There is no doubt that the proposed Ward Valley disposal facility, as licensed and regulated by the California Department of Health Services, will safely isolate low-level radioactive waste. Assurances of safety are provided by California's exhaustive licensing process, regulations and license conditions, the joint state-federal environmental impact review, the validation of the license and Environmental Impact Report by California's courts, the Interior Department's 1993 Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, and by the favorable report of a National Academy of Sciences committee.

Following release of the Academy's Ward Valley report two years ago, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who had commissioned the NAS review, said:

I've never felt that being an environmentalist means saying "no" to necessity. The National Academy of Sciences says it's safe, so I'm prepared to go ahead with it.

But, two years later, Interior has failed to transfer federal lands in Ward Valley to California. Instead, the White House relieved Secretary Babbitt of responsibility for the land transfer and gave it to Deputy Secretary John Garamendi who has imposed new delays. It is now almost five years since California formally requested the land transfer.

Radioactive materials serve the community's interests in medical and scientific research, in the development and manufacture of pharmaceuticals, in the production of electricity, numerous other industrial manufacturing activities, and in medical diagnosis and treatment. Ward Valley is vital infrastructure to enable these beneficial activities to continue.

The federal Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act was fashioned by environmentalists including former Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt and former Arizona Congressman Morris Udall. Why, then, is there opposition to the safe Ward Valley disposal facility which is sanctioned by a federal law with this sterling environmental pedigree and supported and needed by universities, industries, electric utilities, medical centers, and research organizations at the center of society's economic and institutional life? Instead of federal cooperation, we find that the office of the Interior Deputy Secretary maintains and uses a Ward Valley opponents' mailing list (as revealed by a Freedom of Information Act request) and disseminates misinformation provided by opponents. He ignores the scientific advice of Interior's own U.S. Geological Survey and data compiled by the U.S. Department of Energy. He undermines implementation of the federal Act by demanding new studies. He then threatens to block California's plan to do the studies, and says they should be done by his agency despite its lack of both expertise and legislative authority. He has failed to consult with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission or specified wherein he believes the project fails to meet NRC regulations.

What drives the opposition reflected in federal inaction and obstruction?

Ideological Opposition to the Use of Radioactivity
and to the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act

Opposition groups act on the theory that if they can block safe disposal of low-level waste, they can block all uses of radioactive materials. The opposition to Ward Valley and proposed disposal facilities in other states is driven by ideological opposition to any beneficial use of radioactivity by society — not by a concern for safe disposal of the waste byproducts. Some opposition groups admit to this objective. For example:

Greenpeace, in a solicitation letter from its Executive Director in the spring of 1995:

There is only one answer -- turn off the faucet; stop producing nuclear waste. Period. (Emphasis in the original.)

The Washington DC based Nuclear Information Resource Service, in a fundraising letter from its Executive Director dated October 1994:

We've helped stop every proposed radioactive waste dump for the past several years. Federal law said that every state should have had a dump to send its waste to by December 31, 1992. Federal law was wrong and grassroots activists were right. No new dumps are operating, and, as long as radioactive waste generation continues, forever exacerbating the problem, we will work to ensure that no new dumps ever operate. (Emphasis added.)

And Greenpeace, again, in a handout distributed while picketing a Cal Rad conference in San Diego in 1992:

Developing alternatives to radionuclides currently used in medicine and industry must be a priority.

Actions also reveal motivations. The Committee to Bridge the Gap spent four years (1992-1996) trying to convince California's Legislature and Courts that the Department of Health Services followed inadequate procedures for licensing organizations to use radioactive materials. Fortunately, both the Legislature and the Courts rejected this argument. Had CBG's efforts succeeded, not only would the Ward Valley license have been invalidated but so would over 2,000 radioactive materials licenses in California for hospitals, universities, industries, etc.

Special Interest Factions, not Environmentalists

Ward Valley opposition groups masquerade as environmentalists; but they are nothing more than special interest factions as defined by James Madison in the Federalist Papers:

By a faction, I understand a number of citizens who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of the other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community. (Emphasis added.)

Federal officials should not be swayed by these factions.

If "…the Enemy of Our Time is Inaction," Then the Time for Action is Now.

In his State of the Union Message to Congress last February, President Clinton said, "…the enemy of our time is inaction." Following release of the NAS report in May, 1995, California Governor Pete Wilson said, "It is time to act." In the statements of President Clinton, Governor Wilson, and Secretary Babbitt there is more than enough common ground to agree that prompt Congressional transfer of the Ward Valley lands to the State of California is in the best interests of the environment, the nation, and the states directly affected — even if the special interest factions oppose it.

Alan Pasternak
Technical Director, Cal Rad Forum