In summary

Report: Black, Indigenous and people of color are especially vulnerable to harm from the handling and storage of radioactive waste.

By Chelsi Sparti, Special to CalMatters

Chelsi Sparti, a Fulbright Scholar and associate director of the Samuel Lawrence Foundation, a nonprofit based in Del Mar, chelsi@samuellawrencefoundation.org. She co-authored the “Report of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station Task Force.”

As national attention centers on racial injustices, a report by Rep. Mike Levin of California exposes yet another assault upon Black, Indigenous and people of color: they are especially vulnerable to harm from our handling and storage of radioactive waste. 

Across the country, as waste from aging nuclear power plants piles up by the ton, investor-owned utilities and their contractors continue to eye Indigenous lands as dumping sites. To reach these sites, the deadly material would travel unannounced on railways through hundreds of socioeconomically-disadvantaged neighborhoods. 

From the initial extraction of raw uranium to the eventual, millennia-long storage of spent nuclear fuel, the nuclear industry relies upon the exploitation of rural, Indigenous lands, states the June report by Levin, a Democrat from San Juan Capistrano. 

The “Report of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station Task Force” urges Congress to approve a siting process that aligns with recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, which calls for tribal leaders and local governments to have a “meaningful consultative role in important decisions” on nuclear waste storage. 

Those decisions will determine the permanent disposition of nuclear waste from 65 low-quality storage sites in 33 states. 

Drafted by scientists and policymakers over 18 months, the task force report contains new scientific discoveries and 30 policy recommendations. Action is expected on eight of them this year. 

Across the nation, Americans of all income levels are surrounded by radioactive material that remains deadly for more than 200,000 years and is impossible to clean up. In California, spent fuel stockpiles have accumulated at the Humboldt Bay, Diablo Canyon, Rancho Seco and San Onofre reactor sites. At San Onofre alone, 3.6 million pounds of radioactive waste is lodged in temporary storage about 100 feet from the rising ocean. 

Radioactive waste is an issue made worse by decades of inaction. Clearly, the nuclear industry is determined to unload its waste at the doorsteps of working-class, BIPOC communities.  

Even today, as the federal government deploys forces to U.S. cities to impose its will upon protesters for racial justice, the next generation of nuclear energy – in the form of “advanced reactors” – is poised to move closer to urban centers, according to an NRC memo. 

Black, Indigenous and people of color communities have a lot to be angry about. Their outrage should include demands to protect people of color from exposure to hazardous waste for the sake of nuclear industry profits.  

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