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What NCAI, CERT, NARF, or Mr. Leroy will not tell tribes

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Special: Environmental Racism and Nuclear Development

(March 28, 1993) The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) is now in the fifth year of a cooperative Agreement with the US Department of Energy and they have held seminars in conjunction with NARF (Native American Rights Fund) and CERT (Council of Energy Resource Tribes), in which they have allowed the US Radioactive Waste Management Program to dispense information on the progress of their nuclear waste program, and to assist the Negotiator to locate prospective tribal hosts for MRS storage sites.

Elmer Savilla

What the tribes are not being told by Mr. Leroy or any of the Indian organizations who convene meetings for the likes of Mr. Leroy is the myriad of problems and long-range contamination that is already being caused, or can be caused by deliberate, natural, or accidental release of radioactive materials.

Nor are the environmental problems limited to only radioactive materials. Chemical waste and other industrial and medical waste as well as big city "white trash", all contribute to health and environmental problems on Indian reservations. As pointed out before, the polluters are aided by some tribal leaders and national Indian organizations who while professing to be "neutral" are spreading the gospel of Waste-Tech as well as that of Mr. Leroy. They are not being honest with their constituency because they are not telling them of the wide range of already existing problems. Consequently, NCAI, NARF, and CERT (whose membership consists of tribal leaders) are at cross purposes with the real constituency: The People!

At these Department of Energy-sponsored meetings with tribes, no mention is made of problems or risks connected to nuclear pollution. If information was being shared openly tribes could then decide for them-selves if "glowing in the dark" was for them, but the information given out is not pro and con. Only the information approved by the Department of Energy is dispensed. The Native Americans for a Clean Environment (NACE) located in Tahlequah, Oklahoma has been a watchdog on nuclear matters and when NCAI, NARF and CERT proposed a workshop to form the Indian Nuclear Advisory Council, NACE warned them that the law firm to be used for legal assistance was the same law firm that represented the Sequoyah Fuels uranium facility in Gore, Oklahoma.


I can assure that there is nothing voluntary or inclusive about this process. Most tribal citizens learn of these MRS applications in the newspaper, if they learn of them at all, because most of our people live under tribal governmental structures forced upon us by the federal government through the US Indian Reorganization Act. Those structures do not require the consent of all tribal citizens, as was traditional in the past.

The government has used this system much to its advantage. Leroy stated at the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Conference on March 26, 1991, that "I have pledged to the Senate that I will not engage in the artificial creation of grassroots support in local communities. Instead, we are to work through the governor or tribal council of all interested jurisdictions." So much for voluntary citizen participation...

...Let's look at a couple of examples of this "voluntary" system. Mescalero Apache is further along in this process than any other community. When their application was first publicly announced, the tribal citizens wanted to talk to outside experts about the MRS. This was opposed by the tribal chairman and tribal council. After agreeing to allow a general membership meeting on the issue, the chairman announced that he would sponsor a cultural event, with free food, on the other side of the reservation on the same day and then would only allow 30 chairs to be used for the general membership meeting. After being approved for phase II, part B, of their MRS application, the Mescalero wrote to David Leroy insisting that they needed $300,000 more, as the previous several hundred thousand "wasn't enough money to educate their citizens."

Lance Hughes, Native Americans for a Clean Environment

The Sequoyah Fuels company has experienced over 15,000 safety violations and an explosion of plutonium material which contaminated an entire Cherokee community. NCAI, NARF and CERT were not impressed by the warning from NACE, saying that they were in no position to "access the validity" of the allegations against Sequoyah Fuels. NACE says that Indian babies are being born without eyes, with brain and spinal cancer, missing limbs, etc. Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller and NACE are presently trying to shut down the plant permanently, with no help from those Indian organizations. [ Since this article was written, and despite the lack of help, NACE and the Cherokee tribe did in fact succeed in shutting the plant. Now they are faced with decommissioning and cleanup problems. See WISE NC 384, 15 Dec. 1992.]

An important part of the Energy meetings was said to be to outline the transportation routes on which the waste could be carried to storage sites. Mr. Torrell, of the office of External relations, Department of Energy, told tribes at a seminar in Sacramento in January of 1991 that... " tribes will be consulted on route selection and emergency response training will be provided well in advance of the beginning of shipments."

However, one dark night in September of 1991 tribal police were startled to discover that a truck shipment of radioactive material (nuclear fuel rods) was being transported across the Shoshone Bannock reservation at Fort Hall, Idaho without advance notice to the tribe. Jennifer Weisbacher, ShoBan tribal police Captain, stopped the truck and refused to allow it to travel through the reservation. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) had planned to make 247 truck shipments across Sho-Ban land even though the tribe had an Ordinance banning nuclear shipments over their roads. Apparently the Department of Energy may have assumed that their Cooperative Agreement with NCAI gave them some sort of license to violate their own policies.

The Sho-Ban tribe was taken to court to test their authority to stop the nuclear shipments. In January the federal courts upheld the Sho-Ban Ordinance. There has been at least one other tribe (in Maine) and a large number of cities and counties which have discovered and stopped similar truck shipments.

