Recently, Kristen Morrison, a senior at UCSB and Renewable Energy Coordinator with us here at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, addressed the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors asking them to block any and all shipments of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste traveling through Santa Barbara County on its way to Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Compressed within Kristen’s 20 minutes of comments to the county Board of Supervisors were 1 year of volunteering with the Foundation, a number of leadership trainings, coursework on environmental issues as well as the echoing encouragement and support from family and friends. Ultimately, the county Board of Supervisors agreed with Kristen and the other concerned citizens working on this important issue, voting unanimously to oppose the Department of Energy’s plans to ship toxic waste through the county. I spoke with Kristen about her project:
Why do you feel this issue is important?
Currently nuclear energy produces 20% of our nation’s power. When it was first established back in the 50’s it was thought to be clean, safe, and cheap. Today nuclear energy has proven to be the opposite. After billions of dollars in research, and an endless supply of lethal radioactive waste it is safe to say the nuclear energy has only proven to be expensive, dirty and dangerous. Therefore we feel it is important to educate the public about the reality of nuclear energy and instead work toward a future of renewable energy. Yucca Mountain is proposed to be the US’s first nuclear waste repository, which will inevitably perpetuate the nuclear power industry. 77,000 tons of radioactive waste is scheduled to be shipped from over one hundred reactors across the country. Therefore if we are able to block waste transportation the Yucca Mountain project will be shut down and ultimately lead to the halt of nuclear energy production.
Why did you feel it was necessary to speak with the County Board of Supervisors about toxic waste transportation?
There are many channels of communication that will get our message across. Legislation is an important part of progressive social change. The Board of Supervisors is the governing body in the county with the legal voice to speak to higher legislative bodies of our government. Addressing the Board of Supervisors represented a key stage in our escalation plan and general campaign efforts.
How did you start your campaign called “Don’t Waste Santa Barbara”?
I started this campaign last summer with another UCSB student named Marissa Zubia. At the time, she was the Renewable Energy Coordinator and I was a volunteer here at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. Frequently, the Foundation hosts speakers on peace and security issues and other pressing concerns of our time. Through this speaker series, Marissa and I met a local activist named Dave Fortson with the Santa Barbara County Action Network. Dave shared his thoughts on the importance of young people getting involved in the community for the betterment of society. Combined with all the positive energy that’s already here at the Foundation, Dave’s charisma and devotion sparked our interest and the next thing I knew Marissa and I were dreaming up all the ways we could make a difference. We both were interested in the same issues of environmental justice and ecological consciousness so we came up with the campaign idea “Don’t Waste Santa Barbara”, which serves to educate the people of Santa Barbara on dangers of high level radio active waste transportation through our city. We drafted a county resolution to oppose the transportation of high level radioactive waste through Santa Barbara County. It took us about 3 months to get on the Board of Supervisor’s agenda, but after many phone calls, research, and writing we were finally in.
Were there any unexpected setbacks or obstacles along the way?
Absolutely! There were many challenges and hurdles that made us both second guess what we were doing, and more than once we had to remind one another how important even the smallest contribution is to making a difference. Even though our work is merely a drop in the bucket, it is that drop that will become part of a very large flow moving toward a better world. Another wonderful aspect which encouraged us the whole way through was having a good time. We laughed a lot and became good friends.
How did you prepare?
We hosted an educational forum with four expert speakers, discussing the dangers of nuclear waste storage and transportation. We met regularly with our mentors and project board members, strategizing ways to get our message across. We contacted Santa Barbara city council members who encouraged us to write a county resolution opposing nuclear waste. District Supervisor, Gail Marshall, endorsed our resolution and the next thing we knew we were on the agenda to present it to the entire county.
Can others take what you did in Santa Barbara and do it where they live?
Being proactive in the community is essential everywhere, whether rich or poor, small or large. I was surprised by the positive response that I received as a student standing up for what I believe in and speaking out. A lot of times, we as young people get the message that society doesn’t want to hear from us and won’t respect what we have to say, but it is hard for them not to respect you when you research your issue and develop a convincing, passionate argument.
Can they really stop the shipments or is this more of a symbolic victory?
The resolution serves as the county’s declaration to stop the waste. It is not law; however, if enough communities across the nation create the same resolution the government would be forced to recognize the people’s will and thus it could be turned into a law.
What is next for you?
We would like to expand our campaign to the state level. For example, we’re researching whether other counties in California, if any, are pushing on the same issues. We may then work with them to form a statewide alliance
Congratulations and good luck, Kristen!
Are you a young person organizing for change in your community? Do you have a success story that you would like to share? We want to hear from you! Send us your success story. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.