“nuclear war (yeah) talkin’ about (yeah) nuclear war (yeah)
it’s a motherfucker, don’t you know. if they push that button, your ass gotta go.”
lyrics by: sun ra
late april, 1997, i traveled with eight people in a passenger van from our homes in arizona, to ward valley, california – located in the mojave desert – nearest town, needles, california, 21 miles away. we came to ward valley for a gathering – a show of solidarity for a nearly decade long struggle to save ward valley from becoming a nuclear waste dump.
in the early 1990s, the nuclear power and nuclear waste industries, along with various california state officials, had hoped to build a dump on federal land at ward valley. if it had been built, long lasting radioactive waste, mainly from nuclear power plants, would have been dumped into unlined trenches directly above an aquifer, that had the potential to drain into the colorado river (a mere 18 miles away from ward valley). the colorado river is drinking and agriculture source water for over 20 million people who live in nevada, so cal and arizona. ward valley is also home to the endangered desert tortoise and is a place of profound spiritual significance to the area’s 5 indigenous tribes.
we arrived at ward valley that april to a gathering of about 300 people – cars and tents lined up in rows and clusters. two or three large tents were standing in the center of the gathering space with tables and folding chairs, a generator, lights, a microphone and a sound system.
i pitched my tent and took in my surroundings. in the distance, were brown, rugged mountains; and it was obvious, we were on the valley floor. there were small, shrubby bushes of creosote….and no trees or any flora or fauna that grew taller than knee height. the sun beat down, blazing hot, even in april and there was no shade to be found.
during the 4 days i stayed at ward valley, i participated in sunrise drumming and dancing ceremonies conducted by tribal elders. i listened to speeches and presentations from leaders in the anti-nuclear movement, the environmental and social justice movements, and indigenous rights activists. they shared their stories and information. we strategized. we prepared food and ate together. i became part of an assembly line of dish washers in the desert, cleaning bowls and utensils after the meals. by the end of the fourth day, i was sunburned.
what struck me most about the gathering, was the passion of the peoples involved. and the leaders of this gathering, of this movement, were elder women. it was clear that they were running things at ward valley. i was humbled and awestruck. keeping ward valley free from nuclear waste was something that people were willing to sacrifice for.
after a 113 day occupation of ward valley, by the activists, that began in 1998; in november of 1999, the department of the interior, terminated all actions regarding the ward valley dump proposal, officially ending the long struggle. success.
the anti-nuclear movement is a social movement that opposes the use of nuclear technologies. the united states has 104 nuclear reactors and 5,113 nuclear warheads. support for nuclear power plants has ebbed and flowed throughout the world. support diminishes after catastrophes like chernobyl and fukushima. support grows stronger when threats posed by global warming bear down upon industrialized countries and their politicians. in the u.s., 20% of our electrical power comes from nuclear plants. currently, australia, austria, denmark, greece, ireland, italy, portugal, israel, malaysia, new zealand and norway remain opposed to nuclear power. germany and switzerland are phasing out their nuclear power plants. these opponents cite concerns ranging from nuclear accidents to radioactive waste disposal, to the high cost of building nuclear reactors, to threats from nuclear terrorism. presently, 31 countries operate nuclear power plants.
proponents of nuclear power and industry reps claim that nuclear power emits only negligible amounts of cardon dioxide. this is partial truth. for only nuclear reactor operation is free of carbon dioxide emissions. all other steps in the nuclear fuel chain, including mining, transports, enrichment, construction of reactors, decommisioning of old reactors and nuclear waste management – all use fossil fuel, thus emitting greenhouse gases.
i want to give my children and their children a world that is free from the threat of nuclear annihilation. i don’t want to have to choose between the ravages of global climate change and the threats posed by a reliance on nuclear power.
my biggest concern about nuclear technology – and in my humble opinion – should be yours too….is radioactive waste disposal. there are two types of radioactive waste: low level and high level. low level is not of huge concern. it is high level waste disposal that is of great concern. this waste comes from spent nuclear fuel – such as when a nuclear power plant is decomissioned. this radioactive waste must be stored for thousands of years. some of the materials contained within this waste have extremely long half lives (upwards of 100,000 years). the nuclear industry uses the wordy phrase: permanent geologic repository to describe basically what amounts to burying high level radioactive waste in cement and steel containers for thousands of years. this waste could be vulnerable to seismic shifting, leaking and evildoers. other possible options for disposal of high level radioactive waste include sending it into outer space or injecting it under the sea bed – i kid you not.
so, the time is now. we must have these discussions and make changes in our own lives to reduce our dependency on outside sources of energy. it will not be easy. we must have a national dialogue about energy policy that is based on our intentions to heal our planet and protect our future generations. we must create a system that values life and doesn’t diminish or degrade it. let’s not wait for more catastrophes before we engage in meaningful change. bless us all. namaste.