Hollywood Targets Nuclear Storage Facility

Published October 1, 2005

Opponents of the Goshute Indians’ plans to build a state-of-the-art nuclear storage facility on their Utah desert reservation flew a small group of activist celebrities to Washington, DC on July 25 to lobby members of Congress to block the Native Americans’ project.

Anti-Goshute lobbying efforts have intensified as, supported by federal safety reviews, the tribe is on the verge of obtaining a federal permit to store spent nuclear fuel until a permanent facility at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain is certified. The Yucca Mountain facility is scheduled to be ready in 2010, subject to the outcome of current legal challenges.

In 1987, Goshute tribal leaders signed a contract to set aside a small portion of their reservation for the construction of an advanced-technology storage facility. The tribe will receive $3 billion for hosting the facility, and it expects additional economic benefits from continuing operation of the facility.

Opposition from Afar

Nevertheless, antinuclear activists who have no direct stake in the facility or the region are stepping up pressure to deny the Goshutes the right to house the facility on their land. The July 25 Washington protest and celebrity lobbying campaign, for example, was notable for its absence of anybody remotely connected to Utah.

Ohio congressman and failed 2004 Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich hosted a July 25 press conference with punk rocker Ani DeFranco, singers Emily Saliers and Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls, and actor James Cromwell. The celebrities visited with non-Goshute and non-Utah legislators and staff in an effort to enlist the federal government in blocking the Goshute plans.

“We ask people to stand in solidarity with Native American people against nuclear waste dumping,” said Ray, according to the July 26 Salt Lake Tribune, apparently forgetting the Goshute tribe was seeking to build the facility rather than block it.

“We cannot allow this trampling of Native American rights,” added Kucinich, in apparent opposition to the Goshutes.

“Anyone who is trying to tell me that radioactive waste is clean is lying to me,” added DiFranco.

Utah Perspective Contradicts Celebrities

Salt Lake City columnist Ted McDonough gave a contrasting, more local perspective to the Hollywood lobbying blitz.

“Nearly every objection raised to the project’s federal permit has been dismissed by federal nuclear regulators,” wrote McDonough in the August 11 Salt Lake City Weekly. “As the project moves ever closer to an expected federal permit this summer, Utah’s congressional delegation is attempting increasingly desperate measures, from designating the area around the proposed above-ground storage site as wilderness to stalling the plan through a terrorist threat study.”

Referring to the Hollywood protesters as “a few B-list celebrities,” McDonough noted the protesters’ lack of success so far. A similar effort to make an end-run appeal to Interior Secretary Gale Norton is also likely to fail, reported McDonough.

“The state has every opportunity to fight the project on a scientific and legal basis. That ought to be enough. To ask the Department of the Interior not to sign off on the lease seems to me to be an infringement on the sovereign rights of the Goshute Indians,” said Sue Martin, spokeswoman for Private Fuel Storage, the company that is constructing and operating the facility for the Goshutes, as reported by McDonough.

Goshutes Emphasize Safety

On their tribal Web site, the Goshutes stress their decision is based on scientific assessments showing little risk of health or safety concerns.

“Static storage of shielded containers of spent fuel is one of the least challenging problems for health and safety,” the tribal Web site notes. “The spent fuel is solid, and if the condition of the fuel changes at all, it will change slowly. This makes radiation monitoring especially simple. If a mistake is suspected, there is ample time to correct it.

“The risks attributable to a waste storage facility are also smaller than the risks of living in Salt Lake City,” observes the Goshute Web site. “For example, the risk of particulate air pollution is one of the largest risks to the American people. A simple visual inspection shows that the particulate concentration is less in Skull Valley than in Salt Lake City.”

Celebs Ignore Tribal Interests

Another important benefit of the facility has often been overlooked, according to the tribal Web site: “This proposed facility is likely to make it financially attractive for many more of the Skull Valley Band to live on their reservation” and preserve tribal heritage.

“Dennis Kucinich is making a mistake if he thinks he can resurrect his failed presidential bid by pandering to the ultraliberal wing of his party,” said Sterling Burnett, senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis. “Calling in entertainers to pose as scientists and policy analysts simply does not bode well for one’s credibility.

“Defending those who don’t want defense is the defining characteristic of the far left,” Burnett added. “Whenever somebody says ‘We know what’s better for you than you do,’ people wisely hide their wallets and keep a close eye on their freedoms. The Goshute nation is a sovereign entity, and so long as the depository meets federal health and safety standards, then the Goshutes should be able to make up their own minds regarding what is in their best interests.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

For more information …

For more information on the Goshute tribe’s nuclear storage plans, visit the tribal Web site at http://www.skullvalleygoshutes.org.

More information on nuclear power and spent fuel storage is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to http://www.heartland.org, click on the PolicyBot™ button, and select the topic/subtopic combination Environment/Nuclear Power.