A Native American Yucca Mountain Experience
By Ian Zabarte
By the year 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency set the radiation protection standards for Yucca Mountain without considering the comments of the Native Community Action Council challenging the Environmental Protection Agency standard for not being protective of Native Americans. The Environmental Protection Agency set the radiation protection standard based upon a individual living 11 miles from Yucca Mountain getting water from a well and farming, in what is known as, the “reasonably maximally exposed individual.” No consideration was given to the comments of potential impact to Native Americans and the Department of Energy adopted the Environmental Protection Agency standards denying any arguments that do not support licensing of Yucca Mountain. This amounts to environmental racism, a violation of President Bill Clinton’s Executive Order 12898, Federal Action to Address Environmental Justice in Low Income and Minority Communities.
As the Yucca Mountain licensing proceeding before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission loomed in 2008 the Native Community Action Council began preparing for the licensing and in December of 2008 intervened in the Atomic Safety Licensing Board Panel of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Two contentions of the NCAC deal with ownership of land and water rights. Specifically, the NCAC relied upon the same federal statute that created Nevada, as the foundation for the ownership interests that accrue to the Shoshone people. The 1861 Nevada Organic Act states:
“Provided, further, That nothing in this act contained shall be construed to impair the rights of person or property now pertaining to the Indians in said Territory, so long as such rights shall remain unextinguished by treaty between the United States and such Indians, or to include any territory which, by treaty with any Indian tribe, is not, without the consent of said tribe, to be included within the territorial limits or jurisdiction of any State or Territory.”
In December of 2014, the NRC Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards published long awaited Safety Evaluation Report Requirements NUREG-1949, Volume 4:
“The NRC staff finds that DOE has not met the requirements 10 CFR 63.121(a)
and 10 CFR 63.121(d)(1) regarding ownership of land and water rights, respectively.”
The Native Community Action Council, representing the Shoshone and Paiute people intervened in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing of Yucca Mountain. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission proceedings are regarded as the most complicated and lengthy legal proceeding ever contemplated in human history. The Native Community Action Council achieved “party with standing” in the proceedings before the Atomic Safety Licensing Board Panel without any
financial support bringing three contentions--one contention related to the National Environmental Policy Act and two legal contentions related to ownership of land and water rights. The Native Community Action Council is the only non-federally funded party to the licensing proceedings, whereas the Department of Energy together with other parties including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the State of Nevada and have spent approximately $15 billion. Local united of government received millions in grants equal to taxes while tribes received nothing.
The Shoshone and Paiute peoples began questioning impact to the people and land from radioactive fallout released by the United States and United Kingdom testing of weapons of mass destruction. Between 1986 and 1990 the Shoshone and Paiute participated in the creation of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990 with former United States Secretary of the Interior Steward Udall and local Las Vegas lawyers Larry Johns to provide payment to downwinders--up to $50K, $75K for on-site participants; and uranium miners up to $100k for cancer illness for 15 primary cancers.
Citizen Alert, then Nevada’s only state-wide grassroots environmental organization, collaborated with the Shoshone and Paiute people to create the Nuclear Risk Management for Native Communities Project. Research conducted by the Native Community Action Council reviewed the Department of Energy Off-Site Radiation Exposure Review Profile and found that the Department of Energy did not replicate Native American lifestyle as they exist and instead substituted a sheep herder lifestyle for analysis. The Native Community Action Council research found significant increased exposure to Native Americans based on lifestyle differences that include: 1) diet--what Shoshone and Paiute people ate and how their food was prepared; 2) mobility—where they went and what they did there; 3) shelter—where they lived and what their houses were made from.
Citizen Alert no longer exists but, today the Native Community Action Council proudly bears the banner, “Nevada is Not a Wasteland” to protect the people and land of the Great Basin.
Twenty-five years ago, the Shoshone and Paiute people organized the first Healing Global Wounds event, the first Native American conference and pow-wow ever held at UNLV on the anniversary of 500 years since European “discovery” of North America. The Native Community Action Council is preparing to meet the continuing licensing of Yucca Mountain by hosting the 2017 Native American Forum on Nuclear Issues at the University of Nevada Las Vegas on Earth Day, April 22, 2017. The Las Vegas community is invited to participate.