Here in the Pioneer Valley we live within a circle of five operating, decommissioning, or decommissioned nuclear power facilities and a nuclear submarine base. Radioactive materials are extremely dangerous and extremely long lived. For our safety and the safety of future generations, we need to be informed about nuclear power and the waste created from its mining and its use.
Of course, there are nuclear facilities all over the world and nuclear contamination has a way of traveling very long distances in the air, through oceans and rivers, and in our bodies. So it’s not something anyone can totally escape from, no matter where we live. We have fouled our nest with nightmarishly toxic and pernicious stuff and we don’t know what to do with it.
It’s extremely painful, frightening and depressing to face this head on. But we have to. We are now the stewards of all this radioactive waste, whether we like it or not. And more waste is being made all the time.
What can you do?
First, accept the responsibility of being a nuclear steward. Then, become knowledgeable. Two good resources are the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, http://www.nirs.org, or Fairewinds Energy Education, http://www.fairewinds.org.
Second, question everything you hear about nuclear power. Start with these two basic assumptions and see if they help you make sense of it:
Corporations have a “perverse motivation” (i.e. profit) to reduce costs and neglect safety, so they tend to obfuscate and lie when challenged.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is about one-quarter regulator (at best) and three-quarters nuclear industry cheerleader. It is one of many “captive regulators” in an economy driven by short-term gain and not by long-term investment in the future.
Third, do everything you can to pressure government, utilities, and corporations to stop creating more radioactive waste. A good starting place would be calling Gov. Baker and telling him Pilgrim Nuclear in Plymouth should be shut down.
Fourth, don’t for one second think that nuclear power is green or sustainable in any way. You will hear that, because nukes don’t create CO2 when they’re generating power, they’re a solution to climate change. What you don’t hear from the proponents of nuclear power/weapons is that the mining and refining of nuclear fuel is extremely energy- and carbon-intensive. What you don’t hear is that the billions of government subsidy dollars that are going to shore up and bail out unprofitable nuclear power companies could be better spent on developing and bringing to scale truly sustainable forms of energy. What you don’t hear is that there is no way to safely clean up radioactive waste. “Green” and “nuclear” simply cannot be credibly used together.
Fifth, don’t even imagine that Yucca Mountain is an appropriate place to store radioactive waste. Even if we had technology good enough to contain radioactive waste for generations — which we don’t — Yucca is not the right place from a geological standpoint.
Sixth, if you live near a shutdown reactor (which you do) and just want the radioactive waste gone, yesterday, think about where it will go. Think about the places it would be transported through, at great risk of accident or terror attack. Think about the places where it would be stored, and where it could leak or worse. Right now, radioactive materials from the decommissioning of Vermont Yankee are being shipped to a storage facility near the Texas-New Mexico border that sits on top on a huge aquifer supplying at least seven southwestern states. What will happen if the radioactivity gets into the deep water?
Seventh, recognize that the communities and geographies that are being forced or asked to take on radioactive waste are sacrifice zones inhabited by people with dark skin and/or no money or political clout. That storage facility on the Texas-New Mexico border is in an area that is poor, rural, and largely Mexican-American. Uranium is mined on indigenous people’s land throughout the world and the waste simply left there, making them sick. Yucca Mountain itself, and the contaminated Nevada nuclear testing sites nearby, are actually on Shoshone tribal lands. This is racism at a profound level.
Finally, get involved in anything that will slow down or stop the creation of nuclear waste. Promote sustainable energy and energy conservation efforts. Climate Action Now is a good local resource: http://www.climateactionnowma.org. Advocate to shut down Pilgrim Nuclear in Plymouth: http://www.capedownwinders.org or http://www.pilgrimcoalition.org. Get involved in regional and national discussions about what is the least bad resolution to the problem of nuclear waste. The Citizens’ Awareness Network is a local organization with a solid history and national reach: http://www.nukebusters.org.
You don’t have to be an expert on nuclear power to make a difference. You just have to show up and be ready to learn and work hard for your children and their children and their children.
Ann Darling lives in Easthampton and has worked in Greenfield for over 15 years. She is a 35-year resident of the Brattleboro, Vt., area and a member of the Safe and Green Campaign to responsibly shut down and decommission Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant. She recently attended a national summit on radioactive waste in Chicago.