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Ward Valley Nuclear Dump in California Mojave Desert, USA


The Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act 1980 requires all states to properly dispose of all non-government low-level radioactive waste produced within their state. The states of California, Arizona, North Dakota, and South Dakota created a coalition called the Southwest Compact to use one facility for all of the states radioactive wastes. December of 1989, U.S. Ecology, who permitted radioactive waste facilities, allowed for the opening of the Ward Valley Nuclear Waste Facility in California. Colorado River Native Nations Alliance and GreenAction took on this waste facility due to the concerns around health effects and the location of the facility on sacred Mojave land for tribes including Lower Colorado Indian Tribes, Fort Mojave, Colorado River, Chemeheuri, Fort Yuma-Quechan and the Cocopah.

Basic Data
Name of conflict:Ward Valley Nuclear Dump in California Mojave Desert, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:California
Location of conflict:Mojave Desert
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Nuclear
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Nuclear waste storage
Specific commodities:Uranium
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The industrial waste would be buried 650 feet above an aquifer and would cover an area of 1000 acres.

Type of populationRural
Affected Population:2 million if the Colorado River was to be polluted by the site
Start of the conflict:1989
Company names or state enterprises:U.S Ecology from United States of America
Relevant government actors:U.S Ecology, California Department of Health Services, Bureau of Land Management , Department of Interior
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Greenpeace, Greenaction, Ward Valley Coalitions, Colorado River Nation Native Alliance
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Public campaigns
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Land demarcation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Project temporarily suspended
Development of alternatives:In 1994 a lawsuit was brought by Native American tribes and supporting environmental justice groups led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to designate 6.4 million acres for the protection of the desert tortoise. This area includes all of the proposed location of the Ward Valley Nuclear Dump. In addition to this plan there was a recovery plan created that included the prohibition of land fills and other actions that could potentially harm the land.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:This is an environmental justice success because they were able to effectively organize and stop the hazardous waste storage facility before it was able to be a potential harm to the community.
Through extensive mobilization and coalition building the Ward Valley Nuclear Waste facility was never opened. The mobilization was done through several forms but one of the most effective was the occupation of the site for 113 days. The site occupation was led by the organization Greenaction, who represent environmental justice and indigenous communities, in reaction to the US Department of Interiors (DOI) attempt to close Ward Valley. This action by the DOI ignored Native American concerns and government responsibility to protect tribal lands. The "direct, sustained action" lasted 113 days and resulted in the end of the Ward Valley Nuclear Dump proposal.
Sources & Materials
Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

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Ward Valley: An Examination of Seven Issues in Earth Sciences and Ecology ( 1995 )
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Other comments:This is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan.
Meta information
Contributor:Sara Orvis, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update04/01/2016
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