Dear EarthTalk: Some time ago there were issues with Native American tribes storing nuclear waste on their land, something that was both unhealthy to the communities and caused considerable controversy among tribal leaders. Where is this issue today?
—M. Spenser, via e-mail
Native tribes across the American West have been and continue to be subjected to significant amounts of radioactive and otherwise hazardous waste as a result of living near nuclear test sites, uranium mines, power plants and toxic waste dumps.
And in some cases tribes are actually hosting hazardous waste on their sovereign reservations—which are not subject to the same environmental and health standards as U.S. land—in order to generate revenues. Native American advocates argue that siting such waste on or near reservations is an “environmental justice” problem, given that twice as many Native families live below the poverty line than other sectors of U.S. society and often have few if any options for generating income.
“In the quest to dispose of nuclear waste, the government and private companies have disregarded and broken treaties, blurred the definition of Native American sovereignty, and directly engaged in a form of economic racism akin to bribery,” says Bayley Lopez of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He cites example after example of the government and private companies taking advantage of the “overwhelming poverty on native reservations by offering them millions of dollars to host nuclear waste storage sites.”