Dump Yucca Mountain!
Nation's Environmental Groups Agree: Yucca Mountain is a Terrible Place to Mind Atomic Waste
Today the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), Public Citizen, US Public Interest Research Group, Sierra Club and 225 local, national and international organizations sent a letter and petition to Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson demanding that his Department disqualify the Yucca Mountain site from further development as a possible high-level nuclear waste dump.
The groups took this action because Yucca Mountain clearly cannot be qualified as the nation's only high-level atomic waste dump under the Department of Energy's (DOE) own guidelines. "At this point, it is clear that Yucca Mountain can be approved as a high-level radioactive waste dump only if the DOE and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission change or ignore their own stated regulations for an atomic waste repository," said Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), a national nuclear watchdog group based in Washington, DC. "And the DOE and NRC have no public health or safety basis to change their rules," Mariotte said. "Continuing with work on Yucca Mt. now would be an accommodation to the nuclear power industry, not evidence of a sound radioactive waste policy."
The petition delineates evidence that Yucca Mountain does not meet the Site Suitability Guidelines for a permanent nuclear waste repository as established by the Department of Energy, under current law at the outset of the high-level waste program. The presence of even a single "disqualifier" at Yucca Mountain requires the Secretary of Energy to disqualify the site. The petition shows two disqualifying factors already documented, while a host of unresolved issues remain that could also rule out the site. Disqualifying factors pertain to elements of the repository system that would undercut the goal of a nuclear waste disposal site: to isolate the waste from the environment for as long as it is hazardous. Irradiated fuel from commercial reactors and bomb-making must be isolated for about a quarter-million years.
"Under law, the Secretary must act on any day that it is clear that a prospective site has a disqualifying condition to reject the site from further consideration as a nuclear waste dump. It is only the decision to use the site that requires a lengthy process of validation. The Secretary must not ignore the new information that shows that Yucca Mountain will leak if nuclear waste is buried there," said Mary Olson, a nuclear waste specialist with NIRS. "Earthquakes at that site have fractured the rock. Thirty-five active faults in the area have registered more than 600 quakes of 2.5 or greater magnitude just in the last 20 years. New data has shown that when it rains the water moves very quickly from the surface to the ground water. If you put nuclear waste in the middle of that mountain, sooner or later it will leak. We can't afford to make a mistake with this waste, it contains more than 95% of the radioactivity of the Nuclear Age," concluded Olson.
Scientists from Los Alamos identified the presence of chlorine-36 inside Yucca Mountain at concentrations that could only have originated from nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific. This radioactive material results from the activation of the salt in seawater, and is not characteristic of nuclear weapons tests done in Nevada. The radioactive chlorine traveled as fallout with the rains and is not unique to this site. It merely serves as a marker for !QW! that rainwater went. It shows that surface water traveled inside Yucca Mountain to the repository depth within the last 50 years.
The fact that more than 200 environmental groups from 39 states signed the letter to Richardson gives the lie to the notion that Yucca Mt. is somehow just a Nevada issue. "In fact," said Mariotte, "opposition to Yucca Mt. as a nuclear waste site is reaching a crescendo all across the nation. Nobody concerned with public health and safety-- any!QW! in the country--believes that the nation's atomic waste should be stored in an earthquake-prone, leaking mountain. Make no mistake, the environmental movement is now united against Yucca Mountain."
Mariotte also pointed out that several international organizations signed the letter--without prompting--indicating that the entire world is looking at this project as a potential precursor for other nations' high-level waste decisions. "No nation has solved the problem of high-level atomic waste," Mariotte pointed out, "and the entire world is looking at the U.S. and whether we will address this issue scientifically and with the public's interests in mind, or whether we will capitulate to the nuclear industry's desire for a quick fix."
The petition is being made shortly before the Department of Energy is expected to release a "viability assessment" on the Yucca Mt. project. This assessment likely will advocate continued work on the project. "Even the DOE has said this viability assessment is a virtually meaningless document," said Olson. "This is not a scientific assessment of the project, it is a political paper intended to keep Congress funding the radioactive waste bureaucracy. There is nothing in the viability assessment that overrides the simple truth: Yucca Mt. cannot meet protective regulations today and it cannot ever meet them."
NIRS also warned against further congressional consideration of "Mobile Chernobyl" legislation, which would establish an interim site at Yucca Mt. and begin the transport of thousands of casks of high-level atomic waste through the nation's cities and suburbs, as well as its most productive farmland. "There is no point--and a lot of risk--in moving radioactive waste from the reactor sites to an unsuitable site in Nevada," said Mariotte. "Congressional activity on this issue is a waste of time--President Clinton has been consistent: he will veto any such bill, and the Congress will uphold the veto; nothing has changed in that regard. Congress needs to begin work on a new radioactive waste policy that recognizes that Yucca Mt. will not be the nation's dumping ground and also recognizes that a speedy phase-out of nuclear power--as Germany and other countries are now beginning--is the best solution to the nuclear problem."
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