For decades, Russell Jim has worked to remedy Hanford’s legacy of nuclear waste.
Over the years, it has taken him to a mine atop Hanford’s Gable Mountain, the halls of Congress and to Yakama Nation tribal meetings in Toppenish.
In the process, he helped block the federal government from making Hanford a repository for the nation’s high-level nuclear waste and was instrumental in giving Northwest tribes a voice in nuclear cleanup.
But Jim recalls the first time he called Hanford officials in the 1970s to talk about protecting resources in the Columbia River basin.
They wouldn’t listen, he said, because they doubted the Yakama Nation had the legal authority or technical abilities to tackle the complexities of nuclear waste generated by decades of plutonium production at the 580-square-mile nuclear reservation.
But Jim, then a Yakama Tribal councilman and chairman of the tribe’s natural resources committee, wouldn’t go away. And his years of relentless effort to protect the Columbia River’s fish, plants and other resources — the basis of his people’s existence since time immemorial — have significantly shaped how nuclear waste is handled in the United States.[…]
Jim not only holds the knowledge of his traditional teachings and cultural history, but also understands the science behind nuclear waste and its cleanup, Bassett said.
He speaks “for an injured land that couldn’t speak for itself,” the university said in awarding the degree.
On behalf of the Yakama tribe, Jim accepted federal funding and established the tribe’s Environmental Restoration and Waste Management program.
Many thought he was in favor of locating a repository at Hanford.
But his intentions were quite the opposite, Givens said.
Jim hired scientists to study the area and support his argument that nearby volcanoes, such as Mount St. Helens, and the Columbia River and its tributaries made Central Washington too unstable to warehouse nuclear waste.
“He hired experts to say that Hanford was the worst place to do it,” Givens said. “This stuff will last for hundreds of thousands of years. Rivers move, mountains blow up.”