Synthesis/Regeneration 10   (Spring 1996)

Stop the Nuclear Dump at Ward Valley!

by Ward A. Young, Co-director, Bay Area Nuclear Coalition

Ward Valley is a wide, tilting valley in the Mojave Desert, almost surrounded by mountain ranges for 360 degrees, some nearby, some 75 miles distant. It is in the midst of eight newly-designated Wilderness Areas, is considered the heart of the best remaining habitat for the threatened desert tortoise, and is only 20 miles from the Colorado River. Ward Valley is sacred homeland to the Fort Mojave, Chemehuevi, Cocopah, Quechan and Colorado River Indian Tribes, who have lived along the Colorado since "time immemorial."

The nuclear industry has targeted Ward Valley for destruction so that it can open the first nuclear dump in a generation in the United States. Plans call for shallow land burial of long-lived nuclear waste, principally from the nuclear power industry, in football field size pits in the desert sand. Filters and resins containing cesium, strontium and plutonium and entire dismantled nuclear reactors would be buried in Ward Valley.

A mere 30 years after opening the dump, the nuclear industry would complete its radioactive sleight-of-hand, transferring responsibility and liability for its deadly long-lasting waste to California taxpayers.

Twenty-two million people in the southwest and Mexico drink water from the Colorado River. Incredibly, the potential for the dump to contaminate groundwater and the river remained unexamined for 10 years after the dump was first proposed. The three senior geologists with the US Geological Survey did an independent review of the data in 1994 and found evidence for five potential pathways for leakage from the dump to reach the Colorado River.

In late October, dump opponents revealed a cover-up by government officials in the Interior Department of devastating new information showing widespread contamination from a similar nuclear dump in Beatty, Nevada. In 30 years, that dump has already leaked tritium (radioactive hydrogen) throughout the 360-foot dry zone above the groundwater there. Embarrassed by the cover-up of information about the failed dump in Nevada, the Department of Interior announced it would require new studies about ward Valley, which is on federal land.

In response to the news of further delays, the nuclear industry is pressuring Congress to pass legislation (currently S. 1596, co-sponsored by Senators Frank Murkowski and Bennett Johnson) to exempt the proposed dump from all existing environmental regulations and transfer the federal land at Ward Valley to the State of California for immediate construction of the dump.

Three previous attempts at similar legislation failed, most recently when President Clinton vetoed the budget Reconciliation bill, which contained a Ward Valley land transfer amendment, citing concerns about the safety of the dump among his reasons.

Native Americans, environmentalists, citizens' groups, local residents from Needles and other nearby towns have fought off the dump project for 10 years, in spite of many bribes offered by dump proponents to divide the community.

Faced with government attempts to force California to host a national nuclear waste dump, opponents recently stepped up their opposition ad began occupying the dump site. Seven hundred people and 11 Native American tribes gathered in Ward Valley in October for five days, and a permanent encampment was begun. An emergency response network has been organized to bring hundreds of people to the site on short notice.

Protests have been organized in all major cities throughout California, and a Spring Gathering of Native American tribes, environmentalists and citizens' groups will take place at Ward Valley from April 11 to 15. The desire to protect precious land and water resources and to make a spiritual connection and commitment to our common heritage is the most powerful motivator of all.

For more information, call 415-868-2146 or 619-326-6267.

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