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DOE Says Yes to Yucca Mountain
Nevada Says No to Yucca Mountain

January 18, 2002

On January 10, 2002, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham notified Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn and the Legislature that he will recommend Yucca Mountain in Nevada to President Bush as the nation's geologic repository of commercial irradiated fuel and high-level waste.

Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the DOE recommendation can be submitted to President Bush in 30 days. With that recommendation the DOE must submit a description of the repository, including preliminary engineering specifications, a description of the packaging that will be used for the waste, discussion of the safety of the site, a final environmental impact statement, preliminary comments from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission regarding site and waste packaging issues, comments from the Nevada governor and legislature, and any other information.

Once DOE makes its final recommendation to the President, he can make his formal recommendation to Congress at any time. Once Congress receives the presidential recommendation, the Nevada governor and legislature have 60 days to submit a "notice of disapproval" or veto of Yucca Mountain, which they have committed to do.

The Nevada veto would kill the Yucca Mountain repository unless within 90 days both the U.S. House and Senate pass a resolution overriding the veto.

Thus, all members of the House and Senate will vote sometime during 2002 as to whether Yucca Mountain proceeds. In addition to the citizens, governor, and legislature of Nevada, hundreds of organizations around the nation, including SRIC, oppose Yucca Mountain because the site is not adequate and the transportation through more than 45 states would be dangerous.

Moreover, DOE is now propounding new bogus arguments to support the Yucca Mountain recommendation. In his letter to Governor Guinn, Secretary Abraham gave four reasons to proceed with the repository.

First, the repository is important to national security by "providing a secure place to dispose of any spent fuel and other waste products that result from decommissioning unneeded nuclear weapons, and ensure the effective operations of our nuclear Navy by providing a secure place to dispose of its spent nuclear fuel." However, the plutonium cores and highly enriched uranium from dismantled nuclear weapons that are proliferation threats are not included in the proposed Yucca Mountain inventory. Nuclear navy spent fuel will continue to be shipped to the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory whether or not Yucca Mountain opens.

Second, the repository is important to "consolidate the nuclear wastes to enhance protection against terrorists[sic] attacks by moving them to one underground location that is far from population centers." However, even if Yucca Mountain opens, all operating nuclear power plants will continue to produce and store more spent fuel at those sites, so the dangers they pose would not be significantly reduced. Thus, Yucca Mountain would not eliminate the other terrorist targets, and it would add many new ones, since the waste would be transported in thousands of shipments over many decades. If there is real concern about terrorist attacks, action cannot wait for decades, which is the case with Yucca Mountain, since it could not accept any waste for at least 8 years and would be receiving waste for several decades.

Third, "[w]e must ensure that nuclear power, which provides 20% of the nation's electric power, remains an important part of our domestic energy production." However, no nuclear power plant has been shut down for lack of a repository, and there is no practical or legal requirement that nuclear plants cannot continue to operate whether or not there is a repository.

Fourth, "a repository is important to our efforts to protect the environment. We must clean up our defense waste sites permanently and safely dispose of other high level nuclear waste." However, DOE has no plans to clean up or ship to Yucca Mountain the defense wastes that are buried and are most dangerous because they are uncontained and are contaminating water supplies in Washington, Idaho, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

If Congress does approve Yucca Mountain, DOE is required to submit a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission within 90 days. DOE has already acknowledged that it will not have the application ready until 2003, at the earliest.

In addition, various lawsuits that are currently underway, and others that will likely be filed, will mean that there will be continuing challenges to the Yucca Mountain site.


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