Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

October 13, 2019

Yucca Mountain: Radioactive Racism Targets Western Shoshone in Congress

Photo: Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps, and Native Community Action Council's Ian Zabarte, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 2018 at the "Zero Hour" youth climate rally.
By Beyond Nuclear
Censored News
Statement by Ian Zabarte
Principal Man, Western Shoshone

Radioactive racism is not progressive! Urge your Congress Members to oppose dangerously bad high-level nuke waste dumps!

Even though "Nevada Is Not a Radioactive Wasteland!", U.S. House bill H.R. 2699, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2019, was nonetheless recently rammed through the Environment and Climate Subcommittee on a voice vote, without so much as a peep of opposition. Democrats hold the majority in the U.S. House, and thus are in charge of this subcommittee. Subcommittee Democrats include several members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. But H.R. 2699 would rush the opening of the Yucca Mountain dump in Nevada, targeting Western Shoshone Indian land, where decades of nuclear weapons testing already caused fallout of hazardous radioactivity over a very large region. It would even significantly increase the amount of high-level radioactive waste that could be buried there, thus increasing the number of Mobile Chernobyl and Floating Fukushima shipments, by truck, train, and/or barge, through most states, scores of major urban centers, and the vast majority of U.S. congressional districts, bound for the dump (see 2017 documents here for road and rail route maps).

The Timbisha Band of Western Shoshone in Death Valley are directly downstream of Yucca, and would suffer the very worst contamination consequences from the leaking dump. H.R. 2699 would also authorize the U.S. Department of Energy to take ownership of commercial irradiated nuclear fuel at private, consolidated interim storage facilities (CISF). This radical change to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, as Amended, would risk "interim" becoming de facto permanent surface storage, meaning loss of institutional control over time would guarantee large-scale releases of hazardous radioactivity directly into the environment.

The current targets for CISFs are two sites in the Permian Basin, just 39 miles apart across the New Mexico/Texas border, in a Hispanic region not far from the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation (itself previously targeted for a CISF). New Mexico ranks towards the bottom of states on numerous major socio-economic indicators (even though some 40% of gargantuan U.S. nuclear weapons complex spending takes place within its borders!), and already suffers from intense fossil fuel and nuclear industry pollution. Just this week, a report found that shockingly high percentages of Navajo/Diné women and infants tested positive for uranium exposure; even though mining in the Four Corners (including on Pueblo Indian land) largely ended decades ago, cleanup of contamination at countless sites has gone largely to entirely undone. A U.S. Senate field hearing in Albuquerque just addressed this environmental injustice, and also the unacknowledged and uncompensated suffering of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders, victims and survivors of the "Trinity" open air plutonium bomb detonation on July 16, 1945 in New Mexico, the world's first atomic test blast. To now target New Mexico with high-level radioactive waste de facto permanent surface storage dumps adds insult to injury. The two CISFs would hold 213,600 metric tons of nuclear power waste, more than three times the amount currently targeted at Yucca (70,000 MT). As the former head of Environmental Justice at the U.S. EPA, Mustafa Ali, said on Democracy Now! on September 5, the countless high risk shipments themselves, bound for such dumps, would burden low income, people of color communities, along transport routes across the country, with yet another major environmental injustice.

Despite all this inherent environmental racism, H.R. 2699's identical predecessor bill last year, H.R. 3053, passed the U.S. House floor by a whopping 340 to 72 vote on May 10, 2018. (Luckily, the U.S. Senate did not take up H.R. 3053 last year, so the bill died. However, the Republican majority U.S. Senate has already taken up a discussion draft of legislation very similar or even identical to H.R. 2699 this year, in the Environment and Public Works Committee. This makes our action to stop it dead in its tracks all the more vital, because another blowout vote in favor of H.R. 2699 on the House floor this year or next, could tee up consideration of identical legislation in the U.S. Senate, bringing it that much closer to President Donald J. Trump's desk, and enactment!) Inexplicably, nearly half the members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) voted in favor of this radioactively racist bill! But it goes without saying that environmental injustice is not a progressive value! Of course, such a bad vote is unacceptable, even if Congress Members do not belong to the CPC. Please contact your U.S. Representative, and both your U.S. Senators. You can be patched through to your Congress Members' D.C. offices via the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Urge your Congress Members to oppose H.R. 2699, now headed to the full U.S. House Energy & Commerce Committee. Also urge them to oppose any funding in Fiscal Year 2020 for either the Yucca dump, or for CISFs. And urge them to oppose S. 1234, the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2019, which also advocates for non-consent based siting of the dump in Nevada, and greases the skids for CISFs in New Mexico and Texas. Urge your Congress Members to support the Nevada congressional delegation's Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act of 2019 (S. 649), as well as to advocate for the very long overdue, common sense interim alternative of Hardened On-Site Storage (HOSS).
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All best wishes,
The Beyond Nuclear team

Statement to U.S. Congress
Principal Man Ian Zabarte Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation of Indians 
P.O. Box 46301
Las Vegas, NV 89114

October 1, 2019
Committee on Energy and Commerce 2125 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515
For the Record: HR 2699 Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2019.

Dear Members of Congress,

The Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation of Indians are an intervenor in licensing of the proposed Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Atomic Safety Licensing Board Panel Docket 63-001. The Department of Energy has failed to prove ownership of the proposed Yucca Mountain site title to which is vested in the Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation of Indians. Shoshone title remains unextinguished and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not adjudicate title. We strongly oppose the amendment to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act that does not conform to the law of the land, the Treaty of Ruby Valley controlling, and will assert ownership of Yucca Mountain if licensing resumes.

We have prepared additional legal contention(s) for the resumption of licensing that include “cultural triage” a systematic process to dismantle the living lifeways of the Shoshone people at Yucca Mountain. The DOE created and employed “cultural triage” in 19901 as part of the Yucca Mountain cultural resource studies in a culture of secrecy that demonstrates intent to violate the Genocide Convention Implementation Act of 1987. We seek enforcement through the Human Rights Enforcement Act of 2009 and intend to use the licensing proceedings to prosecute our case as an additional contention. We hope you agree that this is the best way to bring American abuse of Native Americans into focus with a broader audience concerned about nuclear waste.

Principal Man Ian Zabarte Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation of Indians
1 Native American Cultural Resources Studies at Yucca Mountain 1990 prepared for Science Application International Corporation under contract number DE-AC08-87NV10576 (page 167).

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