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The proposed nuclear waste disposal site is located adjacent to the historical Yellow Aster Mine, directly over the mountain from the quaint town of Randsburg. It is planned to be directly to the south of the mine. / Laura Austin Photo

Nuclear Waste Site planned for Randsburg

By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer–

Private citizen Rudy Salazar is planning to use his property in the Mojave Desert to store nuclear waste. His property is located on the other side of the Aster Mine, which runs across the entire mountain above Randsburg. His flyer states it is on 58 acres of unpopulated land in Randsburg, California, over 100 miles away from major populations with no water table and no water basin. It also states the land is a quartz-monzonite geologic formation located far east of the San Andreas Fault, which is completely surrounded by Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property. He promises 100’s of full-time jobs can be created and folks can develop modern Spent Fuel career skills.

The flyer includes a map of California with arrows pointing from Humboldt Bay,  Rancho Seco, Diablo Canyon, and San Onofre to Randsburg. It also indicates which electric company owns the nuclear power plants.

Flyers titled “California’s Most Promising Geological Formation for Spent Fuel ‘The California Option’” were handed out by Salazar in Randsburg on the weekend of March 16 and 17.   Co-owner of the Randsburg General Store Up at the Vault Carol Dyer folded the flyer and put it next to the register when Salazar gave her one while ordering a cheeseburger. “At the end of the night,”  she says, “I put it in with all my register paperwork and totally forgot about it until the following Wednesday morning when I did my weekly payroll, deposit, whatever. I’m looking at it. I’m like, ‘This doesn’t sound right.’” She immediately called her husband, Brad Myers (Co-owner), saying, “This doesn’t look right, so come take a peek.  I don’t think this is something that we want.”

Myers immediately made copies; he and Dryer began to hand them out all over Randsburg. The news was met with opposition everywhere they turned.  “A lot of people are saying, ‘Oh, it’ll never go through.’” To which Dryer replied, “Well, we can’t just bet on it will never go through. We need to make our voices loud and clear that nobody in this town, none of our customers, nobody in this whole area, including people in Rosemond, told me we don’t want this near.”

“In my opinion, putting it out here next to fault lines is not a safe thing to do,” said Myers. “And we have several faults in this area.” Dyer adds, “In my opinion, they are trying to say, ‘It’s away from a population that is densely packed.’ Yeah, you’re thinking LA or San Francisco, whatever. But you know what? There’s a lot of people that live right here.”

“There’s no way; I don’t care how much money it is. We’re not going to ruin this environment for future children,” says Myers. “This is a very, very unique place. There is no place else like it in the whole world where you can come and take your family. You can have your kids, from six months old to old man Camaret, who’s 85, out here, riding as a family together. There’s no other sport like that, riding dirt bikes, and side-by-sides. It’s just a very unique place. Even people from Europe that come here on the way to Death Valley say they’ve never seen anything like this.”

Another red flag that Myers points out is the proximity to the Atolia Mine, which has recently been sold. The mine is less than seven miles from Randsburg. “They are going to start mining again; there have been several things proposed. They may have to move Highway 395 from its current location because of all the blasting they’re going to do.  They supposedly found a gold vein. But more than likely, they found lithium because that’s more valuable right now than gold and silver.”

A resident of the Rand Mining District has had personal conversations with Salazar. He said, “I think he lives in Orange County or some somewhere down south. I liked the guy. He’s a nice guy, friendly guy.” He does not share his feelings with Salazar, he tells us, “Of course, none of us like the idea.  We’d be the fallout center, but it would actually still affect Ridgecrest because that’s only 20 minutes from here, right? So there’s 30,000 people there. So they should be concerned because what if something does happen, and all those radioactive gases, I don’t know what you call it, will end up drifting down that way? It’s very dangerous. And I mean, he says they’re safe and everything but I don’t believe what anybody tells me. Right. So that’s that’s kind of the gist of it.”

