Ruling out the Nuclear Option – Not Clean or Green
The Legacy of Nuclear Energy, Nuclear and Chemical Weapons Upon
US Indigenous & Communities of Color
We are communities that, in partnership with the Peace Development Fund, form the Building Action for Sustainable Environments Initiative (BASE). We are citizens who represent some of the communities in the US who bear the legacy of 50 years of nuclear energy and weapons production. We are indigenous nations, we are Latino citizens and farm-workers, and we are African American communities living near nuclear power and weapon production sites. Reducing and eliminating the wasteful and dangerous means of producing nuclear energy and bringing renewable green energy production and jobs to our communities are the goals in which our communities have a major stake.
Our communities suffer from diseases and illnesses that we contend are related to our exposure to the highly toxic processes of mining and milling uranium, the unsafe storage of radioactive materials and the lack of clean-up of sites and facilities, the transportation of highly radioactive waste through our communities, and the lack of safe disposal methods for highly deadly nuclear waste. Cancer, neurological damage, genetic damage, lung disease, respiratory disorders, lupus, and heart problems are among some of the illnesses that affect our communities.
In the Pacific Northwest US, on Spokane tribal lands where both mining and milling of uranium took place, the legacy has resulted in 40 radioactive “hot spots” along the highway that runs through the heart of the Reservation. People, schools and children, soil, water, and air are exposed to highly toxic sludge materials#.
Washington State is also home to the largest contaminated nuclear facility. The 586-square-mile Hanford Site, located along the Columbia River in southeastern Washington, is a plutonium production complex with nine nuclear reactors and associated processing facilities. Hanford played a pivotal role in the nation's defense for more than 40 years and today is engaged in the world's largest environmental cleanup project, with a number of overlapping technical, political, regulatory, financial and cultural issues#.
Hanford storage facilities are leaking and have contaminated the water, air, and soil, according to Martín Yanez of the Northwest Social and Environmental Justice Institute. The Institute represents Latino communities and farm-workers who work the land and have suffered and died from different forms of cancer. With the leaking tanks of radioactive waste, the Columbia River is contaminating the groundwater used to irrigate the fields where farm-workers work, as well as the wildlife and the salmon on which the Indigenous Peoples depend on to preserve their cultural heritage and provide food for their families.
The Navajo reservation, located in the Southwestern US, is the largest in the nation. There, “the legacy of uranium development still exists today in the Four Corners Area. Hundreds of abandoned mines have not been cleaned up and present environmental and health risks in many Navajo communities. Health conditions in those communities have never been studied despite being impacted by uranium development that dates back to the late 40s and early 50s#.”
New Mexico is also home to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), the US’s first permanent repository for radioactive waste. WIPP contains transuranic waste from atomic bomb-making. ('Transuranic' means heavier than uranium.) The US Department of Energy (DOE) predicts that 24,000 truckloads containing 625,000 cubic feet of waste will be deposited in WIPP over the next 35 years. Much of this waste is plutonium-laden. Plutonium is often termed the most dangerous substance known to man. Inhaling a miniscule amount of plutonium leads inevitably to lung cancer. Ingesting plutonium can lead to leukemia and other cancers. This plutonium-laden waste travels from numerous sites through 23 states to reach its destination near Carlsbad and Loving, NM - not far from Carlsbad Caverns, the region's most famous geological feature#.
In the Southeastern US, both workers and residents bear the burden of the nuclear waste legacy associated with the Savannah River Site (SRS), a DOE facility. Over 100 African-American workers at the SRS facility in Aiken, South Carolina, were silenced by threats of job losses when they raised issues of their overexposure to radioactive materials while performing their jobs. According to Dr. Mildred McClain, who marched with workers representing Citizens for Environmental Justice based in Savannah, Georgia, “this former nuclear weapons site has the current mission of disposing of 50 metric tons of weapons grade plutonium, receiving 15,000 spent nuclear fuel rods from Europe, and to dispose of 34 million gallons of radioactive waste.”
“The failure to clean-up the site and provide full disclosure of the risks to the air, land, soil and human health is a major concern,” stated Reverend Brendolyn Jenkins of the Imani Group and President of the Aiken Branch of the NAACP.
We are impacted by nuclear waste that is highly radioactive and deadly for 25,000 years, and there is no safe disposal process. The transporting of highly radioactive waste through our communities and on public highways between SRS, WIPP, Yucca Mountain, and Hanford is of major concern of our collective communities.
