As a reminder once again that the possession of nuclear resources can trigger violence, a suicide bomber struck at the Areva-owned Arlit uranium mine in Niger on May 23rd, killing one person and injuring more than a dozen others. The attack was perpetrated by an Al Qaeda jihadist simultaneously with an attack on a military base in Agadez, Niger. The attacker drove inside the Arlit complex in a vehicle loaded with 400 kilograms of explosives. The incident exposed once again the security vulnerabilities at the site, already the source of controversy given the extreme water depletion caused by the operation and the pervasive high level of radioactive contamination of air, water, soils and rocks. Niger is one of the biggest sources of uranium in the world. French industrial giant, Areva, an arm of the French government, also mines uranium in Canada and Kazakhstan. Niger is rated as one of the poorest countries in the world and the locals see little benefit from the exploitation of uranium which has also destroyed the pastoral traditions of the indigenous Tuareg peoples. (Pictured, a typical house of a uranium miner in Arlit.) The independent laboratory, CRIIRAD, has done extensive investigations and analysis in Niger.Read more.
The entire nuclear fuel chain involves the release of radioactivity, contamination of the environment and damage to human health. Most often, communities of color, indigenous peoples or those of low-income are targeted to bear the brunt of these impacts, particularly the damaging health and environmental effects of uranium mining. The nuclear power industry inevitably violates human rights.
As reported by the Salt Lake Tribune, the Private Fuel Storage (PFS) Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) has given up on itsplans to turn the tiny Skull Valley Goshutes Inidan Reservation in Utah into a parking lot dump (or "centralized interim storage facility") for commercial high-level radioactive waste. At one time, PFS was comprised of more than a dozen nuclear utilities, led by Xcel Energy of Minnesota, with Dairyland Power Co-Op as a front group.
In 2005-2006, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) granted PFS a construction and operating license, despite objections by traditionals with the Skull Valley band, nearly 500 environmental and environmental justice organizations, as well as the State of Utah. The plan was for 40,000 metric tons of irradiated nuclear fuel to be "temporarily stored" (for 20 to 40 years) in 4,000 dry casks on the reservation. However, as the ultimate plan was to transfer the wastes to the Yucca Mountain dump, when that proposal was cancelled in 2009, this would have meant the wastes would have been stuck indefinitely at Skull Valley.
In 2006 a very unlikely coalition, involving the likes of Mormon political leaders and wilderness advocates, succeeded in creating the first federal wilderness area in Utah in a generation. This created a "moat" around the Skull Valley reservation, blocking the railway needed to directly deliver the waste. And, after lobbying efforts at the top echelons of Republican Party decision making circles by U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) as well as Utah Governor Huntsman, the George W. Bush administration's Department of the Interior refused to approve the lease agreement between PFS and the Skull Valley band, as well as the intermodal transfer facility on Bureau of Land Management property which could have allowed heavy haul trucks to ship the waste containers the final leg of the journey to the reservation.
The Skull Valley Goshutes were first targeted by the nuclear power establishment more than 20 years ago.Altogether, 60-some tribes have been actively targeted for high-level radioactive waste parking lot dumps. All the proposals have been stopped, as through the work of Native American grassroots environmental activists like Grace Thorpe, working in alliance with environmental and environmental justice organizations.
On Jan. 7, the Salt Lake Tribune published a follow-on article about PFS's cancellation, entitled "Money, politics bury plans for Utah fuel-rod cemetery." The article quotes a leader of the broad coalition which opposed the "parking lot dump":
"...Chip Ward remembers an 'amazing' coalition swelled up around the goal of defeating the storage site.
Co-founder of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, he grasped the wariness of Utahns who already had allowed a slew of toxic industries to be established in western Utah — including chemical weapons destruction, bio-weapons testing, a low-level nuclear waste site, a hazardous waste site, a toxic waste incinerator and what was then the nation’s biggest air polluter...
'When you have a really powerful political movement,' Ward said, 'you can look past whatever divides you and what is important is the cause that unites you.'"
NIRS, for one, spearheaded a coalition of nearly 450 organizations nation-wide, which objected to the environmental, or radioactive, racism of the PFS proposal.
As reported by the Las Vegas Review Journal, in the wee hours of Dec. 22, 1987, 49 states ganged up on one, singling out Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the sole site in the country for further study as a potential national dump for high-level radioactive waste. Numerous targeted dumpsites in the East had been indefinitely postponed a year or two before, due to widespread public resistance. Deaf Smith County, TX and Hanford, WA were also being considered for the western dumpsite. But TX had 32 U.S. Representatives, WA had a dozen, and NV, just one. TX and WA Representatives also held the powerful House Speaker and Majority Leader slots. On the Senate side, NV had two rookie Senators, regarded at the time as easy to roll. The "raw, naked" political decision was made behind closed doors.
