No to radioactive garbage on Native land!

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On September 9, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a permit for a nuclear waste dump on the tiny Skull Valley Goshute Reservation in western Utah. A consortium of nuclear power companies known as Private Fuel Storage (PFS) plans to move 44,000 tons of the deadliest poison in world history through cities and towns across the country for storage in an earthquake-prone desert valley, 45 miles from Salt Lake City. Over 300 environmental, scientific and Native American organizations protested the decision, along with many of the reservation’s residents.

Radioactive racism. Native Americans have always borne the brunt of the radioactive legacy in the U.S. The vast majority of uranium mining has been done on Indian lands. On the Navajo reservation, where many still live without electricity, uranium miners continue to seek compensation for disastrous health effects, while piles of radioactive tailings still dot the landscape, poisoning the water and earth.

In Nevada, the Western Shoshone nation is the most bombed nation on earth. Over 1,000 nuclear blasts have spread radiation in every direction. The Skull Valley Goshutes also live downwind from the Nevada Test Site. Now the nuclear chain has come full circle, with Native lands being targeted as dumping grounds for waste that will take tens of thousands of years to cool off.

Generations of poverty and oppression have made Native communities vulnerable to the lucrative deals being offered by the nuclear industry, and their unique sovereignty status provides a loophole for corporations seeking to evade state and local government opposition.

A community divided. Families and neighbors have been torn apart in the fight over nuclear waste in Skull Valley. On one side, corrupt tribal chairman Leon Bear has signed a secret and illegal deal with PFS and offered a million dollars to every tribal member who will put their name down in support of it.

Details of the contract have never been divulged to other tribal members. Bear has maintained his position through disputed elections amid charges of embezzlement, fraud and tax evasion. The Bureau of Indian Affairs stands behind him, refusing to recognize any other tribal leader. Despite the secrecy of the deal, and the controversy within the tribe, the BIA took only three days to approve the contract.

On the other side, Margene Bullcreek and the Skull Valley nuclear resisters have formed their own organization, Ohngo Gaudadeh Devia Awareness (OGDA), and vowed to stop the project by any means necessary. Bullcreek’s home is within two miles of the proposed dump.

“ As Native Americans, we need to stick up for what we believe is right,” Bullcreek has said. “From the beginning, they’ve tried to take away our land, our language and our identity, but there were many people who wouldn’t let them do it. That’s the reason why we are saying no to the nuclear waste dump.”

The country’s wasteland. Tooele County, Utah, is already home to a long list of toxic facilities. There are hazardous and radioactive waste sites, a biological weapons laboratory, and the nation’s largest source of chlorine gas emissions. The west desert bombing range, which surrounds the reservation, is littered with unexploded munitions from the Air Force’s 7,000 annual overflights by F-16 fighter jets.

The state of Utah opened the door to the nuclear industry by welcoming all these facilities with open arms. Now it is scrambling to stop the one project that won’t bring in state tax revenues or campaign contributions.

According to PFS, the Skull Valley dump would be “temporary,” until a permanent facility opens at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. But temporary in this case means 100–200 years, and there is no reason to believe this waste would ever leave Skull Valley once it is there. It is likely that the Yucca Mountain facility, on Western Shoshone treaty lands, will never be built.

The fight ahead. The fate of Skull Valley is far from decided. The environmental and anti-nuclear movements have pledged to put up a fight. The vast majority of Utahans are opposed to the dump and even the Mormon Church has come out against it. Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. has promised to stand on the tracks to block nuclear waste. What he hasn’t done is offered to provide economic alternatives for the Skull Valley Goshutes.

Leading the charge against PFS is the indigenous-led anti-nuclear organization Shundahai Network, with close ties to Margene Bullcreek and OGDA. Shundahai is no stranger to the kind of uphill battle that will be required to stop the PFS dump.

Shundahai played a key role in stopping fullscale nuclear weapons testing in Nevada and helped stop a nuke dump in Ward Valley, California, in the late 1990s. They have also stalled the Yucca Mountain repository for over a decade. From their offices in Salt Lake City, they are now planning a campaign of direct action and public pressure to save Skull Valley.

Real solutions. The first step in any remedy for the nuclear waste problem is obvious: stop producing it! Nuclear power should be phased out and replaced through energy conservation and efficiency and the use of renewable sources like solar and wind. The thousands of spent fuel rods we are already cursed with should be left where they are. Transportation only poses more risks.

Many activists and scientists believe that until a long-term solution can be found, facilities for safe storage should be constructed and maintained on-site at nuclear power plants. This should be done by government agencies with public oversight, but with funds from industry coffers.

Meanwhile, the nation’s economic, scientific and technical resources should be used to find long-range solutions to this crisis, rather than coming up with better ways to annihilate humanity.

This nuclear industry has been propped up for far too long with tax breaks and subsidies, and has proven itself totally incapable of handling the world’s deadliest poisons. It’s past time to stop making Native Americans pay the price for the crimes of big business.

And it’s past time to nationalize the nuclear industry under workers’ control, seize its economic assets, and put a generous portion of these towards pulling Native Americans out of poverty and providing compensation and healthcare for all workers and communities harmed by its actions, starting with Indian communities. Real sovereignty means putting First Nations in control of their future, not providing legal loopholes for exploitative corporations.

For more information or to get involved, visit www.shundahai.org or call the network at 801-533-0128.

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