We Are Here In Copenhagen Because
The human legacy of nuclear energy and weapons production must be addressed
Our voices and the legacy of the nuclear nightmare have been hidden under the guise of national security by our own government. Internationally, when other governments have also faced nuclear accidents like Chernobyl, the threats to human health and the environment has been shrouded in secrecy. The increase in cancers and the contamination issues that face communities living near nuclear sites worldwide requires international attention and redress.
Our communities continue to suffer from the legacy of nuclear energy and weapons production due to the lack of responsible leadership from the United States government and the nuclear industry. Our communities can attest to the fact, that after half a century of producing nuclear waste that will remain deadly for thousands of years, there is not a method of isolating these wastes from the environment and protecting human health.
“Tritium, a byproduct of nuclear generation, can enter the body through ingestion, absorption or inhalation. Long-term exposure can increase the risk of cancer, birth defects and genetic damage. In June 2005, the most recent study from the National Academies of Science reaffirmed that there is no level of radiation exposure that is harmless or beneficial, and that even the smallest does of ionizing radiation is capable of contributing to the development of cancer. Tritium takes about 250 years to decay to negligible levels and is very difficult to remove from water#.”
Honorable Joe Shirley Jr, President of the Navajo Nation, when signing the Dine Natural Resources Protection Act of 2005 stated, “certain substances in the Earth (doo nal yee dah) that are harmful to people should not be disturbed, and the people now know that uranium is one such substance, and therefore that its extraction should be avoided#.”
On November 26, 2006, when addressing the Indigenous World Uranium Summit, President Shirley articulated our collective demand that nuclear energy be ruled out and nuclear weapons be eliminated. “We are here to talk about what we can do to save the world from nuclear proliferation…in my way of life, the Dine way of life, [and in the ways of Latino and African American communities], we believe that there are no impossibilities. ..It all starts when we come from all corners of the world, like we are doing here this week.”
Nuclear accidents have and will continue to occur
As we join the climate change debate, we call on the world to remember April 26, 1986 when the nuclear industry was brought to a standstill by the Chernobyl accident. According to reports, Chernobyl emitted an unstoppable and deadly plume of radioactivity that impacted the world community and its effects can still be measured
According to Dr. Jim Green of Friends of the Earth Australia, “applying the standard risk estimate to IAEA’s (1996) estimate of human exposure to radiation from the Chernobyl disaster gives a figure of 24,000 fatal cancers…the permanent relocation of 220,000 people from Belarus, the Russian Federation, and the Ukraine.” He further states that the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency (2002) notes, Chernobyl had serious radiological, health and socio-economic consequences for the populations which still suffer from these consequences#. Greenpeace also remind us that, “in the US, the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979 triggered a clean-up effort that ultimately lasted for nearly 15 years, and topped more than one billion dollars in cost#.”
As we prepared to come to Copenhagen, the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania again experienced problems. Officials are still trying to determine how workers cutting a pipe stirred up radioactive dust at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. Plant spokesman Ralph DeSantis said on Monday, November 30th, 2009 that the public was not endangered when a dozen workers were exposed to radiation#. The central Pennsylvania plant has two reactors. One suffered a partial meltdown in 1979 and is mothballed. The other is still in use, but has been shut down since October 2009 so steam generators could be replaced. DeSantis says the radioactive dust emanated from reactor cooling system pipes the workers were cutting.
The Los Angeles Times in a 2007 editorial wrote that the “Union of Concerned Scientists cites 51 cases at 41 U.S. nuclear plants in which reactors have been shut down for more than a year as evidence of serious and widespread safety problems.” The cost of cleaning up after one of these disasters is simply too great, in both dollars and human cost#.”
Climate change and the conditions of global warming will increase the risk of accidents
According to David Kraft, Director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service, the summer heat wave in 2006 created problems for the Exelon and Dresden reactors in Illinois, and they were forced to curtail power output because the hot water discharged into the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers exceeded the EPA’s heat discharge regulations#. Michigan’s Donald C. Cook Unit 1 reactor overheated on July 29th of the same year resulting in an automatic reactor shutdown.
