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Up Close and Personal on Capitol Hill: The 30th D.C. Days

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Written by Hannah Smay

Each spring for the last 30 years, members of the Snake River Alliance have been part of a special group of concerned citizens that descend upon Capitol Hill for a week to promote peace, human health, and the environment. This May was my first time joining the inspiring crew of activists from the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA) in Washington D.C. for the 30th Anniversary DC Days.

ANA is comprised of over 30 organizations from across the country living downstream or downwind of our nation’s nuclear facilities such as Hanford, Washington and Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Each group is concerned about the consequences of U.S. nuclear policies in their community. There was a sense of instant camaraderie in the group of activists. I found myself becoming fast friends not only with other first-timers, but also with the seasoned activists who, like my mom Liz Paul, have been lobbying for ANA since the 1980s.

These citizen lobbyists act as local, regional, and national watchdogs, putting pressure on the government to clean up nuclear waste and contaminated areas. They are advocating for nonproliferation and disarmament, opposing the risky transportation of radioactive materials on our nation’s roads and railways, and fighting against the expansion of nuclear weapons and energy production.

After a day of training where we learned the ropes of citizen lobbying and the issues at stake, ANA’s multigenerational activists dispersed across the hill for over 90 meetings with senators, representatives, staff, and key government officials from the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy.

With fellow Idahoans from the Snake River Alliance – Beatrice, Amy, Terry, Liz, and Dave –  I met with Congressman Simpson and Senator Crapo to discuss the future of nuclear waste and nuclear energy in Idaho. We voiced our opposition to the funding and development of small modular reactors at Idaho National Lab, which don’t make financial sense but would produce intensely hazardous and persistent waste with nowhere to go.

We also campaigned against plans to transport Hanford’s waste across the Snake River Plain to be treated at Idaho National Lab. This would be a potential violation of the 1995 Nuclear Settlement Agreement (learn more at https://www.dontwasteidaho.com/). Even when Congressman Simpson tried to evade some of the hard questions, we held our ground. We made sure he knew that his constituents – including nurses like Terry, and millennials like me — won’t stay silent about the nuclear dangers in our backyards and headwaters.

We told Idaho’s members of Congress that we want them to secure sufficient funding for the estimated $400 billion clean-up needed for Cold War nuclear weapons wastes. We asked them not to sink taxpayer dollars into redundant, dangerous small modular reactors and waste “solutions” like the permanent high-level waste repository proposed at Yucca Mountain, a plan resurrected by the Trump administration despite decades of research deeming the site unfit.

In addition, ANA activists demanded smarter, safer policies about nuclear weapons. We said NO to new, low-yield nuclear bombs that only increase the chance of nuclear war. We asked Congress to sponsor bills in both the House and Senate to restrain the president’s authority to launch a nuclear first strike and move to a “no first use” policy.

After our long days walking the marble floors of Capitol Hill and advocating for responsible, peaceful nuclear policies, we had a lot to celebrate! Under the shadow of the Supreme Court, we raised our glasses to honor 30 years of tireless nuclear advocacy in D.C. In a room with a view of the thunderclouds over the Washington Monument, we applauded Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey and California Representative Barbara Lee who inspired us to keep fighting for peace and planet.

It was empowering to be among such dedicated, encouraging folks all coming together for a safer and cleaner future.  I’m already looking forward to the next 30 years of D.C. Days!

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