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Protesters Stop Nuclear Dump On U.S. - Mexican Border

by Diego Cevallos

article on Sierra Blanca
(IPS) MEXICO CITY -- After six long years of protests, environmentalists and politicians in Mexico celebrated the cancellation of a U.S. project for a nuclear dump close to the border, and urged the government to renegotiate accords with Washington to avoid any repeat of the problem.

The projected dump, which was to be built in the tiny U.S. town of Sierra Blanca, 30 kms from Mexico, was halted by "the drive of Mexican society" rather than any action by the government, which acted in a "contradictory and feeble-spirited manner," Greenpeace spokesman Roberto Lopez told IPS.

After a flood of protest letters sent by diplomats and reports of demonstrations and mobilisations in Mexico, and after studying a number of mutually contradictory environmental impact studies, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission voted against the proposed nuclear dump October 22.

Opposition politicians who went on a hunger strike said government had no right to claim victory
Earlier this year, observers had expected the commission's approval of an operating license for the proposed project to be a mere formality. Indeed, both houses of the U.S. Congress had already approved the plan.

The electoral ambitions of Texas state Gov. George W. Bush, son of the former president, reportedly influenced the decision. The governor is reportedly seeking the Republican Party's presidential nomination.

Environmentalists in Mexico and the United States had been fighting the initiative since 1992, when the Sierra Blanca dump project first surfaced.

Residents of the border area held protests and Mexican politicians called for suspension of the plan, which they described as an example of environmental racism.

Sierra Blanca, population 700, is located at the western end of the state of Texas in one of the poorest regions of the country, where about two-thirds of residents are of Latin American -- mainly Mexican -- origin.

For its part, the Mexican government first kept silent, then asked for technical reports, after which it declared that the project was not dangerous. But in the face of mounting pressure, it finally urged that the dump not be constructed "for the sake of neighbourly relations."

According to the Mexican Foreign Ministry, the Texas state government's refusal to approve the project license "addressed the concerns expressed by broad sectors of Mexican society, and responded to initiatives by the Mexican government."

But opposition politicians who went on a hunger strike to protest the nuclear dump replied that the government had no right to claim victory, because it did nothing significant to halt the project.

"If the matter had been left in the hands of the Mexican government, the Sierra Blanca dump would already be in the process of construction today," said Senator Luis Alvarez of the conservative National Action Party, who underlined the"crucial" role played by society in checking the project.

Greenpeace is demanding that the Mexican government renegotiate border cooperation agreements with the United States, arguing that the ones currently in effect, touted by the two countries as examples of "good neighborliness," have proven to be ineffective in protecting the environment.

A similar stance was taken by former secretary of the North American Commission of Environmental Cooperation, Victor Lichtinger. "We need clear mechanisms for resolving bi-national conflicts, which ensure a smooth and effective dialogue," he declared.

The Sierra Blanca dump was to hold up to 1.8 billion cubic feet of low-level radioactive waste, such as filters, curtains and other nuclear power-plant waste as well as gloves and boots used in medical facilities.

Several studies indicate the presence of water tables connected to the Rio Grande -- which forms the border between the United States and Mexico -- near the proposed dump site which, furthermore, was shown to be prone to earthquakes.

The plan was also seen as violating the 1983 La Paz Agreement between the two countries, which prohibits the construction of toxic installations within 100 kms of the border.

The final decision by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission cited the fact that Sierra Blanca was located in an area prone to earthquakes, and pointed to problems of "environmental justice" in building the dump in an area mainly inhabited by members of an ethnic minority.

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Albion Monitor November 9, 1998 (

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