By Alison Shim
Over the past few years, Native American land sites have been targeted for dumping nuclear waste and even more recently, for radioactive waste dumps. Serious health effects from the waste and uranium mining have now plagued a vast number of Native Americans’ struggling health. Tribes are now constantly struggling to obtain restitution and compensation from the government.
As reported by the Las Vegas Review Journal, in 1987, 49 states ganged up on Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the single site in the nation for further study as a potential national dump for high-level radioactive waste. Nevada was targeted as the only site for this potential dumping and served as a clear step towards discriminating against Native Americans. Due to significant public resistance, dumping targeting large regions in the East had been postponed. However, the proposal of “dumping” as a solution to handling such large amounts of nuclear waste was not met without strong controversy. According to the Las Vegas Sun, “Led by Western Shoshone spiritual leader Corbin Harney, the Western Shoshone National Council maintained tireless opposition to the dump, joined, over time, by more than 1,000 environmental groups. Then, in 2009, President Obama and his Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, wisely cancelled the dangerous, controversial proposal.”
The economic costs to dumping are recognized to be monstrous as well. If the proposal for dumping in Nevada had progressed, “Although $11 billion of ratepayer and taxpayer money had already been wasted, another $90 billion would have been wasted if the project had gone forward.” The supposed “solution” is neither cost-effective nor efficient in providing a long-term solution to the on-going issue of nuclear waste.
Native Americans are now facing a wide range of serious health concerns after having been exposed to colossal amounts of radiation. If the dumpsite in Nevada had opened, many thousands of high-level radioactive waste trucks and trains would have travelled through most states, passing tens of millions of American’s homes, at risk of severe accidents unveiling disastrous amounts of radioactivity into metro areas. The environments of such highly populated areas would be severely damaged and inherently threaten all of its inhabitants. The region overall would be doomed as a “nuclear sacrifice area”.
Furthermore, the Christian Science Monitor points out that “the US currently has more than 75,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel stacked up at 122 temporary sites in 39 states across the US, according to DOE reports. The nation’s 104 commercial nuclear reactors produce about 2,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel annually. Thousands more tons of high-level military waste also need a final home”. The problem of nuclear is approaching rapidly on the horizon, calling for a greater and longer-lasting solution than dumping on Native American land. In order to create a sustainable future, the government is going to need to implement a more efficient, forward-looking solution. The same Christian Science Monitor article finds that currently, “Mr. Obama handed the commission the problem of what to do with spent nuclear fuel that will be dangerously radioactive for millennia and a big problem if it gets into the environment. Currently, spent-fuel pools and dry above-ground casks at reactor sites are being used for temporary storage. But a secure geologic site for permanent story remains key if nuclear power is to expand and the amount of spent fuel increases”. While both temporary solutions look to be insufficient in the future, both serve as capable replacements to the ever-harmful dumping on Native American grounds.