« NIMBY Democrats must be urged to change their position on Yucca dump! | Main | Committee Turf Battle Marks Latest Chapter of Yucca Mountain Fight »

Yucca dump threatens fragile ecosystems, endangered species, and the Timbisha Band of Western Shoshone Indians

In an article in the New York Times by Jim Robbins entitled "The Amargosa River Defies the Desert: The Slender Delicate Stream Flows Through the Mojave, Giving Life to Plants and Animals Found Nowhere Else in the World," the precarious hold on survival by the Devil's Hole Pupfish, and other threatened and endangered animals and plants in the greater Death Valley, California region is made clear.

While the most acute risk is to the aquifers and creeks that feed the Amargosa, from groundwater pumping in nearby farms, ranches, and towns (an immediate impact that would be exacerbated very significantly by Yucca Mountain dumpsite construction and operational activities, as mentioned just below), a chronic risk would be massive, hazardous radioactive contamination, if the proposed Yucca Mountain, Nevada high-level radioactive waste dump is ever constructed and operated upstream.

As the article reports:

Much of the regional groundwater system that feeds these protected features comes from the flanks of Yucca Mountain, some 70 miles or so to the north. The Trump administration and Congress are working to restart moribund efforts to bury nuclear waste in the repository there.

While there is concern that someday — centuries or millenniums in the future — radioactive waste could contaminate the water in the Amargosa watershed, the more immediate threat is the need to pump enough groundwater to support the huge repository infrastructure.

“That would require thousands of acre-feet of water per year for up to a century,” said Robert J. Halstead, executive director of Nevada’s Agency for Nuclear Development, which opposes a Yucca Mountain repository. “That would clearly threaten the sustainability of the groundwater resource in Amargosa Valley.”

The State of Nevada, in its ongoing, tooth and nail resistance to the Yucca dump, has refused to grant the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) access to such precious, irreplaceable water resources. H.R. 3053, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017, in its original form, would have taken away such water rights from Nevada, enabling DOE to have its way at the Yucca site. However, "them's fighting words": the push back by Nevada and other Western states -- where such water rights are sacred -- was immediate and intense. Bill sponsor John Shimkus (Republican-Illinois) backed down, for now, on that point. But he's made clear, as have even liberal Democratic U.S. House supporters of screwing Nevada, such as Paul Tonko of New York, that when the time is right (such as when it can be more easily snuck through, or forced through, once facts on the ground momentum had been established), then such water rights could be taken away from Nevada, to allow construction and operation of the Yucca dump.

However, the article does not mention the Timbisha Band of Western Shoshone Indians, who live downstream of Yucca Mountain, in Death Valley, CA. Yucca's now pristine groundwater surfaces as springs and surface waters in Death Valley, and is depended on by the Timbisha for drinking water.

The Western Shoshone traditional lifestyle of hunting and gathering throughout the Yucca Mountain and Amargosa River region extends back to "time immemorial," as the late Western Shoshone spiritual leader Corbin Harney was wont to say. Modern lifestyles are very recent there. So there is a good chance that traditional lifestyles could well be lived by Western Shoshone in the area again in the future. And yet U.S. Department of Energy, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Environmental Protection Agency analyses of future Yucca Mountain dump radioactive leakage/contamination impacts on the region's ground- and surface waters, vis a vis traditional Western Shoshone life ways, has been woefully inadequate for 30+ years, and still is. This represents a serious environmental injustice, radioactive racism.

Beyond that, Yucca Mountain, much of Nevada, and portions of California and Idaho are Western Shoshone Indian land, as clearly acknowledged by the "peace and friendship" Treaty of Ruby Valley of 1863. The U.S. government's repeated violations of this treaty -- as by 30+ years of trying to force the Yucca dump down the Western Shoshone nation's throat, nuclear weapons testing on their lands, etc. -- is a betrayal of foundational American values and rule of law: international treaties signed by the U.S. government are the highest law of the land, equal in stature to the U.S. Constitution itself.

The thriving agricultural town of Amargosa Valley, Nevada -- very near the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge focused upon in the article -- also depends on Yucca's groundwater for drinking and irrigation. It would also be in harm's way, when radioactivity began leaking from the Yucca dump.