In the Valley of the Shadow

Surrounded by a staggering array of hazardous waste, toxic emissions, chemical pollutants, and lethal military experimentation, the Goshute tribe of Utah decided to do the logical thing and offer up its reservation as a dump for 40,000 metric tons of highly radioactive nuclear fuel. The neighbors are very upset.

May 1, 2000
Outside Magazine

Listen to writer Kevin Fedarko discuss the Skull Valley situation on Living on Earth.


These experiences provided Bear with a harsh primer on the options his tribe faces. "We can't do anything here that's green or environmental," he explained as we rocketed down Route 108 from Iosepa and shot over a cattle guard at the reservation's border. The village consists of a one-pump gas station and convenience store that carries a rich variety of beef jerky and not much else. Up a small hill lay a cluster of modest homes. "Would you buy a tomato from us if you knew what's out here? Of course not," Bear said. "In order to attract any kind of development, we have to be consistent with what surrounds us."

Bear pulled off the road near the knoll where the rods will be stored if his hopes are realized. It was hot outside, so he sketched his plans from the cool confines of the Pontiac. He pointed east, across the highway, where a patch of arthritic bitterbrush extends to the foothills of the Stansburys, and described how it would look when the fire station, clinic, cultural center, and police station are built there, along with 15 new homes for tribal members who will work at the storage site. (The project, he says, will generate 400 temporary jobs and 60 long-term ones.) On the other side of the road, to the west, is the 800-acre site where the concrete slab and the storage casks would be surrounded by two eight-foot-high chain-link fences. "There's a lot of potential out here—it's just a question of putting it all together," he said, waving his hand across the windshield. "I know exactly what we need and how to get there. We need to promote the future. We need to move into investments. We need to be involved in corporate America. We can't stay in the past."

Even with the air-conditioning going full blast, the sun began to turn Bear's car into an oven. As he pulled back onto the road, I asked if he was worried about the governor's pledge to prevent the nuclear waste from being shipped to Skull Valley. "Look, the reservation isn't a part of Utah," he said firmly. "Utah doesn't tax it, and has no business on it unless we invite them. Utah has to understand our position as a sovereign nation."


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