GOP Reopens Fight Over Nuclear Waste in Sacred Yucca Mountain

Story tools

A A AResize

Print

 
 A  little over a week before an 8.9-magnitude earthquake ripped open a fissure in the Earth, triggered a deadly tsunami and set off a potential worldwide nuclear catastrophe, House Republicans introduced a bill to permit 200 more commercial nuclear reactors in the U.S., “enough to triple current megawatt capacity, by 2040.” Tucked into that bill is a clause that revives the long debate around nuclear waste storage in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, a move that Native American and environmental groups have been resisting for decades.

Nuclear power may not produce pollution like fossil fuels, but it does produce waste that carries with it the risk of radioactive contamination. There’s no expanding nuclear power without pinning down a nuclear waste storage site, which is one of the reasons the House bill calls on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to complete a review of the Yucca Mountain site “without political interference.”

Native American groups have long opposed the construction of a nuclear waste storage site in Yucca Mountain, which is a sacred spiritual and religious site for local Western Shoshone and Pauite tribes.

“A Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository will leak, impacting the land and people of the Great Basin sooner or later,” testified Margene Bullcreek, president of the Native Community Action Council, at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Atomic Safety Licensing Board Panel Construction Authorization Board in 2010.

Bullcreek’s group represents local tribes that have suffered from radiation exposure after U.S. nuclear weapons testing in the area. They say storing nuclear waste in the mountain would desecrate the sacred lands, and also expose local residents to significant health risks.

In 2010 the Department of Energy withdrew its application to pursue Yucca Mountain as a site for a nuclear waste dump, but Republicans have not abandoned the idea.