The resident reached out to an attorney to get their opinion. “He went onto the website, (listed on the flyer) he said that it doesn’t work. The same thing happened with Brad and Carol. They said it doesn’t work. So he thought, ‘Well, maybe it’s some kind of con game, or maybe he did it on purpose because of the flack he’s getting.’ Somebody told me that he thinks that they think that maybe there’s actually a bigger entity using him as kind of a cover or something for something else going on. It’s more nefarious, I’m not really sure. It could be that there are a lot of conspiracy thoughts about that. I don’t know. But we think it’s odd that you can’t even get a hold of them. Somebody that I talked to yesterday said they emailed him but didn’t get a response.”

The News-Review learned that Salazar has been in attendance at the Rand Communities Water District board meetings. He initially requested water for the camp trailer he has on the property but said he would need a lot more water when the project commences. He informed the board that he plans to attend all of their meetings. One member speculates that decisions have already been made, and Salazar likely has the go-ahead to proceed. His property is right where Southern California Edison, owner of the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant, had wanted to put new high power lines.

Public Lands for the People (PLP) is an all-volunteer non-profit organization “whose mission is to represent groups and individuals that are interested in keeping public and private lands open to prospecting, mining, and outdoor recreation.” https://www.publiclandsforthepeople.org/

One of their members told us that they prospect gold from their mining claims on property adjacent to Salazar’s property—the idea of nuclear waste as their neighbor is concerning. Nobody wants to be collateral damage should there be any mishap of any kind. These folks are very environmentally friendly. They dig with shovels, and the club rules require members to fill in the holes to protect the desert tortoise.

Until now, Salazar has been a generous neighbor. When the BLM imposed restrictions on the PLP Annual Fallfest in Randsburg in 2023, Salazar let them use his property for four days of learning how to prospect and mine responsibly and environmentally.

One Red Mountain resident is not worried about nuclear radiation escaping but he does not want to see thousands of temporary new residents who would come to build the facility.  “We live out here because we don’t want a bunch of people around us.” He is pretty sure that they won’t hire locals. In his opinion, there is already too much traffic on Highway 395. “Traffic has increased about tenfold already.”

Energy.gov lists five fast facts about spent nuclear fuel. 1) Commercial spent nuclear fuel is a solid. 2) The U.S. generates about 2,000 metric tons of spent fuel each year. They say that isn’t much in comparison to how much energy they produce. 3) Spent fuel from U.S. commercial nuclear power reactors is stored at more than 70 sites in 35 states. They are primarily stored at nuclear power generating sites, with 25% of them no longer active. 4) Spent fuel is safely transported across the United States. More than 2,500 cask shipments have been transported across the U.S. in the last 55 years. The casks are designed to withstand vehicle accidents, water immersion, impact, punctures and fires. 5) Spent fuel can be recycled. However, the USA does not have that technology, but France does.

Greentumble.com sites seven dangers from nuclear waste. 1) There is no long-term storage solution. 2) The future is unpredictable. Storing in deep geological repositories is flawed. They ask, “How can our engineers design nuclear waste disposal sites that will resist shifts of tectonic plates or erosion? When these processes are capable of moving mountain ridges and lifting new islands out of the sea?” Our future descendants may explore and find the waste and there is not 100% safety to “communities living close to these areas.” 3) It contaminates the environment. “If not sealed properly, radioactive contamination can easily spread throughout the environment and into various ecosystems.” 4) Persistent health effects. “It is extremely difficult to measure the impacts of radiation on the human body because of the “hidden” way it changes our body cells.” 5) Hazardous waste cleanup. It is expensive and risks the health of the workers involved in cleaning. 6) Reprocessing nuclear waste is harmful. It lists many ways including “plutonium extraction increases the threat of nuclear proliferation.” 7) Nuclear proliferation. “The biggest threat of harvesting nuclear power is what would follow if this technology was misused to destroy lives. . .An ‘easy’ access to pure plutonium increases the risk of terrorists getting hold of it, or countries investing in further nuclear weapon development.”

Those opposed to the idea of a nuclear waste disposal site in their neighborhood can take hope in the fact that the Yucca Mountain disposal site was shut down because the public highly contested it, including the Western Shoshone people and politicians. “The Government Accountability Office stated that the closure was for political, not technical or safety reasons.” Wikipedia

The News-Review reached out to Salazar for comment but has yet to hear back.

Should you choose to voice a concern, the California Environmental Protection Agency has an online form at https://calepa.my.salesforce-sites.com/complaints/