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Congress Begins Action on Yucca Mountain

On April 8, Governor Kenny Guinn submitted Nevada's veto of the Yucca Mountain repository to Congress. The congressional decision about proceeding with Yucca Mountain or closing the site will be made by July
(see
Voices, Spring 2002, pages 6-7).

In vetoing Yucca Mountain, Governor Guinn said:

As a matter of science and the law, and in the interests of state comity and sound national policy, Yucca Mountain should not be developed as a high-level nuclear waste repository.

Nevada already has more than its fair share of this nation's radioactive waste burdens....Nearly 300 million curies of toxic radioactive contaminants remain in the ground in our state [from nuclear weapons tests]...Nevada is also being forced by the Energy Department to play host to the world's largest low-level and mixed radioactive waste disposal facility, at the Nevada Test Site.

Yucca Mountain is but the latest in a long series of DOE [Department of Energy] boondoggles -- one based on bad science, bad law, and bad public policy. In addition, better, cheaper, and safer alternatives exist.

DOE's own studies proved the mountain was in fact so porous to water, and otherwise so geologically unfit, that the very concept of geologic isolation of the waste had to be abandoned.

Nevada currently has four legal actions pending against the Yucca Mountain project....At least two additional actions...will be filed imminently by Nevada.

The Yucca Mountain site will contribute nothing to national security....[Because newly generated waste will continue to pile up almost as fast as the old waste is removed from nuclear power plants] the current backlog of 46,000 tons at plant sites now will never be less than 42,000 tons by the time Yucca Mountain is filled to its design capacity.

Though the nuclear industry seems to prefer you didn't know it, there is a viable alternative to Yucca Mountain -- one that has already been quietly embracced by DOE and at least one utility, PECO Energy, a division of the nation's largest nuclear utility, Exelon Corporation. In June 2000, PECO signed a deal with DOE that would ultimately have DOE take title to PECO's spent fuel on-site at the Peach Bottom nuclear plant in Pennsylvania. PECO will construct a dry storage facility, ownership of which will also eventually be assumed by DOE. At a date certain, DOE will own, operate, and manage the facility, with the waste stored there in robust, dry casks for the indefinite future.

On May 8, the U.S. House overrode the Nevada veto by a vote of 306-117. Among the reasons given to vote for Yucca Mountain were:

"If we look at all the scientific evidence that has been prepared on Yucca Mountain, it shows that to the degree that men and women can provide certainty, we are certain that for the next 10,000 years the repository at Yucca Mountain will be safe. So I would ask when it comes time to have this vote that we vote to send this resolution to the other body and we say that we believe that we need to make a decision to have a repository, and that repository should be at Yucca Mountain. Then we will work together in a bipartisan fashion to guarantee the transportation issues, to guarantee the safety and scientific issues so that the repository can be built and maintained in a safe and effective fashion."

— Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX)

"Certainly, shipping nuclear waste has the inherent risk of accident or attack, but that risk was there for the last 30 years as well and it will be there as long as we ship any nuclear waste. The far greater risk, in my mind, is to leave that waste in our backyards, on our lake shores, and in our communities in the 39 States where it currently is stored."

— Rep. Joseph Knollenberg (R-MI)

"But we spent $7 billion to characterize Yucca Mountain as a site. Nothing is going to happen when we pass this bill except that about 2 years down the road the NRC is going to commence a licensing process to license a permanent storage repository to receive the nuclear waste. That will be an open process."

— Rep. John Dingell (D-MI)

Examples of the reasons of those who voted against the veto override:

"I have to admit, the first time I heard about the concept of placing this waste at Yucca Mountain a few years ago, I thought it was a very good idea. I thought so for one reason: Nevada is not Texas. I think that is the main reason why so many people approve of the Yucca Mountain site today, because Nevada is not South Carolina, it is not Maine, and it is not California. But as one of my neighbors, Molly Ivins, pointed out recently in a column, ``putting the nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain is Nevada's problem. Getting it there is ours.'' These transportation routes will affect not just Nevada, but families in most every State in the country."

— Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX)

"If Members think a vote for Yucca Mountain gets rid of the waste in Members' backyards, they are wrong. As long as power plants are operating, new waste will need to stay put on-site for up to 10 years to cool down before it can be shipped. I can tell the Members as son of a downwinder and a Congressman who represents thousands of sick, dying, and widowed victims of our nuclear testing that the Federal record on this issue has been appalling. Our Nation is one of shared responsibility. By opposing the transcontinental shipment of nuclear waste, we take care of all those millions of people who live along the roads and tracks to Yucca Mountain. We protect their future from what is an unfortunate legacy of my own State."

— Rep. James David Matheson (D-UT)

"Yucca Mountain is located within the aboriginal area of the western Shoshone Indian Nation. The mountain is sacred to them and it holds a powerful spiritual energy for two Indian tribes in particular....Whether or not my colleagues understand the religion of these people, whether or not my colleagues subscribe to it, know this: Dumping nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain is akin to dumping nuclear waste at your own house of worship."

— Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV)

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