Nuclear Waste: The Skull Valley Controversy




This paper will discuss the moral and ethical issues concerning how and why Locally Undesirable Land Uses (LULUs) and Treatment, Storage and Disposal Facilities (TSDFs) are located. A LULU, or TSDF, can be a power plant, a munitions factory, a county landfill, a medical waste incinerator, a hazardous waste storage facility, a military base, an airport or any number of other facilities that people need, but do not want to live next to. The process of finding land for these facilities is driven by either racism or financial gain. The reason the placing of these facilities is thought to be racist is based in the fact that a majority of these facilities are located in communities that have a high minority population. As suggested in class minorities are four times more likely to live by a waste site, the NIMBY syndrome. The financial gain argument is based on the fact that the placing of these facilities is driven purely by profit. Does the prospect of financial profit outweigh the risk the waste can have on the tribe, the surrounding communities, and the people who could come into contact by the transporting of it?
The case that I will discuss is unusual in the fact that the local residents have identified and requested the TSDF be located on their land. This is different from other tribes who don’t wish to “host” nuclear waste, dumping sites or a superfund. Those who are against this project do not live near the proposed facility, but fear the facility could endanger their community and the environment. This case also concerns Native Americans and their sovereign rights to govern their own land. Their sovereignty allows them to govern the industries that are on the reservations. The following excerpt from web page of the Skull Valley Goshute Tribe provides some history on the tribe: “The Goshutes have inhabited the southwestern part of the United States for thousands of years. They were there before the Mormons, the Mexicans and even the Spaniards. At their peak the Goshutes numbered about 20,000. Today there are less than 500 Goshutes, of which 124 belong to the Skull Valley Band. Historically, the Goshutes had Shoshone relatives and friends to the north, Paiutes and Pavants to the south and the Utes to the east. At one time the Goshute homeland extended from the Wasatch front westward past Wells, Nevada and occupied several hundred square miles. Today, the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation is comprised of approximately 18,000 acres.” (Skull Valley, 1)
It is because of cutbacks in Tooele County that the Goshutes have decided to seek out new opportunities for the reservation. Currently the Tekoi Rocket Test Facility is located on the reservation. Cutbacks in the early nineties created uncertainty concerning the status of the facility, therefore the Goshute tribe aggressively solicited other opportunities. Because of these cutbacks the Goshutes are exploring MRS facilities. An MRS facility is designed to temporarily store, for approximately 40 years, spent nuclear fuel rods. The facility would be designed to store 10,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel rods until a permanent storage facility could be built in Yucca Mountain in Nevada, however the facility is still in the planning stages.
There are currently two commercial hazardous-waste incinerators, one hazardous-waste dump and one low-level radiation dump located in Tooele, County. Until 1969 the military conducted open-air testing of chemical and biological weapons at the Dugway Proving Grounds near the Skull Valley Reservation. The reason the military stop testing these weapons was the death of nearly 6,000 sheep living near the testing grounds. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers has undertaken a project to clean up the contaminated site under the title of the “Tooele County Sheep Project.” The Department of Defense has recently received permission to begin test burning of chemical weapons in Tooele, County. “U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell has denied an attempt by the Chemical Weapons Working Group, the Sierra Club and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation to block destruction of chemical weapons at the Army\'s incinerator in Tooele County, Utah. The ruling will allow the Army to test-burn chemical weapons stored at the site. If the tests show the plant is operating properly, a final permit will be issued that will allow the facility