Nuclear Waste Neighbors Look to Candidates for Relief

RED WING, Minnesota, February 4, 2008 (ENS) – Ron Johnson is tribal council president of the Prairie Island Indian Community, a tribe that lives just 600 yards from 24 large containment units of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel.

Johnson and his tribe are some of the 169 million Americans living within 75 miles of temporary nuclear waste storage sites in 39 states, and this tribe lives closer to the hot waste than most.

They are urging voters to consider the candidates’ positions on solving the nation’s nuclear waste disposal problem before they cast their ballots on Super Tuesday.

“Developing a safe, permanent storage facility for spent nuclear fuel is critical to the health and welfare of the millions of Americans who currently live near temporary storage sites,” said Johnson. “The federal government must fulfill its obligation to the American people and solve this problem.”

High-level, radioactive nuclear waste from the nation’s nuclear power plants is currently accumulating at temporary storage sites in 18 of the 24 states holding primaries or caucuses on Tuesday.

A number of presidential candidates have voiced their opposition to the proposed national nuclear waste repository at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, but there is no alternate location prepared to solve the nation’s nuclear waste problem.

The Prairie Island Mdewankanton Dakota Reservation is located in southeastern Minnesota along the banks of the Mississippi River, about 50 miles from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Xcel’s Prairie Island nuclear power
plant (Photo courtesy NRC [])

It is adjacent to the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant owned by Xcel Energy Inc. Twin nuclear reactors and two dozen large cement nuclear waste storage casks sit just 600 yards from Prairie Island tribal homes. As many as 35 additional casks will be added in the coming years, the tribe has been told.

The Vermilion and Mississippi Rivers converge at the island and the nuclear power plant and storage casks sit directly on a low-lying Mississippi River floodplain. Like all areas with similar geographical features; it is subject to flooding.

The only evacuation route off the Prairie Island reservation is frequently blocked by passing trains. The tribe has been fighting to have the nuclear waste removed since 1994 when the state of Minnesota first allowed Xcel Energy to store the waste near the Prairie Island reservation.

Prairie Island tribal elder Chris Leith, also known as Brave Thunderhorse, recalls “Over the years we have seen our tribal members become ill with cancer and other unexplained sicknesses, and now we can’t even use the plants we once used for healing and medicines.”

Twenty-five years after Congress passed the National Nuclear Waste Storage Act and mandated the establishment of an underground repository, the future of the nation’s nuclear waste disposal program remains in doubt. To date, more than $28 billion has been contributed by American ratepayers to the national Nuclear Waste Fund without result.

“Leaving the nation’s nuclear waste in temporary locations near communities like ours is not an acceptable answer nor is it good leadership,” said Johnson. “This is a critical issue that the country’s next president must deal with – we can’t bury our heads in the sand, we need leadership.”

“Until or unless the federal government solves its nuclear waste problem, it is simply irresponsible to allow the construction of new nuclear power plants anywhere in the United States,” Johnson said.

States currently housing nuclear waste are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

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