By Michelle Chen, Sept. 14 – After a long campaign by indigenous-rights and public-interest groups, the federal government has dismissed corporations’ plans to create a nuclear-waste dump on an Indian reservation in Utah.
The decision by the US Department of the Interior (DOI) all but ends a decade-long controversy that divided an indigenous community and threatened to turn native land into a repository for deadly radioactive waste.
Last Thursday, DOI’s Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs concluded that the plan to establish a major storage facility for irradiated nuclear waste on the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation had failed to adequately address the safety and health risks the waste dump would pose. Though the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a license for the facility a year ago, the Interior Department’s disapproval has for now effectively buried the plan.
The proposal was negotiated in 1997 by Private Fuel Storage, a consortium of energy corporations seeking storage for accumulated radioactive waste. In a hotly disputed deal, the Goshute tribal leadership agreed to lease the land for the facility, which would have had the capacity to hold 44,000 metric tons of spent fuel. The site would have been about 45 miles from Salt Lake City, in close proximity to a US military training and testing ground.
Prior to the decision, the Bureau of Land Management received several thousand letters protesting the plan. Opponents include members of the Goshute tribe, Indian activists and public-interest and environmental groups, such as Sierra Club and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, along with several state officials.
The Interior Department said the proposed facility lacked critical security measures. The Department also cited the dangers of transporting the nuclear waste by vehicles to Skull Valley; the waste cannot be transported by rail, because it would cut through a wilderness area recently designated for protection.
The decision noted that the facility had been designed only as a temporary storage solution for waste ultimately destined for a permanent underground repository, which the government had originally planned to build at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. But the campaign to secure the Yucca site for waste dumping has also stalled amidst rancorous public opposition.
The Goshutes’ federally recognized chairman, Leon Bear, argued that the DOI had foreclosed an economic boon for the tribe. News outlets have reported that the lease would have brought in tens of millions of dollars over several decades.
Private Fuel Storage and the tribal leadership may still challenge the decision in court.
As previously reported in The NewStandard, the PFS plan sharply divided the tribe, as some members accused tribal leaders of exploiting their land for monetary gain. Bear, who spearheaded the deal, has faced growing internal resistance, exacerbated by his recent indictments for tax fraud and embezzlement. Last month, dissident members of the tribe voted to shut down the Goshute executive committee, paralyzing the tribal government
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