By Mindy Bridges
We often ask ourselves: What legacy are we leaving for tomorrow’s generation?
Many Native American tribes hold a perspective that today’s actions can have an impact on future generations. This perspective can apply to a broad range of topics, but it has special significance as it relates to the nation’s nuclear weapons legacy.
States, Native American tribes and local communities affected by this legacy regularly engage with the federal government to ensure a better tomorrow for future generations. The environmental cleanup of the nuclear weapons complex, which included research and development from the 1940s through the 1980s, will affect generations well into the future.
Last month, the State and Tribal Government Working Group (STGWG) met in Idaho Falls, Idaho at a biannual meeting with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Attendees engaged in learning sessions, participated in strategic dialogues with DOE officials, and had the opportunity to tour portions of the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) site.
The tour highlighted the successes and challenges of the Idaho Cleanup Project including the casks waiting to be shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico and the retrieval and treatment of waste from other sites, such as Rocky Flats in Colorado. Cultural resources staff from the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes also shared perspectives on the cultural significance of the site.
STGWG and DOE officials discussed the overarching issue of long-term stewardship including the recently released update of the Closure for the Seventh Generation report. STGWG’s Long-Term Stewardship Committee has updated the original report to take a fresh look at DOE’s progress and provide findings and recommendations based on site surveys.
Long-term stewardship aims to protect human health, cultural resources and the environment from contamination such as residual radioactivity, onsite disposal and hazardous materials. Some activities include limiting use, development and access to a remediated site. Stewardship also involves engineered controls such as barriers and disposal cover systems. Sites that have completed the cleanup processes, often have residual contamination which requires surveillance and maintenance action, which must be documented and communicated to regulators and communities.
STGWG puts forward recommendations for long-term stewardship including:
- The need for long-term stewardship planning and implementation at sites with ongoing missions and with active cleanup.
- The value of visitors' centers and the need for robust education and outreach.
- Further study and understanding costs for stewardship activities and future budgeting for sites.
With future generations in mind, STGWG members and DOE officials also discussed recent developments for the Manhattan Project National Historical Park with Tracy Atkins and other DOE officials. The park will include at least three locations—Hanford, Wash., Los Alamos, N.M., and Oak Ridge, Tenn. STGWG states and tribes view the park as an opportunity to provide a bigger picture of our shared nuclear weapons legacy, ongoing cleanup efforts and long-term stewardship activities to protect and educate future generations.
STGWG continues its dialogue with DOE through NCSL and a DOE cooperative agreement.
Mindy Bridges coordinates STGWG and is a senior policy specialist in NCSL’s Environment, Energy and Transportation Program. Contact Mindy for more information.