The Common Good
May-June 1996

Treading on Holy Ground

by Julienne Gage, Aaron McCarroll Gallegos | May-June 1996

Ward Valley in California's eastern Mojave Desert may seem like the middle of nowhere to those looking to dump their nuclear sludge.

Ward Valley in California's eastern Mojave Desert may seem like the middle of nowhere to those looking to dump their nuclear sludge. But this silent valley has been the sacred homeland to five Native American nations from time immemorial and supports a variety of desert wildlife, including golden eagles, kangaroo rats, sidewinders, and kit foxes. Ward Valley has also been designated as critical habitat for the survival of the threatened desert tortoise, a 70-million-year-old species that has lost 50 percent of its population in the last seven years.

In April, the Bay Area Nuclear Waste Coalition (BAN) helped to organize an encampment of environmental and anti-nuclear activists, citizens groups, and members of the Lower Colorado River indigenous nations at Ward Valley to protest plans by the nuclear industry to bury a dangerous mixture of high- and low-level radioactive waste from commercial nuclear power plants, hospitals, and bio-tech industries in shallow, unlined trenches in the valley.

Ward Valley is located 22 miles west of Needles and right above an important aquifer for the Colorado River, which is about 18 miles from the site and a main water source for Arizona, Southern California, and northern Mexico. Although it is illegal for the federal government to operate low-level radioactive waste dumps and it has a legal responsibility to protect Native American resources, Sens. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Bennett Johnston (D-La.) are getting around these obstacles by attempting to push through Senate Bill 1596, which would transfer the administration of Ward Valley to California and exempt the site from existing environmental regulations.

Call your congressional representatives and ask them to oppose legislation that would turn Ward Valley into a nuclear waste dump. For more information on other ways you can get involved, contact BAN, 2760 Golden Gate, San Francisco, CA 94118; (415) 752-8678.


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