According to Kraft, Europe also experienced shutdowns in Spain, and the French and German governments gave permission for their plants to exceed heat discharge and safety standards. Nuclear power plants require the intake of river water to create the steam needed to drive the turbines to generate electricity and cool the reactors. They then discharge enormous quantities of hot water back into cooling lakes and ponds, and ultimately the rivers themselves.
Kraft cautions that the warming world will result in lower water volumes with hotter water temperatures and greater concentrations of harmful toxins in the water, which will have serious implications for public health and safety as well as reactor operation. All these systems are bathed in water, either for heat transfer or reactor cooling. Kraft cautions that the scenarios based on global warming trends make clear that “there will not be the volumes of water to dilute the radionuclides nor will the water move fast enough to swirl the radioactive effluents downstream. These are the same rivers our communities depend on as a water source… Chemical and radiological alteration of the waters flowing downstream from reactors may have unforeseen health effects on these communities.”
Nuclear energy is not carbon neutral
The nuclear industry and its proponents argue that nuclear energy is a clean technology and does not add to the carbon footprint. However, our communities know this is misleading. According to the Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS), “uranium enrichment accounts for huge percentages of some CFCs released in this country (USA). US enrichment activities in 1999 released the equivalent of 3,920,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. In addition to global warming, CFC’s in the atmosphere cause another problem. They destroy the ozone layer. CFC-114 is one of the worst substances known to man in terms of ozone destruction#.”
Al Gedicks, a professor of sociology and archaeology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, wrote, “At each stage of the nuclear fuel cycle, from uranium mining, milling, enrichment to construction, decommissioning and waste storage, nuclear power uses fossil fuels and contributes greenhouse gas emissions that accelerate global climate change. Compared to renewable energy, nuclear power releases four to five times the CO2 per unit of energy produced.” He cited a recent study of solutions to global warming by Dr. Mark Z. Jacobson of Stanford University who also concluded, “that over its entire lifecycle, nuclear electricity emits between 68 and 180 grams of CO2-equivalent emissions per kilowatt hour, compared to 3 to 11 grams for wind and concentrated solar.#”
According to Greenpeace, “Research carried out for the European Union concluded that when looking at the whole cycle of nuclear generation, from mining the uranium to decommissioning the plants, nuclear power stations would produce around 50% more greenhouse gas emissions than wind power.#”
Nuclear energy could contribute to nuclear proliferation and terrorism
According to the LA Times “the same labs that enrich uranium for nuclear fuel can be used to create weapons grade uranium.” The LA Times also reported that risks of proliferation and terrorism increase when spent nuclear fuel is recycled because it separates plutonium from other materials to create new fuel. Plutonium is “an excellent bomb material and could be carried out of a processing center in one’s pocket.
“In Japan in 2007, 200 kilograms of plutonium from a waste recycling plant have gone missing; in Britain 30 kilograms can’t be accounted for…The bomb dropped on Nagasaki contained six kilograms.#”
According to Greenpeace, “nuclear power provides the basic ingredients for nuclear weapons, dirty bombs and provides an obvious target for terrorists. A global nuclear power construction program large enough to achieve drastic greenhouse gas reductions would entail construction in all areas of the world, whether stable or not.
“Renewable energy installations on the other hand are flexible, cheap to construct and pose no terrorist or proliferation threat….. Nuclear technology will always carry the risk that it will be used to construct weapons of mass destruction.”
Nuclear energy is not cost effective
While the nuclear industry argues that it can produce low cost energy, independent energy analysts estimate efficiency and renewable energy costs at an average of 6 cents per kilowatt hour, compared with 12 to 20 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity from nuclear reactors. Further, the BASE communities know from the legacy of the nuclear production cycle that this short-sighted comparison does not include the additional costs for disposing of nuclear waste, insuring plants against an accident and decommissioning the plants at the end of their lives.
Investment in nuclear plants would divert scarce capital from less costly renewable energy projects that can reduce carbon emissions in one or two years rather than 10 years. According to Public Citizen, from 1947 through 1999 the nuclear industry in the US was given over $115 billion in direct taxpayer subsidies and when including Price Anderson limitations on nuclear liability, the federal subsidies reach $145.4 billion. To put this in perspective, the federal government spent on $5.7 billion over the same period for subsidies for wind and solar. Further, Public Citizen reports the Energy Policy Act of 2005 contains over $13 billion in new subsidies and tax breaks and other incentives including:
§ More than $1 billion for research and development of new reactor designs and reprocessing technologies
§ Reauthorization of the Price-Anderson Act, which limits industry liability in case of a severe accident; the rest of the tab would be picked up by taxpayers – possibly over $500 billion.
