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Dumping on Tribal Land

Private Fuel Storage (PFS) is a consortium of eight nuclear utilities that since 1996 has pursued using reservation land of the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes about 45 miles west of Salt Lake City, Utah for the "temporary" storage of irradiated fuel. The utilities want to get rid of their waste as soon as possible, whether or not Yucca Mountain opens. The private facility would be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), but unlike Yucca Mountain or WIPP, would not be owned or operated by DOE.

The Skull Valley Band has 124 members, but currently only about 25 live on the reservation, and 37 members voted in the last tribal election. Leon Bear, the current chairman, signed a lease with PFS, but he won't disclose the financial details, even to other tribal members. But he says that the facility would bring money and jobs for tribal members and help build infrastructure. He points out that the reservation is surrounded by toxic hazards — to the south are the Intermountain Power Project's coal-fired plant and the Dugway Proving Grounds where chemical and biological weapons were tested; to the east nerve gas is stored and is being incinerated; to the northwest is Envirocare's low-level waste disposal site, and to the north is the Magnesium Corporation, which emits chlorine gas at one of the nation's most polluting plants.

In response, some tribal members have formed Ohngo Gaudadeh Devia (OGD), a grassroots group strongly opposed to the dump because they believe it will destroy the land and the people. Margene Bullcreek of OGD says, "Our reservation is sacred. This is the only land we have — the only thing the government left us after taking most of our country." These tribal members do not receive the financial benefits that some have received from PFS, and have few resources when compared with the millions of dollars that PFS is spending on lawyers and public relations.

While PFS says that the facility would operate for 40 years (assuming that their license would be renewed) and that all the waste would then go to a repository, opponents point out that there might not be a repository, that the tribe cannot force the waste out once its there, and that in case of accidents, their land that could be permanently contaminated. Utah state officials also strongly oppose the site. In addition, millions of people across the nation also would be endangered by transportation of 4,000 shipments, totaling 40,000 metric tons of irradiated fuel (about the amount that has been created by all the nation's nuclear power plants).

Because no state has ever "volunteered" a site for a "monitored retrievable storage" or a repository, first DOE, and then some nuclear utilities have asked tribes to volunteer some of their land. Virtually all tribes rejected the idea, although a few investigated it, and the Mescalero Apache Tribe in New Mexico approved an agreement with some of the PFS utilities in 1994. Because of strong opposition by some tribal members and many New Mexicans, that project collapsed in 1996.

In December 1996, eleven utilities signed an agreement with the Goshutes, and eight of these have carried forward the project. Those utilities are: Northern States Power (of Minnesota), Indiana-Michigan Power Company (American Electric Power), Consolidated Edison of New York, GPU Nuclear Corporation (of New Jersey and Pennsylvania), Illinois Power Company, Southern Nuclear Operating Company (of Georgia and Alabama), Southern California Edison, and Genoa FuelTech (of Wisconsin).

In order for the PFS facility to go forward, NRC must approve a 20-year license, the Bureau of Indian Affairs must approve a 25-year lease for the land, and the Bureau of Land Management must approve a right-of-way to construct a 32-mile rail line to the site. PFS hopes to have all of those approvals by April 2002, so that it can begin operation in 2003.


Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS)
1424 16th St., NW, Ste. 404
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 328-0002

Honor The Earth
2801 24th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55407
(800) 327-8407

Private Fuel Storage
PO Box 1405
Salt Lake City UT 84110-1405
(888) 701-8585
www.privatefuelstorage.com or

State of Utah
PO Box 144810
Salt Lake City, UT 84114-4810
(801) 366-0523

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"Federal policy…has been to assure that "waste management problems shall not be deferred to other generations," and many environmental groups have shared the same view. Geological burial - at first glance anyway - looks like an ideal way to accomplish that since, after all, it "removes" the wastes from the environment and solves the problem once and for all. But in many ways entombment does just the opposite. It deliberately poisons a portion of the natural world for an endless stretch of time and in doing so it not only leaves future generations with thousands of tons of the most dangerous rubbish imaginable on their hands but makes it as difficult as the state of our technology permits for them to deal with it. We cannot promise our children - never mind those who will follow hundreds or thousands of years hence - that they will be safe from the wastes. And so long as that is so, we are not taking the problem out of their hands so much as we are taking the solution out of their hands."
Kai Erikson in
"Out of Sight, Out of Our Minds"
The New York Times Magazine
March 6, 1994.

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