Environmental Justice

The siting of nuclear facilities - whether uranium mines, waste dumps, enrichment plants or other radioactivity-emitting operations - invariably occurs in communities of color and/or low-income. This consistent environmental racism is not unique to the nuclear industry but is a pattern that Beyond Nuclear is working to end.



First Nations of Lake Huron's North Shore take strong stand against high-level radioactive waste dump

As announced in a media release, the North Shore Tribal Council of Lake Huron, representing 7 First Nations communities, has expressed its strong opposition to a bid by the City of Elliot Lake in Ontario to serve as a Canada-wide dumpsite for high-level radioactive waste. Elliot Lake remains severely contaminated after decades of a dozen uranium mines in its immediate area (see photo in entry immediately below). The nuclear utility run Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) has been put in charge of searching for a "volunteer host" for irradiated nuclear fuel, hazardous for millions of years. The North Shore Tribal Council said "Our statement to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and to the Nuclear Waste Management Organization is: Do not waste your financial resources if you plan to conduct a study in this area because a nuclear waste dump is not going to happen here."

A 1998 book, republished in 2003, entitled "This Is Our Homeland," edited by Serpent River First Nation Members Lorraine Rekmans and Keith Lewis, as well as Anabel Dwyer, contains testimonials by First Nation and other survivors of decades of uranium mining at Elliot Lake.


"Nuclear genocide" at Serpent River First Nation, Elliot Lake, Ontario

Uranium tailings wall at Elliot Lake, leaking into the Serpent River watershed. Photo by Robert Del Tredichi.In Part 1 of his book overviewing the Canadian nuclear establishment's history, Nuclear Genocide, Pat McNamara included an essay on the dozen uranium mines, and associated mills and refinery, located near Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada -- adjacent to the Serpent River First Nation. Much of the essay was taken from the book This Is My Homeland, edited by journalist, Serpent River First Nation Member, and Green Party of Canada indigenous peoples affairs spokesperson Lorraine Rekmans. As documented by Gordon Edwards and Robert Del Tredichi's Nuclear Map of Canada, 145.3 million tonnes of radioactive tailings, out of a national Canadian total of 193.2 million tonnes -- a whopping 75% -- are located at the long-shuttered Elliot Lake uranium mines, on the Serpent River watershed which flows into Lake Huron at Georgian Bay. To this day, the Elliot Lake uranium tailings are still the largest source of radium discharges into the Great Lakes, the drinking water supply for 40 million people in the U.S., Canada, and numerous Native American First Nations.


"We left them to die and hoped they would never ask any questions"

Having not been warned about known hazards, Dene men even slept on burlap bags loaded with uranium and radiumThese powerful words come from Andy Orkin, an Ontario lawyer who worked on behalf of the Deline First Nations people, among the very first indigenous victims of the Atomic Age. Deline, Northwest Territories, Canada is home to a traditional Dene tribe, the only indigenous people on the mighty Great Bear Lake near the Canadian Arctic. Orkin is quoted in Part 1 of Pat McNamara's Nuclear Genocide in Canada. 

The book opens by describing Port Radium, the first uranium mine in Canada, which commenced operations in 1933. Local indigenous men were hired to haul pitchblende, uranium ore containing then-coveted radium, in burlap sacks (see photos at left). Although the Canadian mines department had already alerted the federal government to the hazards, the men of Deline were not warned. They began dying of various cancers -- diseases unknown previously to the tribe -- at an alarming rate, in 1960.

Eventually, the Canadian government admitted the men's exposure to hazardous radioactive materials was to blame, but the "Village of Widows" had long since already figured that out themselves. As nuclear widow Cindy Kenny-Gilday of Deline said:

"This village of young men are the first generation of men in the history of Dene on this lake
to grow up without guidance from their grandfathers, fathers and uncles. This cultural, economic,
spiritual, emotional deprivation impact on the community is a threat to the survival of the one and only
tribe on Great Bear Lake. Itʹs the most vicious example of cultural genocide I have ever seen and it's in my own home."

The Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility has posted a 1998 "Call for a Federal Response to Uranium Deaths in Deline" by the Dene First Nation People of Great Bear Lake.


Defending Western Shoshone treaty rights against Yucca dump

CNN Money has quoted Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps, defending Western Shoshone Indian Nation treaty rights against the Yucca Mountain high-level radioactive waste dump proposal:

"...Yucca was originally Shoshone land, taken by the federal government in 1951 for weapons testing, said Kevin Kamps, a nuclear waste specialist at Beyond Nuclear.

And Nevada was chosen not because it was a good site, but because it had the fewest representatives in Washington of any state under consideration, critics say.

"The most common name for that legislation was the 'Screw Nevada Bill,' " said Kamps. "It never should have been targeted to begin with."..."

The U.S. government signed the "peace and friendship" Treaty of Ruby Valley with the Western Shoshone Indian Nation in 1863; it recognized Western Shoshone sovereignty at Yucca Mountain, throughout most of what is now the State of Nevada, as well as portions of California and Idaho.

The "Screw Nevada Bill," enacted into law in 1987, singled out Yucca Mountain as the only targeted site in the country to undergo further study as a potential high-level radioactive waste repository. The States of Washington and Texas, also on the target list, joined forces, and in coalition with eastern states also on the dumpsite target list, ganged up on Nevada. Texas and Washington had 32 and 12 Representatives in the U.S. House, respectively, whereas Nevada had but one. Texas and Washington also split between them the powerful positions of Speaker of the House and House Majority Leader at that time. Even Nevada's U.S. Senate delegation consisted of two low ranking first-term Senators. But one of those rookies was Harry Reid, who has since devoted his political career to stopping the Yucca dump, and now serves as Senate Majority Leader.


Court ruling an indirect EJ victory for Western Shoshone Indian Nation!

This Jan. 2004 photo by Gabriela Bulisova shows the frame of a sacred ceremonial Western Shoshone sweat lodge with Yucca's west face in background.As reported by the Las Vegas Review Journal, U.S. Senator Harry Reid (Democrat-Nevada), Majority Leader, called today's decision by the Federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit regarding the Yucca Mountain, Nevada high-level radioactive waste dump "an important win in the long battle to put the ill-conceived Yucca Mountain project permanently to rest." The three-judge federal appeals panel ruled against a lawsuit filed by the States of Washington and South Carolina, Aiken County (South Carolina), and three private (nuclear industry affiliated) businessmen in Washington State seeking to block the Obama administration's cancellation of the Yucca dump.

July seems to be the month for major Yucca decisions. On July 9, 2002, the U.S. Senate voted 60 to 39 to allow the U.S. Department of Energy to proceed with a construction and operations license application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which George W. Bush signed into law two weeks later. Then, on July 9, 2004, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals (although comprised of a different three judge panel) ruled in favor of the State of Nevada and an environmental coalition, ordering the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency back to the drawing board on its Yucca regulations (EPA had wanted to cut off regulations at 10,000 years, long before Yucca's worst radiation releases downstream; under court order, EPA acknowledged in 2008 that high-level radioactive waste at Yucca would remain hazardous for a million years!).

Although a major battle victory, today's ruling does not end this 25+ year long war over the Yucca dump. Under law, the NRC has until later this year (with the possibility for a one year extension) to issue a final "yea or nay" on DOE's 2008 Yucca application. In March 2010, Obama Energy Secretary Steven Chu moved to withdraw the application, but in late June 2010 a panel of three administrative law judges at NRC (the Atomic Safety (sic) and Licensing Board, or ASLB) rejected the motion. The five NRC Commissioners have yet to sustain or overrule the ASLB ruling.

Reflecting the national significance of this court ruling is the widespread media coverage: Associated Press; The Hill (times two!); Hanford News and Tri-City Herald (Washington State); Augusta Chronicle (Georgia). The coverage is likely to expand as word spreads.