§ Authorization of $2 billion in “risk insurance” to pay the industry for delays in construction and operation licensing for 6 new reactors, including delays due to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or litigation#.
The 2007 LA Times report also stated that the “US government spends more on nuclear power than it does on renewables and efficiency. Taxpayer subsidies to the nuclear industry amounted to $9 billion in 2006, according to Doug Koplow, a researcher based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, whose Earth Track consultancy monitors energy spending#.” Renewable power sources received $6 billion and only $2 billion went to conservation efforts, according to the report.
There is no safe and clean process for waste disposal
The Hanford site around which many of our communities live has massive disposal safety issues. According to the Hanford’s own website, “the physical challenges at the Hanford Site include more than 50 million gallons of high-level liquid waste in 177 underground storage tanks, 2,300 tons (2,100 metric tons) of spent nuclear fuel, 12 tons (11 metric tons) of plutonium in various forms, about 25 million cubic feet (750,000 cubic meters) of buried or stored solid waste, and about 270 billion gallons (a trillion liters) of groundwater contaminated above drinking water standards, spread out over about 80 square miles (208 square kilometers), more than 1,700 waste sites, and about 500 contaminated facilities#.”
For members of the BASE community, the designation of Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste dump is the highest of insults for the culture and sovereignty of indigenous people, for it is a sacred site and this designation is a violation of the rights of indigenous people as defined by the United Nations. Al
Gedicks goes further to state that, “after spending more than $10 billion over the past 25 years studying a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, President Obama wisely called for an end to the project and cut off all the project's funding.” Gedicks concludes that a Yucca Mountain style dump would be required to be built every four years if new nuclear power plants were to be built. According to Gedicks, “nuclear power produces radioactive waste, which remains toxic for hundreds of thousands of years. No country in the world has been able to develop a successful geologic repository to handle all the nuclear waste we've already produced#.”
Nuclear energy cannot be brought online in time to impact climate change
Tackling climate change effectively means reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80% by 2050. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other studies estimate that for nuclear power to have any effect on global warming, we would need to build a minimum of 1,000 reactors worldwide.
According to energy analyst Amory Lovins, nuclear plants take as long as 10 years to come online#. Lovins states that the international community has only about 10 years to mount a global effort against climate change. It simply isn’t possible to build all the nuclear plants that would be necessary to reduce global carbon emissions in this time.
In The Current Debate, The BASE Communities Call For
An ethical and just foundation to frame decision making
We believe unequivocally in the need to set ethical standards as the foundation for making choices among the action options to bring climate change under control. We are the stewards for future generations, the evolution of our own species and the preservation of an earth that can sustain all of its biodiversity. The energy generation choices made today will affect the future of the planet’s climate, the health, safety and livelihoods of billions of the world’s people.
We recommend the following ethical tenets be considered when debating the options designed to stabilize (cap) and reduce the causes of climate change and determining which energy production methods are too dangerous for current and future consideration:
§ That the chosen methods to produce energy tackle the inequity of fuel poverty afflicting one in three people on the planet who have neither light nor heat.
§ That the legacy of nuclear fuel production on the environment and people living near nuclear facilities be collected, reviewed and presented to the International Human Rights Commission by a UN supervised body.
In addition, we draw on the following Principles of Climate Justice drawn from the Environmental Justice Leadership Forum on Climate Change#:
§ Ensure that the carbon reduction strategies do not negatively impact public health and do not further exacerbate existing health disparities among communities. This includes crafting strategies that prevent the creation of pollution hotspots, eliminate existing emissions hotspots in vulnerable communities, and reduce the emissions of greenhouse gas co-pollutants in and near communities of color, Indigenous, and low income communities;
§ Require those most responsible for creating the impacts that arise from climate change to bear the proportionate cost of responding to the resulting economic, social and environmental crisis. In setting the proportionate cost of climate impacting activity, the full environmental, health, social and economic cost of energy use from extraction to disposal must be included to accurately reflect the cost that energy use has on our environment, our health and our communities.
