Advocate Leona Morgan works to influence U.N. representatives about nuclear energy
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — A Navajo activist is working with a group lobbying the United Nations so that nuclear power is not part of the strategies to fight off climate change.
Leona Morgan, a Navajo from Albuquerque, New Mexico, is working with Don’t Nuke the Climate on the international campaign aimed at influencing representatives at the U.N. working on climate change.
On March 23, Morgan presented information about these strategies as part of a series put on by the Sierra Club concerning the protection of the Grand Canyon.
Supporters of nuclear energy claim that the use of nuclear energy reduces carbon emissions. However, Morgan and Don’t Nuke the Climate say nuclear energy supporters only look at the nuclear power plants and not the uranium mines, transport of uranium and storage of nuclear waste that all use carbon related to nuclear power plants.
Morgan and Don’t Nuke the Climate is also concerned with the safety issues of uranium mines, transport of uranium and storage of nuclear waste. She said the nuclear industry is using the climate change issue to lobby for more nuclear use in the U.S. and throughout the world. They also want to use clean energy funds to financially support nuclear.
“They are pushing for nuclear in developing nations,” she said. “But there is nowhere in the world where a solution has been found for dealing with the waste.”
Morgan said since nuclear waste is radioactive for thousands of years, there is no way to calculate the amount of carbon it will take to keep the nuclear waste safe for humans.
“The waste needs to be isolated and safely stored,” she said. “That all uses up carbon.”
Morgan, who has been involved in nuclear issues for about five years, said several meetings regarding the Paris climate agreement have been postponed with the next international meeting about climate change scheduled in Scotland in November. The group is called the Convening of Parties (COP).
“We’re trying to combat misinformation from nuclear groups,” she said.
Morgan said the groups supporting nuclear power fail to look at the impact to humans.
“In the Southwest, we know that uranium kills,” she said. “Most of our focus is on educating officials.”
Morgan, who volunteers her work, said the anti-nuclear movement is not well funded and made up mostly of volunteers. She said they also educate opponents of fossil fuels who may not realize that the carbon the nuclear industry has to use for uranium mining, transport and waste storage.
“That knowledge had some reconsider their view of nuclear, so we’re educating across the board” she said. “It’s an uphill battle when folks like Bill Gates are talking about nuclear.”
Morgan said Don’t Nuke the Climate has had some successes across the board, including some lawsuits, but those isolated successes have not occurred yet within the U.N.
Morgan graduated from Gallup High School before earning a bachelors with a double major in art and Native American studies. Those studies were unrelated to her anti-nuclear work as it wasn’t until her later college years that family health issues led her to learn more about nuclear usage.
“My family had a lot of cancer. My grandmother died of lung cancer and she never smoked,” she said. “It had to be the uranium.”
Morgan grew up in Ft. Defiance, but her family was from Crownpoint, where she said there was a high rate of cancer.
Morgan points out that the Shiprock uranium spill in 1979 happened about three months after Three Mile Island, but TMI received international press while the Shiprock spill was hardly mentioned. The Shiprock spill released 1,100 gallons of radioactive waste.
“Nobody talked about it. It was one of the largest nuclear disasters and nobody knew about it,” she said.
That’s when Navajo Nation chapter houses started holding meetings about uranium and passing resolutions against uranium mining.
Morgan said the Navajo Nation is currently going through cleanup plans for some uranium mines.
“It’s important for the people living near the abandoned mines to get involved in whatever way they can,” she said. “If they’re not involved we’ll end up with 523 waste sites if they do not change the way they cleanup the sites because they are leaving the waste where it is.”
Morgan plans to attend graduate school in the fall at the University of New Mexico to study community and regional planning with a concentration in indigenous planning. In the meantime, she’ll continue her advocacy work with Don’t Nuke the Climate and the Nuclear Studies Group.