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for people who care about the West

Nuclear waste needs new backyard

  CALIFORNIA


After more than a decade of legal challenges and nonviolent protests against a proposed nuclear-waste dump, the Save Ward Valley Coalition is closing its office. Members have gladly worked themselves out of a job.


"We've made tremendous steps toward victory," says Bradley Angel of Greenaction, one of the environmental groups in the coalition. US Ecology, the company chosen by the state of California to build the dump, has been forced to appeal two federal court decisions. In addition, the company is suing the state of California for costs.


"We're basically arguing that the state needs to get on with it and build Ward Valley or give us our money back - $162 million," says US Ecology vice president Stephen Romano. He says state officials are dragging their heels because California is a "not in my backyard" state.


Nuclear waste produced in California is still shipped out of state, mainly to South Carolina. Since the late 1980s, however, federal laws have required the state to bury its nuclear waste at home. Ward Valley was supposed to take on the local burden. But the valley, part of the Mojave Desert in southeastern California, is considered sacred land by several Native American tribes and is also important habitat for the threatened desert tortoise. Because the dump site is only 18 miles from the Colorado River, critics also worried about nuclear waste leaking into the region's drinking water.


US Ecology's Romano says environmental issues were looked at by the National Academy of Sciences in 1995, and "the science is clear: the site is sound."


Angel says his group will be watching the state's next move. "We'll continue to fight, whether it's Ward Valley or any of the sons of Ward Valley," Angel says. "Closing the office is wonderful - it's a signal that we continue to march toward victory."