§ Create the opportunity for all Americans, especially people-of-color, Indigenous Peoples, and low-income Americans to experience a just transition as well as participate in the creation and operation of a new economy by creating a workforce development program to grow living wage, clean, safe, green jobs in the energy sector and beyond;
§ Ensure that people-of-color, Indigenous and low-income communities, who are and continue to be disproportionately impacted by climate change, have the inalienable right to have our voices shape what is the most significant policy debate of the 21st Century.
Ensure an official venue to include the voices of communities that bear the greatest burden of past and current pollution
Working under an equitable and just framework means providing spaces for BASE communities and others who have lived with the direct impact of these harmful industries to have their voices and concerns heard and their issues addressed and redressed. Without understanding the impact and true legacy of the nuclear industry, we may very well be exchanging one problem for another.
The international indigenous people’s movements have led the way for all of us in calling for “governance (that) must transcend state-governments' negotiations, to recognize the rights of Indigenous Peoples which includes the full and effective participation in all negotiations by Indigenous Peoples' traditional governments, institutions and organizations. It must also embrace diverse contributions and inter-cultural collaboration, recognizing distinct and valuable contributions from children and youth, women, indigenous peoples and local communities.”
Hold polluters accountable for contaminating the shared birthright of all peoples
The climate change debate must include protocols that address inadequate reporting systems, which would make it impossible for the public and regulatory agencies to monitor current energy producers and exact meaningful penalties for failure to comply.
And lastly, Communities have the right to create and implement new renewable green technologies at the local community level
Indigenous knowledge, the experiences of communities of color in the developed world and the developing world’s non-governmental organizations must be given the opportunity to join with scientists and governments in constructing a new system for producing renewable sources of energy that restores ecological balance and contributes to healthy vibrant communities globally.
We join with the 2009 Anchorage Declaration of Indigenous People# in asserting that:
§ Climate change, in the light of the current global financial, economic, environmental and food crises, represents an unprecedented challenge and opportunity for humanity to transform global economic, political, social, cultural relations to live in balance with Mother Earth. Reaching climate equilibrium and justice is inseparable from acknowledging the historical responsibilities of developed countries while promoting social equity between and within nations, maintaining ecological integrity, addressing the climate and ecological debt, and pursuing an effective transition away from fossil fuel dependency towards a green economy. It requires honoring international commitments to poverty eradication, sustainable development, biodiversity, and human rights. The full and effective participation of indigenous peoples, local communities and vulnerable groups is key to achieve a just and equitable outcome of the climate negotiations.
§ Only when indigenous and the traditional knowledge of communities of color is combined with climate science can we find solutions that balance the needs of human beings and balance with Nature’s ecosystems. Indigenous Peoples are Rights-holders and we call for the rights of Communities of Color in the US to also be recognized due to the violation of our human rights due to centuries of racial discrimination and exploitation.
§ UN system honor its obligations to “uphold regional and international human rights commitments and standards, especially the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The provisions of the UNDRIP articulate rights which must be respected and safeguarded in all climate decision-making and actions.”
We call on the United Nations to protect these rights and also strengthen the capacity and resilience of indigenous peoples and local communities to respond to climate change. In the US, we the members of the BASE community have suffered the damage of the mining, milling and transportation of “yellow cake” that have left our lands with contamination and radioactive “hot spots” all along the transportation route. All of the BASE communities are connected by the transport of radioactive wastes which threaten the life of our communities and the ecosystems upon which we must depend for our livelihoods.
The empowerment of the BASE communities, which include Indigenous peoples and communities of color, is critical to successful adaptation strategies to climate change. The climate change challenge is an opportunity for our communities to voice our concern regarding the development of strategies in the name of humanity, solidarity and respect for Mother Earth.
We, the BASE communities remember the words of Chief Seattle (1786-1866):
“We do not weave the web of life; we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”
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Censored News is published by censored journalist Brenda Norrell. A journalist for 27 years, Brenda lived on the Navajo Nation for 18 years, writing for Navajo Times, AP, USA Today, Lakota Times and other American Indian publications. After being censored and then terminated by Indian Country Today in 2006, she began the Censored Blog to document the most censored issues. She currently serves as human rights editor for the U.N. OBSERVER & International Report at the Hague and contributor to Sri Lanka Guardian, Narco News and CounterPunch. She was cohost of the 5-month Longest Walk Talk Radio across America, with Earthcycles Producer Govinda Dalton in 2008: www.earthcycles.net/
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