HIST 3770, Spring 2016: Nuclear West: Nuclear Waste and Utah
Beginning in 1980, the Department of Energy (DOE) proactively searched for potential nuclear waste repository sites. The DOE focused on using public propaganda to drum up local support for the nuclear industry in Utah, while the opposition tried to use national media sources and political action to hamper the DOE's progress. Ultimately, the DOE's strategy backfired and proved ineffective in securing repository sites in UT.
With the consistent development of nuclear technologies in the 20th Century, waste continued to be generated and stored in temporary locations. As nuclear power reactors were designed and began to be implemented throughout the United states in the late 70's, the need to design viable nuclear waste treatment options became a high priority. In 1980, the US Department of Energy (DOE) proposed the use of mined geologic repositories as the most viable option for disposal of transuranic nuclear waste in Enviromental Imact Statement EIS-0046. The DOE then quickly identified areas throughout the Western United States as ideal locations for such repositories. As early as 1981, the department started working with local groups such as the Utah Nuclear Waste Repository Task Force to field questions about the potential use of Utah's salt beds as repositories. President Reagan proactively sought for long term nuclear waste solutions, however he understood that both state and national interests had to be served in identifying locations for testing and storage. In 1982, Reagan signed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which required state and national officials to work together in identifying storage locations.
 US Department of Energy. "EIS-0046: Final Environmental Impact Statement." Department of Energy. October 01, 1980. Accessed April 20, 2016. http://energy.gov/nepa/downloads/eis-0046-final-environmental-impact-statement.
Governor Matheson of Utah was strictly opposed to the proposal made by the DOE to use Utah lands as a nuclear repository. He spoke directly and openly against the DOE and its methods of proposal. According to an article entitled "The Governor to the Feds: Not in Utah, You Don't," published in 1982, "Matheson [was] engaged in a spitting contest with the Energy Department." The DOE was confident that it could appease the concerns of the environmentalists, however Matheson proved to be someone they struggled to mollify. Matheson feared that by the time a decision had been made on where to put geologic deposits, it would have been too late to consider alternative solutions since nuclear waste continued to be produced. On July 15th, 1982, Matheson issued a "moratorium" on the DOE and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), claiming that they had both ignored crucial federal environmental policy on the process of site selection. Public concern steadily rose, and political cartoons on the topic were a common occurrence in newspapers nationwide.
 National Journal. "The Governor to the Feds: Not in Utah, You Don't." National Journal (Washington, D.C.), September 11, 1982. Utah State University Special Collections and Archives, “Papers of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club” Collection MSS 148, Box 6, Folder 1.
 Jim Woolf. "State Won’t Aid DOE With N-Dump Study." Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, UT), 1983. Utah State University Special Collections and Archives, “Papers of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club” Collection MSS 148, Box 6, Folder 1.
 National Journal. "See How Dark It Is?" Salt Lake Tribune (Washington, D.C.), September 11, 1982. Utah State University Special Collections and Archives, “Papers of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club” Collection MSS 148, Box 6, Folder 1.
The DOE continued to insist on testing sites in the Utah salt beds, particularly in Paradox Basin. Leadership in the department offered meetings held publically to report on test site results and methods planned on being used for the geologic repository. They offered to field questions regarding environmental safety during these meetings to clarify any confusion. In response to comments made by Matheson and others, the DOE explained that the inevitable mineral and water resource loss implied in the use of the Paradox Basin area "is exceeded by the expected benefits" of its operation. The DOE thus argued that the nation's need for a nuclear waste repository outweighed the "minimal" costs they predicted it would cause.
 US Department of Energy. "Nuclear Waste Information Exchange." (Moab, UT), September 24, 1983. Utah State University Special Collections and Archives, “Papers of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club” Collection MSS 148, Box 6, Folder 1.
 US Department of Energy. "Department of Energy Responses to Comments." December 29, 1982. Utah State University Special Collections and Archives, “Papers of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club” Collection MSS 148, Box 6, Folder 1.
