Sequoyah County can rest easy now that 10,000 tons of uranium waste has been cleared from the site of a plant that closed decades ago.
The Cherokee Nation made the announcement today after working nearly 18 months with the state of Oklahoma to remove the high-risk material.
The last bit of 511 loads of nuclear waste left the county this week, making it the first time in nearly 50 years the county has been free of the hazardous material and bringing hope back to the community.
It's been a long awaited moment.
"It was like closure," said Gore resident Patricia Ballard.
Ballard was involved in the initial lawsuit to decommission Sequoyah Fuels Corporation.
"I’m 76 and I was in my forties when this all started," Ballard said.
An accident at the plant in 1986 that killed one worker and injured dozens of others sparked Ballard’s anger.
"The plant assured us that they would make things safe after they reopened after the accident, but they didn't," Ballard said.
However, Ballard’s daughter said her mom’s fight wasn’t a popular one because the plant employed many in the community.
"I think there was a fear of loss of employment for people and loss of revenue for the city," said Sally Wilson, who also lives in Gore.
Tons of waste remained when the plant eventually closed in 1993 which caused concern for the area’s natural resources.
"We like to fish. We like to hunt," said Ballard. "We haven’t partaken in that much."
"Had it been buried here to be contamination to our ground water and possibly the contamination of our streams," Sally said.
Now, thanks in part to her mother’s work, Wilson’s family no longer has to worry.
"My tribe, the Cherokee Nation and my community, have stepped up and been stewards to our land to make sure it’s healthy, not just for my children but my great grandchildren," said Wilson.
Officials said the site will fall under the federal government’s care once decommission is complete.
The waste was transported to a disposal site in Utah where the uranium will be recycled and reused.
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