Synthesis/Regeneration 9   (Winter 1996)

Pretend Democracy Links the Nuclear Chain

by Lea Foushee, Indigenous Women's Network, Prairie Island Coalition & George Crocker, Prairie Island Coalition

Throughout North America, the nuclear corporate reich faces a mounting crisis. The crisis is driven by an inability to adequately manage nuclear wastes for more than 10,000 years, and by corroding, cracking and leaking tubes, pipes and other components of nuclear power plants. Resolution of the nuclear crisis has profound implications for Mother Earth, our economy, and our social structures. The resolution will either increase exposure to nuclear radiation and multiply tools of mass destruction, or enable a transition to energy efficiency and renewable energy resources (solar, wind, energy crops) that could provide people with clean, equitable electricity.

For the nuclear industry, crisis resolution is simple: hide technology failures from the public while replacing failed components, and open up nuclear waste dumps. Now. Wherever. Otherwise, nuclear profits and corporate control of electricity will grind to a halt.

But for decades, grassroots Peoples throughout the continent have defeated attempts to site nuclear waste dumps next to their communities. And now, the Prairie Island Coalition has intervened in the federal lawsuit by Northern States Power Co. (NSP) against Westinghouse Electric Corp. over cracked and leaking nuclear steam generator tubes at the nuclear power plant near Minnesota's Twin Cities. Despite intense opposition from the glo-bal nuclear industry, this intervention is uncovering and disclosing to the public even more alarming and closely guarded nuclear secrets. While the nuclear crisis mounts, radioactive nuclear destruction continues.

...communities of color are three times more likely than white communities to host toxic and nuclear waste dumps.

Radiation from the nuclear chain causes deadly problems such as cancers, birth defects, immune deficiencies and other illnesses. Dr. J.M. Gould, Dr. E. R. Sternglass and Dr. J. Mangano analyzed US age-adjusted cancer mortality rates since 1950, and found that people living in counties near nuclear reactors throughout the country experience significantly higher rates of cancer death, particularly breast and thyroid cancers. Breast cancer alone has increased 43% in the counties surrounding Prairie Island. Excess cancer deaths have been leaked to exposure to nuclear radiation by scientists like Dr. Rosalie Bertell. To make matters worse, no commercial nuclear facilities are secured against massive, uncontrolled radiation releases that terrorists using modern weapons are capable of causing.

Nuclear racism is a particularly ugly aspect of the nuclear industry, and part of a larger environmental justice problem first identified by a 1987 United Church of Christ report, Toxic Waste and Race. This report documents unequal exposure to radioactive and toxic wastes experienced by communities of color. A 1994 update documents escalation of this trend, concluding that communities of color are three times more likely than white communities to host toxic and nuclear waste dumps. This trend is so blatant that even the US Environmental Protection Agency has appropriated millions of dollars for environmental justice struggles.

Specifically, the only permanent repository for high-level nuclear waste under consideration in the US is at Yucca Mountain, on the Western Shoshone Nation in Nevada. The Mescalero Apache Nation in New Mexico faces a candidate site, as do the Meadow Lake Cree in Northern Saskatchewan, and the Skull Valley Goshutes Nation in Utah.

NSP's nuclear operations fit the pattern of nuclear racism. Construction of NSP's Prairie Island reactors destroyed Native burial mounds, as verified by the Minnesota Historical Society. Uranium ore for NSP and most other reactors is mined and milled on Hopi, Navajo, Laguna Pueblo, and Cree lands in North America, and on aboriginal homelands in Australia and South Africa. NSP is an ownership partner for a uranium fuel fabrication plant next to two African-American communities near Homer, Louisiana. The fuel is burned in reactors located right next to the Prairie Island Mdewakanton Dakota community, which is now also a high-level nuclear waste dump site. And NSP is leading nuclear industry efforts to put the nation's high-level waste on indigenous lands. Every link in the nuclear chain subjects indigenous peoples and other peoples of color to high cancer death risks.

NSP spent over a million dollars to manufacture consent for dry cask storage of irradiated fuel at Prairie Island, three blocks from the tribe's community and day-care center.

NSP's efforts to manufacture consent for high-level nuclear waste dumps on the Mescalero Apache and the Prairie Island Mdewakanton Dakota illustrate the double dealing nuclear power requires. The Prairie Island Mdewakanton, as a sovereign nation, fought against NSP's Prairie Island nuclear operations. NSP simply dismissed their sovereignty, and challenged in federal court the Tribe's authority to charge fees for transporting nuclear waste across the reservation. The tribe lost. But NSP, leading a consortium of electric utilities, supports Mescalero Apache sovereignty in its attempts to establish a high-level nuclear waste dump on Mescalero land. The proposal has bitterly divided the Mescalero Nation. In January, 1995, 57% of Mescalero voters rejected the dump. But the vote didn't count. Six weeks later, in an atmosphere of intimidation and corruption, another vote was held. If the nuclear industry had not gotten its way the second time, a third vote would have occurred.

NSP spent over a million dollars to manufacture consent for dry cask storage of irradiated fuel at Prairie Island, three blocks from the tribe's community and day-care center. This issue consumed the 1994 Minnesota legislative session. Due to massive public opposition, NSP's bill was defeated in committee after committee and by the entire House of Representatives. The bill was killed five times. However, by resorting to naked, brute power and treachery, it passed on the last day of the legislative session. Two dry casks have been loaded and placed outside as of November 1995.

Existing regulations give the electric utility industry more money for producing more electricity. In other words, the more nuclear waste that is produced the more money an electric utility receives. The existing regulations also prevent fair competition by renewable energy technologies. We can resolve the nuclear crisis by changing regulations. Nuclear power producers must be required to pay full and fair nuclear power production costs. This critical social change will catalyze an energy transition that will protect Mother Earth, our children and future generations from the scourge of nuclear radiation.

Editor's note: Crocker added in a phone interview that NSP's rush this fall to load the spent fuel rods into dry casks to get them out of their full cooling pond nearly resulted in a catastrophe that would have made "Chernobyl look like a cakewalk" when a miscalibrated crane shut down due to overload and the loaded cask dangled above the cooling pond with its 25 years of core load for over 16 hours, while engineers figured out how to override the fail-safe to complete the move. If the cask had fallen, it would have resulted in a hole in the cooling pond, with the possibility of the "hot rods" going critical. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, known around Three Mile Island as No Real Concern, or Naturally Recurring Catastrophe, abetted this process by granting NSP's petition to speed the process. NSP stood to lose $1,000,000 a day for each day the plant was shut down because of the overloaded cooling pond situation.

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