Gathering Opposes Nuclear Waste Storage   

by Tiffany Erickson 
Deseret Morning News 
10 October 2004

SKULL VALLEY, Tooele County Fighting sandstorms, wind and rain, representatives of environmental groups from Utah and other states gathered this weekend on the Goshute Indian Reservation here to oppose plans to store nuclear waste.

Private Fuel Storage (PFS), a corporation that represents eight nuclear utilities, has contracted with the Goshutes to store 40,000 tons of nuclear waste in above ground canisters on the reservation, located about 75 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.

But some tribe members and dozens of environmental groups vehemently oppose bringing waste into the state.

Margene Bullcreek lives on the reservation and has been one of the leaders opposing the waste storage. She said it is important for the public to know there are tribe members who do oppose it and that it is an issue that has divided the tribe.

"PFS is a large corporation targeting our small traditional Native American reservation for its dangerous project, and taking advantage of our sovereignty," Bullcreek said. "Sovereignty isn't selling your heritage to the highest bidder. . . . The dump will threaten our tribe's health, cultural traditions and reservation community life."

But on the flip side, storing the waste could spell economic prosperity for the impoverished reservation.

Aside from money, Pete Lister, coordinator of the Nuclear Free Great Basin Campaign, said it is also a chance for tribe members to assert their rights as Native Americans to use their lands how they see fit.

That view is understandable, Lister said, but the nuclear industry is exploiting that sovereignty and fails to support those who have a spiritual tie to the land.

"People say 'We can get rich off this . . . why is Utah against it?' " Bullcreek said. "But it is poisonous and it's going to affect our small reservation, the only small piece of land that is left for us. We welcome the states' contentions to oppose the waste."

The site would be a "temporary" storage site inasmuch as the contract is for 20 years with an option for renewal. Utah officials and other groups, who are fighting the proposal, are concerned it will become permanent.

"They say it will just be temporary, but there are no plans for an exit strategy, and that should be a red flag for everyone," said Jason Groenewold, director of Healthy Environmental Alliance or Utah (HEAL Utah). "We need to remember and be very clear that once the waste gets here, no one else is going to take it."

In March 2003, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission denied PFS its license to begin construction of the dump, citing a risk of accidents involving F-16 fighter jets that routinely pass over the valley en route to Hill Air Force Base.

In May 2003, PFS appealed the decision and offered to reduce the size of the site. But it was turned down due to the process in which the appeal was filed.

The proposal remains on the table.

"We need to stop the nuclear industry from targeting vulnerable communities that's what they do," Lister said. "We don't want this impression to be left whether it's in the press or in public policy that these communities are just going to roll over. There is in fact solidarity behind them."

Lister said events like the Skull Valley gathering are organized to help demonstrate that there is support for people who struggle in these indigenous or vulnerable communities.

About 60 people attended the three-day event, including representatives from HEAL Utah, the Goshute and Wind River reservations and environmental groups like the Washington, D.C.-based Public Citizen, Oregon-based Peaceworks and Citizen Alert of Reno, Nev.

Saturday's was the second protest gathering in Skull Valley since 2001.

E-mail: terickson@desnews.com

 

        


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