Indigenous Peoples in Copenhagen: Ruling out the Nuclear Option -- Neither Clean nor Green
Weaving the Web of Life in Copenhagen
By Brenda Norrell
Photo by Ben Powless, Mohawk youth from Six Nations, Ontario, now in Copenhagen. Indigenous Peoples led the 100,000 strong Peoples Climate March on Dec. 12 in Copenhagen.
Chief Seattle (1786-1866)
"We do not weave the web of life; we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves."
COPENHAGEN -- Remembering the words of Chief Seattle, Indigenous Peoples and people of color at the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen sent a message to the world to rule out nuclear energy, which is neither clean nor green.
The statement, "The Legacy of Nuclear Energy, Nuclear and Chemical Weapons Upon US Indigenous and Communities of Color," was released by communities of Indigenous Peoples and people of color, in partnership with the Peace Development Fund. Together, they form the Building Action for Sustainable Environments Initiative (BASE).
"We are citizens who represent some of the communities in the US who bear the legacy of 50 years of nuclear energy and weapons production. We are indigenous nations, we are Latino citizens and farm-workers, and we are African American communities living near nuclear power and weapon production sites.
"Reducing and eliminating the wasteful and dangerous means of producing nuclear energy and bringing renewable green energy production and jobs to our communities are the goals in which our communities have a major stake."
While Indigenous Peoples from throughout the world rallied, marched and educated the world in Copenhagen this week, the Base communities gave voice to the legacy of death that uranium mining and the nuclear industry have brought to Indigenous Peoples and people of color.
"Our communities suffer from diseases and illnesses that we contend are related to our exposure to the highly toxic processes of mining and milling uranium, the unsafe storage of radioactive materials and the lack of clean-up of sites and facilities, the transportation of highly radioactive waste through our communities, and the lack of safe disposal methods for highly deadly nuclear waste. Cancer, neurological damage, genetic damage, lung disease, respiratory disorders, lupus, and heart problems are among some of the illnesses that affect our communities."
"In the Pacific Northwest US, on Spokane tribal lands where both mining and milling of uranium took place, the legacy has resulted in 40 radioactive 'hot spots' along the highway that runs through the heart of the Reservation. People, schools and children, soil, water, and air are exposed to highly toxic sludge materials," BASE communities said.
On the Navajo Nation, the legacy of uranium development exists today in the Four Corners Area. Hundreds of abandoned mines have not been cleaned up and present environmental and health risks in many Navajo communities. The Navajo Nation, located in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, is in the Southwest, which has been targeted for US toxic and nuclear spoilage.
"New Mexico is also home to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), the United States first permanent repository for radioactive waste. WIPP contains transuranic waste from atomic bomb-making. ('Transuranic' means heavier than uranium.) The US Department of Energy (DOE) predicts that 24,000 truckloads containing 625,000 cubic feet of waste will be deposited in WIPP over the next 35 years. Much of this waste is plutonium-laden. Plutonium is often termed the most dangerous substance known to man. Inhaling a miniscule amount of plutonium leads inevitably to lung cancer. Ingesting plutonium can lead to leukemia and other cancers. This plutonium-laden waste travels from numerous sites through 23 states to reach its destination near Carlsbad and Loving, NM -- not far from Carlsbad Caverns, the region's most famous geological feature."
At the Savannah River Site (SRS), a DOE facility, over 100 African-American workers in Aiken, South Carolina, were silenced by threats of job losses when they raised issues of their overexposure to radioactive materials while performing their jobs. Western Shoshone homelands were also targeted with the Yucca Mountain dump, along with Indian lands across the U.S.
"We are impacted by nuclear waste that is highly radioactive and deadly for 25,000 years, and there is no safe disposal process. The transporting of highly radioactive waste through our communities and on public highways between SRS, WIPP, Yucca Mountain, and Hanford is of major concern of our collective communities.
"We Are Here In Copenhagen because the human legacy of nuclear energy and weapons production must be addressed. Our voices and the legacy of the nuclear nightmare have been hidden under the guise of national security by our own government. Internationally, when other governments have also faced nuclear accidents like Chernobyl, the threats to human health and the environment has been shrouded in secrecy.
"As we prepared to come to Copenhagen, the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania again experienced problems. Officials are still trying to determine how workers cutting a pipe stirred up radioactive dust at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant."
Climate change and the conditions of global warming will increase the risks from the nuclear industry. Indigenous Peoples and peoples of color sent a clear message to the world that there is no safe and clean process for the disposal of nuclear waste.
Read the full statement and recommendations: