In a briefing with reporters on Monday, April 20, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott was quoted by Reuters as saying, “…this is a very important nuclear waste issue that the United States has not come to grips with. France has. Britain has. Even Sweden has. But not the United States.”
Lott was referring to his desire to see movement on the “Mobile Chernobyl” bill this Congress, which would begin the transport of high-level nuclear waste across the United States to an “interim” storage site in Nevada. The bill is opposed by every environmental group in the U.S., by the cities of St. Louis, Los Angeles, Denver, the Indiana legislature, and many others. While differing versions of the bill have passed both the House and Senate this Congress, the two houses have not been able to agree on compromise language. Moreover, President Clinton has promised repeatedly to veto any version of the legislation.
But it is the European connection that fascinates NIRS. “What secrets does Trent Lott know that the rest of us don’t?” asked Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, an international networking center for environmental activists.
“Let’s take them one at a time,” Mariotte said. “Britain recently ruled out geological storage of high-level nuclear waste, in a highly-public examination of the issue. Indeed, members of the House of Lords are coming to Washington in three weeks to look at our radioactive waste program and try to figure out how to pick up the pieces of theirs. “In France, the government’s first effort to find a high-level waste site has set off the largest anti-nuclear movement in that country ever, with environmentalists across their nation uniting to oppose every possible site.
“Sweden is no further along on waste issues, except in the sense that they are beginning to order the permanent shutdown of nuclear reactors, to end the generation of nuclear waste.
“Canada has abandoned, just in the past few months, geological storage as a concept, with an advisory panel stating that it can never achieve scientific credibility nor public acceptance. And my own experiences in Germany show that it requires a police state—and tens of millions of dollars—just to move a few casks a few hundred miles to a “temporary” storage site.
“In short,” said Mariotte, “there is no country in the world that is successfully coping with the insoluble problem of nuclear waste. We, frankly, cannot even imagine to what successes Sen. Lott might be referring. We’d like to know when he became an expert on this issue, and !QW! he gets his information. It sure isn’t from scientific journals, from the mainstream media, or from any other credible source we can discern. Senator Lott should probably keep quiet and talk about something he does understand—like how to support the tobacco industry,” said Mariotte, “because he’s beyond his expertise here. He is single-handedly summoning images of the ‘know-nothing’ Congresses of our history books.”
“It is not only disingenuous of Sen. Lott to imply that there are existing solutions for the atomic waste problem, it is downright deceptive,” added Mariotte.
“Senator Lott’s solution—move the waste to Nevada and pretend that everything is hunky-dory—is no solution at all,” said Mary Olson, of NIRS’ Radioactive Waste Project. “Instead, the Mobile Chernobyl bill would distract limited resources away from a long-term answer to nuclear waste, and redirect those resources toward a potentially disastrous band-aid fix that would endanger some 50 million Americans who live within ½ mile of the proposed transport routes.”
Olson also pointed out that the American people are solidly opposed to Lott’s legislative fix: !Q—WR!e than two-thirds of the U.S. public, according to a recent University of Maryland poll, are against the concept of the Mobile Chernobyl bill,” Olson pointed out. “Misrepresenting what is happening in other countries, as Lott has done, isn’t going to help: the people understand the issue, and they don’t want nuclear waste transported across their front yards to save nuclear utilities a few bucks.”
Previous public opinion polls have shown similar majorities against the Lott/nuclear industry quick-fix to the nuclear waste issue. Said Olson, “Congressmembers are famed for their ability to read polls, and if they read these, they will find that their constituents—in every part of the nation, in every age group, every education group, every imaginable grouping, are dead-set against this inane idea. This turkey has no support whatsoever outside the nuclear power industry.”
“If Lott’s ‘answer’ to the nuclear waste problem were to be enacted,” said Mariotte, “every ratepayer of nuclear utilities and every taxpayer could look forward to higher electric rates and higher taxes to pay for the nuclear waste program. Who benefits: easy, the nuclear utilities. Who pays: just as easy, all of us. This is nothing more than welfare for the nuclear industry, and it won’t fly this year or any other year. If Lott thinks it’s a good idea to campaign for higher electric rates and taxes for most Americans, then let him push this issue, and we’ll watch all of this bill’s backers go to deserved defeat.”
NIRS said it would redouble its efforts to seek reasonable, scientifically defensible answers to this overarching problem of the nuclear age.
“It is clear,” said Mariotte, “that if our nation is to make any progress on nuclear waste issues, we must address the issue of nuclear waste generation. Any legislation that does not explicitly tie radioactive waste storage to a timetable for the end of nuclear waste production will be dead on arrival,” Mariotte predicted.