But the science -- Yucca's geological and hydrological unsuitability -- caught up to the proposal. So did Harry Reid's revenge, as he grew in power to become Senate Majority Leader. Led by Western Shoshone spiritual leader Corbin Harney, the Western Shoshone National Council maintained tireless opposition to the dump, joined, over time, by more than 1,000 environmental groups. Then, in 2009, President Obama and his Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, wisely cancelled the dangerous, controversial proposal.
Nuclear industry, U.S. congressional, and U.S. Department of Energy, Environmental Projection Agency, and Nuclear Regulatory Commission promotion of the Yucca Mountain dump over decades actively ignored the "peace and friendship" Treaty of Ruby Valley of 1863, which recognized Yucca Mountain as Western Shoshone Indian land.
Although $11 billion of ratepayer and taxpayer money had already been wasted, another $90 billion would have been wasted if the project had gone forward. If the dumpsite had opened, many thousands of high-level radioactive waste trucks, trains, and barges would have travelled through most states, past the homes of tens of millions of Americans, at risk of severe accidents or intentional attacks unleashing disastrous amounts of radioactivity into metro areas. And if wastes had been buried at Yucca, it would have eventually leaked into the environment (beginning within centuries or at most thousands of years), dooming the region downwind and downstream as a nuclear sacrifice area.
Dec. 21st marked the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. Such laws, transferring title and liability from the nuclear utilities which generated the wastes -- in order to make a profit -- onto ratepayers and taxpayers, represent an unprecedented, large-scale, and open-ended subsidy.
Researchers plan to study effects of Navajo Reservation uranium exposure on pregnancy and child birth
Three decades after the end of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation, researchers plan to conduct a study in response to community concerns about the effects of exposure to uranium waste on pregnancies and child development on the Navajo Nation.
The Navajo Birth Cohort Study is a three-year study on the Navajo reservation. It will provide early assessment and education on environmental and prenatal risks from exposure to environmental contaminants.
In 2009, Congress mandated and awarded money for the Navajo Birth Cohort Study. The money will support the University of New Mexico Community Environmental Health Program as it designs and conducts the study in collaboration with the Navajo Area Indian Health Services, the Navajo Division of Health, Southwest Research and Information Center and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Johnnye Lewis, Ph.D., director of the Community Environmental Health Program, Health Sciences Center, at the University of New Mexico, is the principal investigator in the project. She coordinates the professional research team drawn from the five agencies responsible for implementing the project.
"This particular set of funding is for Navajo, but this is not just a Navajo problem," said Lewis. "There are 10,400 abandoned uranium mine waste sites in the western U.S., many of those on tribal lands. So I think the information we gain from this study will have impacts much further reaching than just Navajo."
More information on the Navajo Birth Cohort Study is available by calling toll-free (877) 545-6775 or contacting a Clinical Liaison at the nearest IHS facility. Navaho-Hopi Observer
UN special report on Fukushima criticizes handling of radiation catastrophe, suggests positive steps forward
Anand Grover, the United Nations Special Rapporteur reports on Fukushima, some highlights:
-potassium iodine was not handled properly.
-government did not evacuate properly or communicate radiation doses and implications to the public.
-government neglected hotspots and used 20msv/year limit implying this was safe which is not.
-radiation monitoring stations did not adequately reflect exposure data. Therefore all validated data, alot being collected by private individuals, should be made public.
-provide holistic and comprehensive treatment for ALL radiation effected zones and include wider health consequences than the current health survey.
-err on side of caution and monitor health outcomes for an extensive period of time.
-allow individuals access to their health data and that of their children.
-initiate long-term monitoring of sub-contract workers at the ruined plants.
-evacuation centers did not provide adequate facilities for women with children and the disabled and elderly. Separation of families due to inadequate evacuation procedures has caused unnecessary anguish.
-government needs to strengthened food contamination monitoring.
-adopt an action plan with clear timeline to reduce contamination to 1msv per year.
-restore subsidies to all evacuees so they can make proper decisions about whether to return or leave.
-government ensure that TEPCO is held financially accountable and that taxpayers are not.
-ensure participation of effected people, particularly vulnerable groups during all parts of decision-making process, including health services and decontamination. This is not currently being done.
-implement the “act on protection and support for children, and other victims of the Tepco disaster” which was enacted in June, 2012. This act provides a framework for those affected by the disaster and provides opportunity to enlist affected people in decision-making. video
The position of UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health was created in this century. This interim report on the Fukushima disaster appears to represent the first time an investigation has linked health impacts of industrial radiation from a nuclear catastrophe to human rights -- in this case the right to health for both children and adults. A final report will be issued in June of 2013. Stay tuned to Beyond Nuclear for updates. See the UN press release. NECN.com