VICTIMS OF NUCLEAR RADIATION EXPOSURE-FORMER MILITARY OFFICERS EXPOSED WHILE ON DUTY, AND OTHERS WHO’D LIVED NEAR POWER PLANTS OR DUMPS-CAME TO TELL THE JUDGES AND THE CROWD THAT THEY, TOO, HAD BEEN ASSURED OF THEIR SAFETY BY EXPERTS. The applause and cheers that followed every piece of anti-dump testimony indicated that much of the town opposes the facility \(each hearing Gloria Addington held up an anti-dump petition signed by over 700 adult residents of Hudspeth County. A 1992 poll conducted by the Disposal Authority found that 63 percent of respondents in Hudspeth County and neighboring Culberson County opposed locating a dump in the area, even though the poll questions were peppered with statements such as “Nuclear medicine is used in many hospitals to detect and treat disease…” and “Modern technology has developed safe ways to store low-level radioactive wastes.” Most of the Sierra Blanca residents I spoke with, however, felt that opposing the dump was of questionable value, probably futile. “The commissioners, the judge, they’re feeding us a bunch of bull,” said Patsy Maynez, a waitress, referring to the public officials who have supported the dump. “But we don’t have any say, we’re poor.” Few people felt they knew where the rest of the community stood on the issue; another restaurant worker told me that “people here keep their opinions to themselves. They feel like they’re not allowed to say anything.” One woman said her boss at the grocery store had instructed her not to speak to reporters about the hearing. Why? She didn’t know. After all, there’s nothing we can do about itthat sentiment lurks on both sides of the fence in Sierra Blanca, which already has a 90,000-acre sludge dump just west of town. “It will be better [with the radioactive waste dump] because we’ll have more jobs….I don’t worry about the risks; this town is shot anyway,” said Damon Stadamir, one of the students selling burgers outside the gym. Inside, standing along the walls of the room, quiet, solemn Sierra Blanca spectators added to the peculiar stillness of the hearingand of the town itself. Were there no public hearing, no proposed dump and no existing sewage dump, it might seem natural if in this tiny, remote town surrounded by mountains and thousands of acres of desert, the people seemed small and powerless. Now, though, they seem preyed upon. “This is tearing apart our community,” says Bill Addington, and on that point even the See “Sierra Blanca,” page 22 great danger in the facility and supports its proposed location. But county judges from virtually every neighboring county have opposed the dump. Dr. Emilio de Hoyos Cema, who in early June organized a protest with more than 400 children and adults from Acuiia, Coahuila, Mexico, at the gates of Governor Bush’s mansion in Austin, reminded the judges of the “good will of the La Paz Treaty,” signed in 1983 in order to protect, improve and preserve the border region. “We are not in agreement with the federal governments of Mexico and the United States, to give the state of Texas an artificial autonomy to construct this deposit, which would have as its only end the nullification of the treaty,” said de Hoyos, the President of Acuila’s City Council. “We must not forget that whatever affects a tiny corner of the Ak earth, affects all of us, and that behind all u . nationalities, behind all races, behind all cultures, is a human being.” Nuclear industry witnesses spoke in defense of the dump. John Jagger, a retired professor of biology from the University of Texas at Dallas, emphasized nuclear medicine, saying that “without the assurances of permanent disposal…much of the modern research in biology and medicine in Texas would grind to a halt.” \(According to opponents, medical waste accounts for less than one percent of projected nuclear Texas Radiation Advisory Board, said the dump would not only solve a “nagging problem,” but it would also “help Hudspeth County to usher in a new and exciting era.” Asked what his reaction Would be if his hometown of Georgetown had been chosen for the site, Khromer said, “If it was done properly it wouldn’t bother me.” Khromer can rest easy; suburban Georgetown, a few miles north of TNRCC headquarters, is unlikely to be high on the TNRCC’s list of potential dumpsites. “Sierra Blanca was chosen because it was politically expedient, not because it was a good site scientifically,” testified Don Gardener, a board member of the Sierra Blanca Legal Defense .Fund. “What is driving this project is the U.S. nuclear industry…. We’ve been fighting this dump for five years, and all we’ve been able to raise is $70,000. Will opponents be able to afford expert witnesses to prove our case?” Sierra Blanca resident Maria Ramirez concluded her testimony in tears. “I think [the way that the dump was brought to Sierra Blanca] was very underhanded. They didn’ t give its a chance to speak our. Mind, and now we’re here at the last minute trying to fight it and keep it out of our town,” Ramirez said. “And I don’t think there will be job opportunities, like they say. If any jobs come to our town, they’ll be janitorial jobs….They’ re going to bring their own technicians and their own drivers.” Austin resident Tori Bunker recalled growing up in a small town twenty miles north of a nuclear power plant: “Fifteen people died of cancer in my community, and one of those was my mother. That state was Maine and that plant was Maine Yankee. I am standing here today to say ‘No’ to this nuclear waste dump.” Two additional preliminary hearings are port to the commissioners, and the TNRCC will hold a final hearing on the dump in 1997 to consider formal evidence. Opponents are skeptical that the hearings are anything more than a token technical procedute See “Listening,” page 22 AUGUST 30, 1996 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13
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