Just when I think we are making progress in our struggle against the nuclear industrial complex, a new administration comes into power and, with a vengeance, begins weaving a complex web of renewed 50’s style nuclear proliferation and experimentation with nuclear power technologies. While much of my anti-nuke activism has been focused on areas outside of the Southeast, it is abundantly clear that the South is becoming the new hotbed of nuclear activity.
While we are condemning other countries for building up their nuclear arsenals, our Senate is approving billions of dollars to fund nuclear weapons research. In one case, the historically significant home of the Hiroshima bomb-the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee -is being modernized to accommodate weapons modification and possible new production. Besides the fact that this facility will continue carrying the torch of nuclear might, its workers will continue to carry the legacy of radiation in their bodies. While the National Nuclear Security Administration’s need for secrecy increases, the health standards and protection of worker’s rights decreases.
Unfortunately one of the most central points of the nuclear web seems to be the Savannah River Site, an old nuclear weapons facility that has been a source of contamination to the Carolina/Georgia region and the water that flows out of it. $8 million over a two-year period will go to study a large-scale facility at SRS for the production of plutonium cores (called “pits”) for nuclear weapons. As demonstrated by the shut down due to contamination of a “pit” production plant in Colorado, the Savannah River Site is on the brink of adding to its already full load of contamination. SRS is also a few decisions away from becoming a processing facility for old plutonium warheads. This plutonium would be shipped to SRS, endangering many states on its journey, where it would be turned into mixed-oxide fuel (MOX). The MOX fuel would then be shipped back out to nuclear power plants to produce energy. The catch is that we are being told that this is a sure way to dispose of the old plutonium weapons, when actually the process to create MOX will leave us with more plutonium, as well as other waste. Of course the nuclear utilities love this idea because the department of energy will pay them to use the plutonium. The nuclear industry will once again be enjoying more government subsidies while the potential for clean, sustainable energy alternatives is left by the way side.
And where do they propose sending radioactive waste from the nuclear facilities over here on the East Coast so that more waste can be created? The two main candidates for high level nuclear waste are both on Native American land-Skull Valley, Utah (Goshutes) and Yucca Mountain, Nevada (Paiute and Shoshone). In the case of Skull Valley, the nuclear industry is crying native sovereignty after waving millions of dollars in the face of a few decision-makers without the tribe’s knowledge. Where Yucca Mountain is concerned, our government tried to make the point that no one lived out there, only to find that people actually do. Yucca Mountain is becoming less viable as water aquifers and earthquake activity is discovered. To me it’s very simple, if there is no where for the waste to go, then we need to stop producing it.
Every strand of the nuclear web is dependent on another strand. If we stop making the weapons, we don’t need to develop ways to recycle the plutonium. If we stop the MOX fuel program, we can avoid even more leftover plutonium and other toxic substances. If we stop generating nuclear power, we can start looking at permanent solutions to a finite amount of waste that needs to be taken care of, not an endless stream of radiation from ongoing nuclear utilities. When I look at a map of the nuclear legacy and its proposed waste transportation routes, I am struck by how we are all connected not only in this web, but also in this struggle. Here, in the South, we can bring new meaning to the idea rebellion and start to dismantle the nuclear industrial complex. If we each grab a strand and pull, the nuclear web will fall apart.