The media also got involved in what became a national discussion on the ethics of nuclear waste treatment. CBS News held a face to face interview with an environmental specialist, Dr. Samuel Epstein, called "Face the Nation" in March of 1983. When the interviewer asked where the waste should be stored, Dr. Epstein asserted, "Certainly not in another hole in the ground...So called secure landfills are neither secure nor are they safe." He continued to support the advent of alternative methods such as high temperature controlled incineration, declaring, "I should stress that the technology for disposal of hazardous waste safely is available." Scientists like Dr. Epstein insisted that jumping to Earth deposits as if it were the only option was a mistake since there were other options that could be considered. There were other voices, such as the Walt Disney Company, who had also spoken against the underground storage of high level nuclear wastes. With sites considered in Utah's Paradox Basin, such arguments became more and more persuasive.
 Dr. Samuel Epstein, interview by George Herman, Face the Nation, CBS News March 20, 1983. Utah State University Special Collections and Archives, “Papers of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club” Collection MSS 148, Box 6, Folder 1.
 “Radioactive Waste Disposal, High Level 1980,” USU Digital Exhibits, accessed April 22, 2016,http://exhibits.lib.usu.edu/admin/items/show/10198.
The DOE continued to narrow their focus down to a few specific site selections in the Paradox Basin area - especially Gibson Dome. With the increase in political and scientific pressures, the DOE continued to work predominantly in close partnership with BLM and powerful electric corporations to gain popular support. In the DOE's Waste Isolation Report of 1983, they outlined strategies for public outreach, including use of reports, audiovisual material, and "public meetings." One such meeting was held in Monticello and then in Salt Lake City to "inform area residents" of the nomination made for Gibson Dome. Residents planning to attend were required to register in advance any questions they planned to ask or comments they wished to make. Evading an open dialogue allowed the DOE to screen questions, prepare adequate responses, and ultimately give the public the impression that they knew what they were talking about. In addition, the selection of Gibson Dome was presented as if it had already been decided, further hampering the opposition.
 US Department of Energy. “DOE Public Information Program." Nuclear Waste Isolation Plan (Columbus, OH), 1983. Utah State University Special Collections and Archives, “Papers of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club” Collection MSS 148, Box 6, Folder 1.
 US Department of Energy. "Public Hearings." (Salt Lake City, UT), May 3, 1983. Utah State University Special Collections and Archives, “Papers of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club” Collection MSS 148, Box 6, Folder 1.
Those who opposed the use of Paradox Basin as a Nuclear Waste Repository sought to capitalize on the DOE's commitment to hold public hearings as a promotion of their program's transparency. Propaganda in many forms hit Utah mailboxes encouraging residents of Utah to attend the meetings and to register in advance so that they could have a say in their state's future. Planning in advance, the opposition could pose effective questions to the leadership involved in the decision and inspire others to stand up against the proposal. The use of the postcard "The World's Most Beautiful Nuclear Waste Dump?" in particular is an effective piece of propaganda in that it presents an iconic image of the Canyonlands, one that shows the American wilderness in all its rugged beauty, and juxtaposes the image with the startling reality that it could be turned into a waste dump. The text on the back berates the repository proposal, claiming it "cannot help but severely threaten the fragile Canyonlands environment." But this was no new argument. Charles B. Hunt had already made a similar claim in the Geotimes when he questioned how safe a nuclear waste site could be. He stated, "Development of a disposal site involves so many dependent variables that failure is inevitable somewhere or sometime" including in Paradox Basin. For those opposed to site development in Paradox, disaster was not a question of if, but rather when.
 Friends of the Earth. "The World’s Most Beautiful Nuclear Waste Dump?" National Journal (Davis Canyon, UT) September 19, 1984. Utah State University Special Collections and Archives, “Papers of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club” Collection MSS 148, Box 6, Folder 1.
 Charles B. Hunt. "How Safe are Nuclear Waste Sites?" Geotimes (Alexandria, VA) July, 1983. Utah State University Special Collections and Archives, “Papers of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club” Collection MSS 148, Box 6, Folder 1.
The DOE attempted to mollify the public's growing anti-nuclear sentiment through science. They worked closely with the American Nuclear Society to release informational booklets and pamphlets that were geared toward public fear over radiation exposure from repositories. In a booklet entitled "Radiation: A Fact of Life," the American Nuclear Society used graphics and simple photography to display the "reality" of radiation. A simple pie chart gives the impression that radiation exposure caused by repositories was minimal compared to the amount of radiation that exists naturally or in common hospital treatment. Such graphics effectively countered the fears related to waste deposits in the Paradox Basin area, and it also made the strategic use of geologic deposits for nuclear waste treatment scientifically viable. Such propaganda reinforced the credibility of the arguments made by the DOE in defense of using Utah land for nuclear waste deposits.
