Last update:
2021-10-05

Nuclear Testing in Newe Segobia, Western Shoshone Lands, Nevada, US

The United States tested nuclear weapons on the traditional homelands of the Western Shoshone from 1951 to 1992. Nuclear weapons testing is particularly destructive because of the resulting proliferation of nuclear fallout.


Description:

The United States tested nuclear weapons on the traditional homelands of the Western Shoshone from 1951 to 1992. Deemed the Nevada Test Site (NTS) by the U.S. government, and Newe Segobia, meaning “Peoples’ Earth Mother”, by the Western Shoshone, this land was used to test the world’s most dangerous weapons. In 1941, part of Newe Segobia was designated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the Las Vegas Bombing and Gunnery Range. Nine years later, part of the gunnery range was turned into a nuclear weapons test site. However, the NTS was not officially confiscated from the Western Shoshone until 1951, when President Truman forcibly relocated 100 Native American families[1]. Nuclear weapons testing is particularly destructive because of the resulting proliferation of nuclear fallout. Although the testing occurred on Western Shoshone lands, fallout from the NTS fell over both Western Shoshone and Southern Paiute communities [8].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Nuclear Testing in Newe Segobia, Western Shoshone Lands, Nevada, US
Country:United States of America
State or province:Nevada
Location of conflict:Nevada Test Site
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Nuclear
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Military installations
Nuclear waste storage
Specific commodities:Nuclear tests
Project Details and Actors
Project details

•The United States tested nuclear weapons at the Nevada Test Site from 1951 to 1992. Since 1951, there have been around 900 nuclear tests at the NTS, 105 of which were above ground. Since 1963, all of the tests were conducted underground, but the tests still leaked radiation into the atmosphere. From 1951, to 1992, 220 of the above and below ground nuclear tests released radioactive plumes, a majority of which traveled east over Native American reservations.

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Type of populationRural
Affected Population:>90,000
Start of the conflict:1951
Relevant government actors:Atomic Energy Commission, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Indian Claims Commission, Western Shoshone National Council, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:- Native Community Action Council (https://www.nativecommunityactioncouncil.org/)
- Mary and Carrie Dann and their supporters
(https://rightlivelihood.org/the-change-makers/find-a-laureate/mary-and-carrie-dann-of-the-western-shoshone-nation/)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Western Shoshone
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Refusal of compensation
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination
Other Environmental impactsRadioactive contamination
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Other Health impactsHigh levels of radiation in the body from eating contaminated food and milk, increased risk of cancer from exposure to radiation
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Outcome
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Indian Claims Commission: created to compensate indigenous people for lost lands and resources, but this was used on behalf of the Western Shoshone, without their consent, to compensate them for the land confiscated for the NTS. As a result, the Shoshone have refused the funds and they remain in the Treasury Department.
Development of alternatives:Compensation and/or recognition from the federal government for the Western Shoshone or Southern Paiute who were exposed to radiation is non-existent. The Western Shoshone also never ceded their claim to the land where the Nevada Test Site is based. No fund has been established to pay for health issues resulting from the nuclear testing program.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Compensation and/or recognition from the federal government for the Western Shoshone or Southern Paiute who were exposed to radiation is non-existent. The Western Shoshone also never ceded their claim to the land where the Nevada Test Site is based. No fund has been established to pay for health issues resulting from the nuclear testing program.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[3]Quigley, Dianne, Virginia Sanchez, D. Handy, Robert Goble, and P. George. "Participatory research strategies in nuclear risk management for native communities." Journal of health communication 5, no. 4 (2000): 305-331.

[1] Fishel, Julie Ann. "United States called to task on indigenous rights: the Western Shoshone struggle and success at the international level." American Indian Law Review 31, no. 2 (2006): 619-650.

[6] Johnson, Taylor N. "“The most bombed nation on Earth”: Western [6]Shoshone resistance to the Nevada National Security Site." Atlantic Journal of Communication 26, no. 4 (2018): 224-239.

[9]Frohmberg, Eric, Robert Goble, Virginia Sanchez, and Dianne Quigley. "The assessment of radiation exposures in Native American communities from nuclear weapons testing in Nevada." Risk Analysis 20, no. 1 (2000): 101-112.

[7]George, Patricia, and Abel Russ. "Nuclear Testing and Native Peoples: Tribal research uncovers unexpected exposures." Race, Poverty & the Environment 11, no. 2 (2004): 38-40.

[2] Kuletz, Valerie L. The tainted desert: Environmental and social ruin in the American West. Routledge, 2016.

[5] Jacobs, Robert. "Nuclear conquistadors: military colonialism in nuclear test site selection during the Cold War." (2013).

[4] Solnit, Rebecca. Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Landscape Wars of the American West. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000

[8]Johansen, Bruce. “The Most Bombed Nation on Earth.” In Environmental Racism in the United States and Canada: Seeking Justice and Sustaiability. ABC-CLIO, 2020.

[11] Dunning, Gordon. “FALLOUT FROM THE NUCLEAR TESTS AT THE NEVADA TEST SITE.” United States Atomic Energy Commission, May 1959.

[10]Landau, Arielle. “A Uniquely Destructive Injustice: US Nuclear Testing on Indigenous Lands – an Environmental Justice and GIS Analysis.” Unpublished (2021). https://alandaux.github.io/assets/A%20Uniquely%20Destructive%20Injustice%20-%20Final%20Draft.pdf
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Contributor:Arielle Landau, BOLD Fellow at the EJAtlas
Last update05/10/2021
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