Nuclear Waste Specialist
Nuclear Information & Resource Service
July 16, 2002
On July 9 th, by a vote of 60 to 39, the United States Senate voted to override the State of Nevada’s veto against the proposed Yucca Mountain radioactive waste dump. U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, joining with the opposition of environmental organizations across Michigan and nationwide, voted against Yucca Mountain. Senator Carl Levin voted in favor of the nuclear power industry-supported dump. Despite the vote, the dump is far from being a done deal. Dump opponents are digging in for a long term battle to protect public health and the environment from the dangers of the Yucca plan, and the associated perils of an expansion of nuclear power (extending operations at old reactors for decades into the future, and even building new atomic reactors for the first time in 30 years).
This resistance will continue in the courts, in annual Congressional budget battles, and in Yucca Mountain’s prolonged licensing process.
Already, over the course of the past couple years, a half dozen lawsuits have been filed by the State of Nevada and a coalition of environmental organizations against federal agencies’ handling of the Yucca Mountain dump. One suit challenges the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations for Yucca, which undermine the Safe Drinking Water Act by legalizing radiation contamination of a presently-used drinking water supply beneath the mountain. More court battles are certain to follow.
Democratic U.S. Senator Harry Reid from Nevada, who serves as Assistant Majority Leader and has led the battle against Yucca, will use his chairmanship of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee to try to cut the project’s budget. U.S. House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt has likewise committed to battling appropriations for the dump (his district in St. Louis, Missouri would be hard-hit by high-level radioactive waste shipments bound for Nevada).
Reid’s chairmanship of the Environment and Public Work’s Subcommittee on Transportation, Infrastructure, and Nuclear Safety will also allow him to scrutinize the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) licensing process for Yucca. Environmental organizations will file contentions against the dump as official intervenors in the process, citing Yucca Mountain’s seismic activity and water leakage as scientific showstoppers. The U.S. Department of Energy seems intent on disregarding a clear deadline in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, that 90 days after the president approves the project’s moving ahead, DOE must submit its license application to NRC: DOE plans on taking until 2004 to submit its application.
Unfortunately, the nuclear industry is infamous for getting its way with all three branches of the U.S. government. The $74 million the industry poured into the Yucca Mountain battle over the past ten years – in the form of campaign contributions, lobbying, and advertising campaigns – shows that we have the “best democracy money can buy.” Nuclear corporations exercise undue influence on Congress, the courts, and federal agencies, resulting in nuclear waste and nuclear power policies like Yucca that fly in the face of public health, safety and environmental protection.
For that reason, Yucca opponents are also looking to nonviolent civil resistance, to blocking radioactive waste trucks, trains, and barges before they hit the roads, rails, and waterways of 46 states. Inspired by such protests in Germany, Nuclear Information & Resource Service has conducted week-long “Nuclear-Free Great Lakes Action Camps” since 1998 in Michigan and Illinois, to train activists and concerned citizens in nonviolent civil resistance. In Germany, large scale demonstrations have significantly slowed government plans to dump waste on a farming community against its will. In 1997, 20,000 protestors blocked streets and rails. 30,000 police were deployed, the largest police action in Germany since World War Two. Despite their nonviolence, 500 protestors were arrested, and 200 injured. Only 6 transport containers made it through, at a cost of $100 million. The high costs due to such intense resistance have allowed only a dozen nuclear waste containers through in the past 25 years. (Incredibly, DOE plans on shipping several waste containers per day for decades into the future under the Yucca plan.)
Such blockades may have to happen sooner than later. Even though DOE is saying that shipments to Yucca won’t begin till 2010, the nuclear utilities hope to ship nuclear waste to the Skull Valley Goshutes Indian Reservation in Utah (a blatant act of environmental racism) as early as 2004. The Senate’s thumbs up to Yucca could also revive attempts in Congress to ship waste to Yucca as soon as possible, for “interim storage” till burial can begin – the “Mobile Chernobyl” legislation that was beat back again and again by nationwide grassroots environmental resistance, and President Clinton’s veto, from 1995 to 2000.
It’s going to take such diverse forms of resistance, from the halls of Congress to the streets of Michigan, to stop both the dangerous Yucca Mountain plan and on-going nuclear waste generation on the shorelines of the Great Lakes.
For more information, please visit NIRS website at www.nirs.org, or call 301-270-6477.