Among the various groups weighing in on the nuclear waste fight was the nonprofit, science advocacy group the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Founded by faculty and students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1969, UCS was dedicated to leading the world toward “responsible exploitation of scientific knowledge” and stood squarely against the concept of nuclear power and federal government insistence on a nuclear waste site in Utah. Using flyers, such as the one featured here, UCS made a direct plea to the people of Utah to not allow nuclear energy to move forward. Utilizing the reputation of Nobel Laureate’s, scientific researchers, and consumer advocates the UCS laid bare an articulate argument against U.S. nuclear energy policy by exposing every possible down side that Americans were being asked to accept as safe.
 "Our History and Accomplishments." Union of Concerned Scientists. Accessed April 18, 2016. http://www.ucsusa.org/about/history-of-accomplishments.html#.Vx2RpjArKhc.
 Union of Concerned Scientists. “What You Should Know About the Hazards of Nuclear Power” (Cambridge, MA). Utah State University Special Collections and Archives, “Papers of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club” Collection MSS 155, Series IV, Box 7, Folder 6.
Questions about the level to which radioactive waste could be properly contained - and for how long the containment would last - continued to circulate. The Office of Nuclear Waste Isolation, under the direction of the DOE, produced a series of additional leaflets to provide the public with additional information about how the nuclear waste would be contained. The DOE proposed the use of backfilling, as part of the repository's "final closure" which would include closing "several independent barriers" and successfully "assure that the wastes remain isolated from man and his environment." The drawing shown on the leaflet "What Might a Nuclear Waste Repository Look Like?" allows the repository as a whole to look detached from the surface environment and altogether non-invasive. This leaflet thus insisted that the existence of a nuclear waste repository would have minimal impact on the surface or subterranean environments of Utah's Canyonlands.
While there were several groups openly advocating to sway public opinion against nuclear energy there was also a coordinated legal effort occurring simultaneously. The Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, Inc. was leading this effort by lobbying the United States Congress and various regulatory agencies to end or minimize all nuclear energy policies. Featured here is a letter between two members of the Defense Fund in which they discuss strategy for how to best have their arguments heard in the United States Congress. They also discuss a Supplementary Statement that is to be submitted to the House Interior Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, the title page of this statement is also featured here. The statement goes on to outline all of the arguments against a nuclear waste site in Utah and also offers a general critique of nuclear energy. The fight against nuclear waste in Utah took place on many levels while utilizing a variety of strategies, all of which proved to be a successful mix.
 H. Anthony Ruckel. “Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, Inc.: Letter to Ruth Frear.” (Denver, CO), October 18, 1984. Utah State University Special Collections and Archives, “Papers of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club” MSS 148, Series VII, Box 6, Folder 2.
 H. Anthony Ruckel, “Supplementary Statement of Sierra Club: Hearing before House Interior Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 12, 1984.” (Denver, CO), October 19, 1984. Utah State University Special Collections and Archives, “Papers of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club” MSS 148, Series VII, Box 6, Folder 2.
In 1987, the US Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendment Act in an attempt to bring finality to the several years' debate over Paradox Basin. Because the Department of Energy had been unsuccessful thus far in securing a site as the nuclear waste repository, Congress directed in the amendment that the DOE was now supposed to look exclusively into the use of Yucca Mountain in Arizona. Thus, the shift toward Yucca Mountain, and developments there within a couple decades, meant success in the effort to preserve Utah's Canyonlands. It is clear that the DOE's strategy to use a public propaganda campaign to gain support in Utah proved unsuccessful. This was most likely caused by the opposition's use of legal and scientific inquiry to poke holes in the arguments the department put forward, as well as their vast use of newspaper and television media sources to spread the message. Although the fight continued over the use of Yucca Mountain, Paradox Basin is currently no longer considered in danger of housing nuclear waste.
 Nuclear Energy Institute. "Disposal." NEI. January 1, 2016. Accessed April 23, 2016. http://www.nei.org/issues-policy/nuclear-waste-management/disposal.