By Terri C. Hansen
News from Indian Country
Bureau Chief/Pacific Northwest Bureau
Pocatello, Idaho—A naval train carrying six highly radioactive nuclear waste casks from Navy warships was halted by leaders of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Oct. 24 when the train entered their half-million-acre Fort Hall Reservation south of Blackfoot, Idaho without tribal authorization, the Sho-Ban News reported.
Tribal administrators advised Union Pacific Railroad of their pending action, while three tribal patrol cars were sent to stop the moving train. They held it at a standstill for over six hours.
Fort Hall Business Council Chairman Delbert Farmer said the action was taken because the tribes were not party to and had not endorsed a controversial Oct. 16 agreement between Idaho, the Department of Energy and U.S. Navy to transport highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel rods across the reservation. Idaho was not authorized to permit nuclear wastes to cross the reservation, and neither the Navy nor DOE obtained Shoshone-Bannock permission to cross tribal lands, a tribal statement said.
"The State of Idaho and Governor [Phil] Batt do not represent nor speak for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes," Chairman Farmer declared. "This is our homeland and we are mandated to protect it by [tribal] members."
Acting tribal DOE director Dianne Yupe told the Idaho State Journal, "The tribes are not recognizing the state's agreement with the Department of Energy and the Navy because the state failed to recognize the sovereignty and the position of the tribes.
Following assurances from the Navy that the train would not stop at any point on the reservation, the tribal Business Council agreed to permit the waste to continue with a tribal police escort. Their agreement allowed for passage of five or six previously scheduled shipments within the week.
Tribal leaders began immediate talks with government officials, who agreed to hold public hearings for tribal members Nov. 20 and 21. Federal officials are planning meetings for the general public — at the tribe's request — near the end of November.
The nuclear waste was en route to the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, part of Shoshone Bannock ancestral lands, for 40-year storage and burial as per the Idaho, DOE and Navy agreement. The nuclear waste, taken from ships posted at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash., was the first of over 1100 proposed Navy and DOE shipments.