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140 Organizations Urge DOE to Withdraw Radioactive Waste Federal Consolidated Interim Storage Facility Push

Groups Warn about Environmental Injustice, Multiplication of Irradiated Nuclear Fuel Transport Risks


On March 4, 140 environmental, environmental justice, public interest, peace, faith, women's, and safe energy non-governmental organizations (NGOs) across the U.S. and Canada have submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), expressing strong opposition to federal consolidated interim storage facilities (CISFs) for highly radioactive irradiated nuclear fuel. The 47 pages of comments came in response to DOE's Request for Information, published in the Federal Register on December 1, 2021, regarding "consent-based siting" of federal CISFs.

The coalition began with an introduction, making clear the comments were submitted under protest. On February 15, 2022, 50+ groups in the coalition wrote DOE, demanding its fatally flawed RFI, and associated process, be withdrawn. DOE did not even acknowledge receipt of the letter, let alone respond to it, nor withdraw the RFI.

From Page 2 to 21 of its March 4 comments, the coalition then responded directly to a series of questions asked by DOE in its RFI. From Page 22 to 33, the coalition provided additional comments, which have been summarized and posted online here. Pages 34 to 47 then list the 140 signatory organizations, as well as additional individuals. The full list of endorsers is also posted online here.

The coalition's organizations range from national groups to regional, state-wide, and local grassroots ones. They included Native American and Indigenous-led NGOs from across the continent, including Alaska's Big Village Network, Michigan's Citizens' Resistance at Fermi Two, Minnesota-based Indigenous Environmental Network and North American Water Organization, Nevada-based Native Community Action Council, and New Mexico-based Indigenous Lifeways and Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment, itself a five-group coalition, including Navajo Dine and Pueblo organizations.

Indeed, an overarching frame for the comments was environmental justice (EJ). The coalition decried DOE's infamous past attempts to dump high-level radioactive waste on Native American reservations and treaty lands.

The late Keith Lewis, environmental director for the Serpent River (Ojibwe) First Nation near Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada was quoted by the coalition in its comments: "There is nothing moral about bribing a starving man with money." DOE has explicitly named Native American tribal governments and reservations as lead targets again this time, with offers of jobs, infrastructure development, and potential funding.

Grace Thorpe (1921-2008), Sauk and Fox and Pokagon Potawatomi founder and leader of the National Environmental Coalition of Native Americans, was celebrated by the coalition in its comments, for her 2009 presidential proclamation by Barack Obama, who praised her "successful campaign to organize Native Americans to oppose storage of nuclear waste on their reservations, which she said contradicted Native American principles of stewardship of the earth."

Latinx organizations also signed onto the comments, including Alliance for Environmental Strategies, based in southeastern New Mexico, very near the Texas border. The area is already targeted for not one but two large CISFs, owned by private companies. The Interim Storage Partners (ISP)/Waste Control Specialists CISF in Andrews County, Texas already received its construction and operating license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) last September. The Holtec International/Eddy-Lea [Counties] Energy Alliance in New Mexico will likely get its NRC license approval yet this year. The two CISFs are but 40-some miles apart, across the Texas-New Mexico border. The storage capacity of the two private CISFs is more than twice the amount of commercial irradiated nuclear fuel currently in the U.S., begging the question if military or even foreign wastes will also be imported.

The region is majority Latinx, and disproportionately polluted by the fossil fuel industries of the Permian Basin, as well as the multifaceted hazardous nuclear industries across majority minority (Latinx, Indigenous) New Mexico, and extending into Texas. Adding highly radioactive waste to the mix would be yet another environmental injustice. The private CISFs are seeking DOE's business, blurring the lines between "private" and "federal," in violation of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, as Amended. Federal appeals against both private CISFs have been launched in the D.C., 5th (New Orleans), and 10th (Denver) Circuit Courts, by a coalition of opponents, ranging from environmentalists, to a fossil fuel and ranching company and association, to the States of Texas and New Mexico themselves.

Yet another aspect of the coalition comments focused on the multiplication of transport risks inevitably associated with CISFs. Texas groups like the Nuclear-Free World Committee of the Dallas Peace and Justice Center, Public Citizen's Texas Office, Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition, and Tarrant Coalition for Environmental Awareness have pointed out that many thousands of high-level radioactive waste rail shipments from the eastern U.S., bound for the private CISFs in Texas and New Mexico, would pass through a place like Fort Worth, only to then pass back through, when the CISF one day exports its wastes to a permanent geologic repository. (Both ISP and Holtec's CISF license applications included a nearly identical map showing Forth Worth getting hit coming and going, very clearly.)

This doubling of transport risks from "Mobile Chernobyls," "Dirty Bombs on Wheels," "Floating Fukushimas" (barges on waterways), and "Mobile X-ray Machines That Can't Be Turned Off" (hazardous gamma and neutron radiation emissions even from "incident-free" shipments, made significantly even worse when shipping containers are externally contaminated, something Orano of ISP has been infamous for in its home country of France) reveals the dangerous absurdity of CISFs. The coalition called for a single shipment, from the reactors where the wastes are currently stored, to a scientifically/technically suitable, socially acceptable/environmentally just, consent-based permanent geologic repository.

Groups already living in the shadows of high-level radioactive waste risks, such as those near nuclear power plants and/or DOE facilities (like the African American-led Georgia Women's Action for New Directions (WAND), watchdogs on both the four-reactor Vogtle nuclear power plant, the largest in the U.S., as well as DOE's severely radioactively contaminated Savannah River Site nuclear weapons complex, not to mention to leaking national "low-level" radioactive waste dump in Barnwell, South Carolina, upwind and upstream of low-income, rural African American majority communities such as Shell Bluff in Burke County), called for Hardened On-Site Storage, or Hardened Near-Site Storage, as a much preferred alternative to willy nilly, high-risk irradiated nuclear fuel shipments back and forth across the country.

Groups like Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes, Don't Waste Michigan, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Nuclear Energy Information Center of Chicago, Nukewatch of Wisconsin, and Physicians for Social Responsibility Wisconsin, have warned about the high risks of barging high-level radioactive wastes on Lake Michigan, such as bound for CISFs. Lake Michigan is a major headwaters for the Great Lakes downstream, the drinking water supply for 40 million people in eight U.S. states, two Canadian provinces, and a very large number of Native American First Nations. The Great Lakes comprise 21% of the world's surface fresh water, and 84% of North America's. The Great Lakes are the lifeblood of one of the most productive bioregional economies in the world. A single high-level radioactive waste barge catastrophe could put all this in peril.

Beyond Nuclear aims to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abandon both to safeguard our future. Beyond Nuclear advocates for an energy future that is sustainable, benign and democratic.

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