Yucca Mountain

Yucca Mountain, the Nevada-based, scientifically flawed and politically unjust proposed high-level radioactive waste repository has now been canceled. However, pro-nuclear forces in Congress have not abandoned Yucca and funding is still allocated to the project.



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.


Committee Turf Battle Marks Latest Chapter of Yucca Mountain Fight

As reported by the National Journal: 

Two [U.S.] House panels are at odds over a new push to force action on moving nuclear waste to the controversial Nevada site.

(Please note, the rest of the article is behind a pay wall.)


Maurice Hinchey, N.Y. congressman who championed environmental issues, dies at 79

As reported in an obituary in the Washington Post.

As the article reports:

Mr. Hinchey, a Democrat, retired from Congress in 2013 after 20 years there and 18 years in New York’s State Assembly, where he developed an expertise on environmental issues.

As chair of the assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee, he led hearings into the disaster at Love Canal, a Niagara Falls neighborhood where it emerged in the 1970s that a chemical company had dumped 22,000 tons of toxic waste decades earlier. Complaints about miscarriages, birth defects and other health problems among residents made the area a symbol of environmental catastrophe and led to federal Superfund legislation to clean up the nation’s abandoned waste sites.

In the 1980s, Mr. Hinchey was the main sponsor of a New York law that was the nation’s first aimed specifically at fighting acid rain.

As a congressman, Mr. Hinchey continued to delve into environmental and energy issues, including promoting solar power, fighting a planned high-voltage power line in his district and speaking out against hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The gas-drilling technique was at one point being eyed for parts of his district before New York banned it in 2014.

The obituary quoted his colleagues:

“The champion we all longed for, he feared no giants and stood up to every bully, in politics, in business and in all of life,” said Democratic state Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, who was among Mr. Hinchey’s first staffers in the assembly.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) described Mr. Hinchey in a statement as a “tireless progressive champion for American families.”

“He leaves us with a legacy of leadership and a lifetime of public service,” she said, “that embody the best of America.”

An example of Congressman Hinchey's standing up to the bullies of the nuclear power industry lobby was his vote against "screwing Nevada" by dumping the country's high-level radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain, against the state's will.

On May 8, 2002, Hinchey was one of 117 members of the U.S. House of Representatives who voted against overriding Nevada's veto of the Yucca Mountain dump. He joined 102 fellow Democrats, 13 Republicans, and one Independent (Bernie Sanders of Vermont) in doing so.

Although the House vote was a blow out in favor of "screwing Nevada," by a 306 to 117 vote, the bare majority of House Democrats (103 to 102) who stood with Nevada set the stage for a closer vote in the U.S. Senate on July 9th. Although the override of Nevada's veto also passed there, by a vote of 60 to 39, it was nonetheless close enough -- combined with unending grassroots activism from coast to coast, over the course of 30+ years -- to set the stage for President Barack Obama's cancellation of the Yucca Mountain dump project in 2009-2010.


NCAC News Release: Shoshone appointed to Nuclear Regulatory Commission Licensing Support Network Advisory Review Panel

Native Community Action Council, P.O. Box 46301, Las Vegas, NV 89114

Tuesday, November 7, 2017
Shoshone appointed to Nuclear Regulatory Commission Licesning Support Network Advisory Review Panel

As a tribal community stakeholder group, the Native Community Action Council (NCAC) continues to advocate on behalf of the land and the people of the Great Basin. Today, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission appointed two Shoshone to the Yucca Mountain Licensing Support Network Advisory Review Panel. NCAC board member, Joe Kennedy, Shoshone from Timbisha in Death Valley commented: "The Department of Energy has failed to protect Native Americans leaving us unprotected, if not for the Native Community Action Council intervening in 2008, and now, against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to protect the land and people of the Great Basin."
Last year the NRC admitted that radiation will be discharged into the groundwater from the proposed Yucca Mountain high level nuclear waste repository currently undergoing licensing. The NRC Staff were directed to consider disproportionate impact to low income and minority populations such as the Shoshone at Poohabah in Tecopa and Death Valley Shoshone Indian Village at Furnace Creek. Without adequate investigation the NRC found that impacts to Native Americans will be minimal.
The Shoshone experience is as down-winders, victims of testing of WMD's, and as stakeholders in the siting of the proposed Yucca Mountain high level nuclear waste repository. The DOE cannot meet the requirement of ownership, a "significant legal encumbrance," disqualifying the site under the NRC regulation, 10 CFR 63 Land Ownership. Yucca Mountain is Indian country defined by the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley and the US cannot prove ownership.
"The proposed repository is Indian country and we believe that the pattern and practice of the US in the siting of Yucca Mountain to be legislative malpractice and institutional racism," said Ian Zabarte, Secretary of the NCAC.
The NCAC is the only non-federally funded party to the Yucca Mountain proceedings asserting ownership under aboriginal occupancy. Since selection of Yucca Mountain in 1987 by Congress, the DOE has not considered any argument made by the Shoshone that does not support licensing by the NRC.

E&E News: Hard questions around fuel shipping remain third rail of Yucca debate

An article published by E&E News entitled "Hard questions around fuel shipping remain third rail of Yucca debate," by David Iaconangelo, begins:

Lawmakers are reviving the debate over the licensing of Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the nation's major nuclear waste repository, galvanized by a Trump administration that wants to recommit federal resources to the project.

[The rest of the article is behind a pay wall.]