Albion Monitor /Commentary

Ward Valley Protest Passes Milestone

by Dan Hamburg

on Ward Valley

report from Dan Hamburg

Ward Valley (Silyaye aheace), located in the eastern Mojave Desert, is the proposed site for a radioactive waste dump. Today, the occupation of this site by native and non-native activists enters its third month. In a matter of days, it will surpass Wounded Knee as the longest Native American-led occupation in U.S. history.

Last week, negotiations between the Colorado River Native Nations Alliance (CRNNA) and the Department of Interior broke down. The Department insists that the occupation end so that "environmental analysis" can continue. Five Tribes, led by their Elders and supported by the American Indian Movement (AIM) and non-native activists, are adamant that no further desecration of sacred ground will occur.

The nuclear power industry, betting that global warming and an energy-hungry Asia will give it new life, is anxious to site new dumps. On-site waste disposal at nuclear power plants is a generally more expensive option, particularly if industry can successfully foist long-term liability onto government . With strong support from the Clinton administration, nuclear giants like Westinghouse and General Electric plan to build the new plants in China. The resulting high- and low-level waste will come home for burial here in the good old U.S.A.

There are experts, including a panel from the National Academy of Sciences, who claim the public should not worry about a radioactive waste dump atop the aquifer that feeds the Colorado River. They claim that the waste poses no danger to the drinking water source for 20 million people in California, Arizona and Mexico. Neither, they say, does the construction of the dump pose significant threat to the endangered desert tortoise (kah-pet), for which Silyaye aheace is critical habitat.

Should we doubt the experts? Experience says yes. The contractor for construction of the dump, U.S. Ecology, has a long history of leaving behind contaminated sites that end up on the Superfund list. Last month, a U.S. Geological Survey team found elevated tritium (radioactive hydrogen) levels as far as 15 miles from a recently abandoned U.S. Ecology dump at Beatty, Nevada.

They have pledged the honor of their ancestors, and their own lives, to stop this dump
Despite decades of assurances from the experts, thousands of U.S. GIs, and millions of ordinary citizens, have been exposed to dangerous, often lethal, doses of radiation. Up until the 1960s, the experts failed to raise the alarm over above-ground testing of nuclear bombs. The experts want us to believe Chernobyl couldnŐt happen here, though the near catastrophe at Three Mile Island might lead one to think otherwise.

One of the greatest potential hazards in the Ward Valley dump scenario is in the transport of wastes to the site from virtually anywhere in the world. The California Highway Patrol has repeatedly stated their concerns about the transport of nuclear waste on the highways of the eastern Mojave. Recent train crashes and derailments on the Cajon Pass show how easily a nuclear nightmare could occur here. Whenever nuclear waste is transported, whether by truck or rail, the potential for disaster is clear and present.

The occupation at Silyaye aheace is finally about how we human beings regard ourselves in relation to the earth. Native wisdom teaches that the earth is our mother, the source of our life. Our fundamental duty is to live as lightly on the earth as we can, leaving it safe and plentiful for generations to come. Contaminants that must be contained for thousands of generations should not be produced, let alone buried in shallow trenches near a major water source.

The CRNNA has literally drawn a line in the sand. They have pledged the honor of their ancestors, and their own lives, to stop this dump. While the nuclear industry, and their supporters from Dianne Feinstein to Pete Wilson play politics with our lives, the Tribes, the Elders, AIM and their non-native supporters will remain in the desert, protecting the Mother.

Dan Hamburg is a former congressman and currently executive director of V.O.T.E., a Bolinas-based foundation. He is a candidate for governor of California on the ticket of the Green Party. He and his wife Carrie have been camping at Ward Valley since February 11.

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Albion Monitor April 12, 1998 (

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