White House nuclear hypocrisy on EJ

Body Map uranium

In light of the White House’s hypocrisy in both supporting nuclear power while simultaneously claiming to care about Environmental Justice (EJ) in the context of addressing the climate crisis, Beyond Nuclear submitted the following comments to the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.

June 18, 2024

To: The White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC)

Beyond Nuclear’s comments to the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) specifically regarding the negative multigenerational health, environmental, and cultural impact on Native Americans of mining uranium and radioactive waste storage for nuclear power under the false premise of mitigating the climate crisis

Thank you for the opportunity to comment to WHEJAC regarding recommendations the Council will be making to The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council (IAC). First I want to thank all of the WHEJAC members for their service.

The stated mission of WHEJAC and the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council (IAC), as given by in the January 27, 2021 Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad is, in part, to “[d]eliver environmental justice… by developing programs, policies, and activities to address the disproportionately high and adverse human health, environmental, climate-related and other cumulative impacts on disadvantaged communities”.

It is clear, however, that what the White House states as its Environmental Justice mission, and the policies it supports on nuclear technology in the context of the climate crisis, are in serious conflict. As such, this Administration is not fulfilling the promise of WHEJAC or its members.

It is unfathomable that a White House that contends it wants to “deliver environmental justice” would continue to support nuclear energy under the guise of fighting climate change or for any reason. Extraction to fuel nuclear technologies (uranium mining) has already so devastated Native American communities, and indeed, indigenous communities worldwide. Additionally, Native American and other under-resourced communities are being threatened with radioactive waste dumps from nuclear technologies.

Over many administrations, this government has failed to fully consider or address the health impacts of uranium extraction on Native Americans. The recent opening of Pinyon Plain Mine, brings into stark relief concerns regarding exposure to heavy metal and radiological contamination, while resurfacing the failure to fully address the impact of legacy contamination and ongoing health impacts in Native American communities.

For what is the White House willing to continue to sacrifice already under-resourced Native American Communities? The graph below [at link for web story] is excerpted from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2022 report Mitigation of Climate Change.

This report reveals how much more carbon reduction we can achieve by focusing investment on wind and solar. Such investments lead to an estimated eight times greater carbon reduction with much less cost, than nuclear power.

The IPCC itself states, “Large contributions with costs less than USD20 tCO2-eq-1 come from solar and wind energy, energy efficiency improvements, reduced conversion of natural ecosystems, and CH4 emissions reductions (coal mining, oil and gas, waste)”. Conspicuous by its absence, nuclear is not listed.

According to The Guardian, “The … report … produced by scientists from across the globe and signed off by 195 governments, mentions renewables, wind, solar and efficiency 67 times in its summary. It cites nuclear once (in brackets), as an example of a technology with high upfront costs.” While the graph accounts for nuclear waste storage costs, it is unclear if front end fuel chain costs for mining and milling of uranium, or mine tailing cleanup of those sites, are included.

Despite this dire warning against the time and economic wastefulness of nuclear power, this Administration continues to support federal subsidies for it. This includes shielding the nuclear industry from catastrophic liability — potentially with tax payer money; deprecating public health in service to nuclear technology advancement, and funding the restart of reactors that have closed and could be too damaged to operate (DOE). Are the Environmental Justice sacrifices inherent in uranium mining and nuclear waste storage equivalent to the benefit that will be gained? Doubtful according to IPCC and many other sources. Also see here. Never will so little be gained from such a large sacrifice, both in land, lives and dollars.

Much of the reason Native Americans are now under threat of widespread uranium mining is because of a ban on uranium imports from Russia and partner countries; a ban that would not have been necessary in the first place had we abandoned our use of nuclear power in favor of more benign, efficient and capable energy technologies. And now as part of the Advance Act, the agency in charge of regulating nuclear power (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) will be mandated to focus less on health and more on getting and keeping nuclear reactors operational, despite the Government Accountability Office warnings that drought, wildfires, flooding, hurricanes, and sea level rise — all results of the worsening climate crisis — could seriously jeopardize safe nuclear power operations, endangering surrounding communities.

According to EPA, “Environmental justice” means the just treatment and meaningful involvement of all people… so that they:

“are fully protected from disproportionate and adverse human health and environmental effects (including risks) and hazards, including those related to climate change, the cumulative impacts of environmental and other burdens, and the legacy of racism or other structural or systemic barriers…”

The White House’s January 27, 2021 Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad states

We must strengthen our clean air and water protections.  We must hold polluters accountable for their actions. We must deliver environmental justice in communities all across America.  The Federal Government must drive assessment…to make our Nation resilient in the face of this [climate crisis]…protect public health…[bring jobs to] places that have suffered the most from persistent pollution, including low-income rural and urban communities, communities of color, and Native communities… [Justice40 initiative recommendations will focus on] the remediation and reduction of legacy pollution…

Nuclear power does not fit within the EPA definition of Environmental Justice, but it does make attaining the White House climate crisis goals, particularly accounting for Environmental Justice principles, much less likely:

  • It will siphon off resources from technologies that are cheaper, more stable, and more able to address the climate crisis safely.
  • Instead of making our Nation resilient in the face of the climate threat, nuclear power will become a RISK in a climate insecure world.
  • It will compound the existing legacy of contamination that has not been cleaned up, and impose further exposure, health, environmental and cultural burdens on unwilling Native American and other under-resourced communities.
  • As a country it seems we cannot afford to clean up the mess already left behind by nuclear technology, particularly in Native American communities. Adding yet more nuclear will only compound this economic burden.

Environmental Justice shoved aside. National security compromised. Health and environment discounted. What else will this Administration sacrifice for this dangerous energy source, so ill-equipped to address climate change?

In your recommendations, please inform the Administration of all of the ways their support of nuclear power will work against its stated Environmental Justice goals as well as its stated climate mitigation goals. We need to move to a clean energy future that does not compound the injustices of the past, which continue to linger in threats to Native Americans’ health, culture, and environment.

Thank you,

Cindy Folkers
Radiation and Health Hazard Specialist
Beyond Nuclear

Support Beyond Nuclear

Help to ensure a safer, greener and more just world for all