It is important to know that shipping accidents are far from rare. In September 1991 a radioactive container fell off of a truck and went unnoticed for 10 hours. The NRC said that it could have been lethal in a one hour exposure to it. There are many ways, bizare and otherwise, in which radioactive nuclear material can be a danger to all of us. The Native Americans for a Clean Environment reports that in New Mexico, a mountain sheep was filled with a radioactive isotope. It got lost and now cannot be found. Pity the hunter who finds it.

In 1989 the FBI raided the Energy Departments' Rocky Flats, Colorado plant which manufactures plutonium weapons, because of alleged safety violations, potentials for disaster, and the intimidation of workers who com-plained. There were reports that hazardous waste was being burned in illegal incinerators, releasing radioactivity into the air.

US Nuclear weapon testing

While the US is well known for its nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific and in Nevada on Western Shoshone Lands, what many people don't remember is that the first US nuclear bomb test was carried out near Alamogordo in southern New Mexico, on traditional territory of the Mescalero Apache. Two underground tests followed at other sites in New Mexico. Three other underground tests, including one involving a 30 megaton nuclear device, were carried out on Amchitka (Aleute Islands, Alaska). The native inhabitants of Amchitka are the Aleutes who had already been subject to deportation by the US Army during World War II because their physical appearance resembles the Japanese. Since the US feared an invasion of the Aleute Islands by Japanese forces, it was decided to forcibly relocate the Aleute population to avoid problems. Also during the 1950's the US conducted three atmospheric tests in the South Atlantic, and testing was done in Mississippi and Colorado, as well. When critical voices within the US blamed the tests for contaminating the North American continent, the test sites were moved to the Pacific.

"We cannot help but see that the United States and other nuclear powers are testing their most destructive weapons on other peoples' lands." - Raymond Yowell, Chief, Western Shoshone National Council.

Source: World Uranium Hearing Grey Book 1992, p.48; Pacific News Bulletin, Oct. 1992, p.12

In 1992 a leak of cooling water containing radioactive tritium went undetected for several days at a South Carolina reactor plant. The leak occurred just after $2 billion had been spent to upgrade the plants safety. This illustrates how easily mistakes and accidents can happen. Tritium is used to boost the explosive power of nuclear weapons. Energy officials downplayed the incident but local residents would not listen because, they said, "we don't believe you."

And in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a University of Michigan experiment has been releasing isotopes into the sewer system since 1957, with the permission of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In Tennessee the NRC says that frogs hatched in nuclear power plant sludge ponds are radio-active and that on highways cars that run over them carry radioactivity away on their tires. The NRC issued a warning not to eat the frogs. Is this the ultimate "roadkill"?

One of the first public exposures to radioactivity occurred from 1944 through 1947 when radioactive material was deliberately released into the air and in 1964 into the water of the Columbia River at Hanford, Washington. But it wasn't until 1988 that the federal government admitted the contamination and began a study of the results. Farmlands on the Yakima reservation may have been affected, as was land in the counties of Adams, Franklin, Walla Walla, Grant and Benton. DOE understated the event, saying "A number of radioactive materials were released at that time. Several are important to human exposure." Lesson number one is "don't count on the Department of Energy for protection or for help."

The urgency of the Department of Energy to locate "temporary" nuclear storage sites on Indian reservations is made clear by recent setbacks in their original plans for permanent sites. In November 1991, a US District Court Judge ruled that Secretary of Interior Lujan had exceeded his authority when he transferred a New Mexico site to the Energy Department which they had planned for use for pluto-nium waste storage to be brought in from Idaho and Colorado. Now they must quickly find new storage locations.

For the Department of Energy the present situation can best be described as a crisis, because there is a rapidly increasing amount of high and low level nuclear material to be stockpiled, coupled with a serious shortage of places to put it. Virtually every state in the nation has gone on record as opposing any site location for permanent nuclear waste repositories in their states. That leaves the American Indian nations extremely at risk for siting and they are vulnerable first because of their need for development, and secondly because of their lack of political power. It will take concerted efforts by tribal citizens to resist the material temptations and keep the solid and nuclear waste purveyors of pollution at bay.

Left alone, certain tribal leaders can no longer be trusted to turn them away because they are also in a moral crisis situation. An insistence on informed consent will help to insure survival.

Source: Condensed version of a larger report as it was published in News From Indian Country (US), Mid-March, 1992. For the full report, write to NACE at the address below.

Contacts: NACE, PO Box 1671, Tahlequah OK 74465, US; tel: +1-918-458-4322; fax: 918-458-0322.
For information on the Hanford site, which impacts on the Yakima, Colville, Nez Percé, Coer d'Alene, Spokane, Kalispell, Unatila and Klickitat tribes, contact the Hanford Education Action League (HEAL), North 1720 Ash, Spokane WA 99205-4202
Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), 412 West San Francisco St., Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501, US
tel: +1 505-986-1973 (for calls inside the US, CCNS has a toll-free number: 1-800-398-9392).