXTReMe Tracker