Daily Diary Entries from the Radioactive Roads and Rails Tour
Prepared by Kevin Kamps, Nuclear Waste Specialist at Nuclear Information & Resource Service
On-the-road cell phone (202) 262-9518
Saturday, July 29th, 2000
Today we drove west to the Skull Valley Goshutes Indian reservation, 20 some miles down Skull Valley Road south of I-80, between the Stansbury and Cedar Mountains. Just off of the Interstate we interrupted a film shoot - obviously not too much traffic goes down Skull Valley Road. The entire company - actors, director, and film crew - read our message on the cask as we drove by, gave us thumbs up, cheers and applause. We stopped briefly and gave them our literature, then drove off as they resumed their shoot.
We passed several areas green with rich plant life - natural springs. As a local geologist opposed to the nuclear waste dump said at the Grantsville Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearing just the night before, "Skull Valley is not a wasteland - it's rich."
We did not have directions to Goshutes dump opponent Margene Bullcreek's house on the reservation, so we stopped at the general store/gas station to ask. Who did we run into but tribal chairman Leon Bear himself, the person leading the effort to dump 40,000 tons of high-level atomic waste on his community in exchange for tens of millions of dollars. Our encounter was actually pleasant enough, under the circumstances. He was gassing up one of the tribal council's brand new trucks, bought with money from Private Fuel Storage. We soon learned that Chairman Bear and dump supporters have been a little less than pleasant towards dump opponents like Margene.
We found Margene's house, directly across from Chairman Bear's house. Margene sat down on an overturned plastic bucket while Gabi and I sat on a wooden bench under the shade of a cottonwood tree. She pointed out to where the dump would be located, and beyond it to where her brother used to catch and break wild mustangs with a lasso. Margene worked on bead work while she told us stories about her resistance to the dump, and some of the harassment she has suffered because of it.
Margene first became concerned about the dump not because of health risks to her community, but because of the secretive way in which Chairman Bear was moving forward on his deal with Private Fuel Storage. Bear had moved full speed ahead with lease negotiations even before a majority of voting members of the tribe has agreed to the deal. Since then, Bear has used PFS money to entice additional tribal members to sign onto the lease agreement. Even though all tribal members are supposed to share equally in such income, Margene and other dump opponents such as Sammy Blackbear have been excluded from receiving any payments of PFS money. Not only that, Bullcreek and Blackbear have even been cut off from receiving their regular income disbursements from the tribe, as have their children, simply because they oppose the dump. Their families have had to go without at the Holidays, and even now when their children need new clothes and supplies for school.
Margene has been blocked at tribal meetings from discussing her objections to the dump proposal. Both Margene and Sammy have been threatened with "termination," dismemberment from the tribe, and exile from their community.
Margene's water is continually turned off at the well head by tribal dump proponents. She and her family have to repeatedly turn their own water back on. Their house has been ransacked, and files taken from her computer. Sammy Blackbear and his children were shot at in April. Despite such intimidation, they are not backing down in their opposition. Similarly, Citizens Opposed to Radioactive Waste in Utah are taking encouragement rather than being discouraged that all of their sign up sheets were stolen during both the NRC hearings in Utah -- it's a sign that dump proponents are scared.
Sammy and Margene both spoke at the NRC public hearings in Utah. Sammy sat with his young children, and Margene carried a traditional spiritual staff for strength and direction. They spoke powerfully about their contention of environmental racism before the NRC's Atomic Safety Licensing Board, their lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs for approving the improper lease with PFS, and their continuing efforts to educate their own tribal members about the hazards of high level nuclear waste. Sammy is excited about the prospects of their legal action, and is working on alternative economic development plans for the reservation. Margene wants to install solar panels on her roof and a wind turbine for electricity, which she currently goes without because she can't afford the bills. Both have plans to shift their opposition into higher gear. Both have been invited to speak at the Nuclear-Free Great Lakes Action Camp, August 20 to 26 in Michigan. They hope to network with Citizens Opposed to Radioactive Waste in Utah, and other anti-nuclear activists in other States, to show their reservation community that they are not alone in opposing the dump. Many members of the tribe are opposed to the dump, but are afraid of speaking out for fear of reprisals like Sammy and Margene have suffered.
Margene wanted to keep our mock cask to use on her reservation and in Salt Lake City. We might just have to build a replica of the Holtec cask to be used in Utah as a warning to prevent 4,000 actual Holtecs from being dumped on the flatlands just two miles from Margene's window.
Both Sammy's lawsuit and Margene's organization are in serious need of financial assistance. Contact me at (202) 328-0002 if you are interested to donate money, and I can put you in touch with them.
Margene has said that her land is sacred and beautiful, no place to dump nuclear waste. Sitting with the breeze blowing through the summer silence around us, we felt her passion to protect her homeland for her children, grandchildren, and future generations. After all, the reservation land is all that her people have left. As one speaker said at the hearing the night before, accepting nuclear waste would only be a continuation of the Skull Valley Goshutes' problems, not a solution. Citizens Opposed to Radioactive Waste in Utah have pledged to help the Goshutes with economic development alternatives to nuclear waste. Watch NIRS web site (www.nirs.org) for ways you can help stop the dump targeted at the Skull Valley Goshutes.
Sunday, July 30th, 2000
We did little more than drive 500 miles from Salt Lake City, all the way across Nevada, to Carson City, the State Capitol. We did manage to educate folks along the way, having some great conversations with people at gas stations and rest areas. The cask makes for quite a conversation piece, and we handed out literature and gathered petition signatures. As we entered Nevada, we noticed that lots of people in passing cars honked in support and gave us the thumbs up. Citizen Alert, the Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force, Shundahai Network, and the State Agency for Nuclear Projects and Nuclear Waste Project Office have down a tremendous job of educating Nevadans about Yucca Mountain and high-level nuclear waste transportation issues. One honk surprised us however. We turned to look for a thumbs up, and instead saw a truck carrying containers marked "Radioactive" and "Corrosive" pass us going at least 75 miles per hour. That was a strange moment, but the truth is that untold numbers of "low level" radioactive waste shipments are already on the roads. If the nuclear industry gets its way, tens of thousands of high level shipments will also hit the roads and rails in years to come, starting as early as 2003 if the Skull Valley dump gets the green light. We must stop the Mobile Chernobyl in its tracks.
Monday, July 31st, 2000
We awoke today to find we had gotten our first parking ticket of the trip, in Carson City - just an appropriate little sign that Nevada is geared up to block high-level waste trucks and trains, even mock ones. Headlines in the local newspaper The Nevada Appeal heralded the State of Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office's efforts to scientifically show that the Department of Energy's proposed C-22 nickel alloy repository casks proposed for Yucca Mountain burial are not all they are cracked up to be. First DOE claimed the casks would last 750,000 years. DOE later lowered that estimate to 100,000 years. Most recently, DOE admitted the casks would last only 34,000 years. One experiment revealed the proposed cask alloy's degradation in just three weeks. The State agency will present its technical findings at the August 1st meeting of the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board in Carson City. I will speak to the Board, which is charged by Congress to oversee DOE's Yucca Mountain science and also the technical aspects of high-level waste transport and packaging, about my experiences on the Radioactive Roads and Rails tour. Just as with DOE and NRC, high-level nuclear waste transportation issues have fallen through the cracks at the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board.
to be continued...