The nuclear industry has taken advantage of loose restrictions on Native American land, jeopardizing thousands of lives.

By Sanjana Manjeshwar, Outrider

Since the development of nuclear energy in the mid-20th century, Native American reservations have been subjected to thousands of tons of toxic nuclear waste, with dangerous consequences for health, the environment, and tribal sovereignty. The disproportionate concentration of nuclear waste on Native lands is not a coincidence. Instead, it reflects a targeted effort by the US. government to saddle Indigenous communities with “the most hazardous material ever created by humanity or nature.

radioactive barrel rusted

For example, over 500 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation have poisoned residents’ drinking water and caused elevated rates of kidney failure and lung disease for generations. Members of the Yakama Nation in southeastern Washington, home to the Hanford Nuclear Site, experience high amounts of thyroid cancer and congenital disabilities. And the Western Shoshone tribe, which has been exposed to significant nuclear fallout from decades of nuclear testing on its land (known as “the most bombed nation on earth“), suffers disproportionate leukemia and heart disease rates. These are just a few examples of the devastating health impacts caused by what activists and scholars have aptly described as “radioactive colonialism.”

The disproportionate amount of nuclear waste on Native land can be primarily attributed to the many legal, economic, and regulatory power imbalances between Native American tribes and the federal government.

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