The Political Economy of Nuclear Waste: The Strategic Significance

of Sovereign Indian Nations


Laura Shortridge



For over a decade the federal government has struggled in vain to site an interim storage facility for high level radioactive waste from civilian reactors. The most recent effort disproportionately involved Native Americans. This essay explores the historical, political and economic influences that have yielded the over-representation of Indian nations in the federal government's siting efforts. The movement to store nuclear waste on native lands exists against an historical backdrop of radio active exploitation of Native Americans by the nuclear industry. The extensive impact of uranium mining and processing on native communities is discussed.


The statutes guiding the nation's nuclear waste policy are analyzed in an environmental justice framework highlighting the political, economic, and ethical implications of the policy. The discussion centers around the inherent inequity of the Nuclear Waste Amendments Act and the role federal Indian policy has played in rendering Indian Nations susceptible to bearing the costs associated with such policies. The complex issue of sovereignty is addressed as a factor that has facilitated native participation in the nuclear waste scenario.


The full spectrum of responses to the federal government's siting efforts are explored ranging from indigenous resistance, to the industry initiated movement to develop a private interim storage facility on the Mescalero Apache Reservation. Pending nuclear waste legislation is also discussed and evaluated.