Today’s outrageous 60-39 U.S. Senate vote to override Nevada’s veto of the proposed Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste dump does not mean Yucca Mountain ever will open. Instead, it simply sets the stage for years of courtroom activity, Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensing proceedings, continued Congressional action, and an increased likelihood of large protests and blockades of highways and railways.
“Today’s Senate vote accomplished only one thing,” said Michael Mariotte, executive director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS). “It proved that 60 members of the U.S. Senate caved in to the nuclear power industry and put those interests above the interests of the American people. By approving this project, the Senate has assured that this multi-billion dollar waste of taxpayer and ratepayer money will continue for now. But that doesn’t mean Yucca is a done deal.”
“The increased opposition to Yucca Mountain from previous votes should be a clear warning to the NRC and future Congresses that there is a great deal of doubt about Yucca Mountain, and they must be prepared to stop this project at anytime,” said Kevin Kamps of NIRS’ Radioactive Waste Project.
“The State of Nevada and environmental groups will be continuing to mount lawsuits against the project, on numerous grounds, including the failure of the project to meet the environmental regulations established to protect the public. Instead, the Department of Energy, NRC and Environmental Protection Agency all have weakened public protection standards in recent years to accommodate the ill-chosen site, rather than rejecting the site as should have been done,” said Kamps.
NIRS expressed no confidence in the NRC to conduct a fair licensing process. “The NRC may be an ‘independent’ agency, but it is staffed entirely by nuclear advocates who want to see a new future for this obsolete technology,” explained Mariotte. “Since its establishment in 1975, the NRC has rejected only two license applications of the thousands of it has received, and one of those, at the Byron nuclear complex in Illinois, was overturned on appeal. Only a 1996 decision by an Atomic Safety Licensing Board, which rejected on environmental racism grounds a uranium enrichment plant proposed by a company called Louisiana Energy Services (LES), ever stood. And the NRC then took steps to limit the public’s right in such licensing hearings, to be sure that never happens again. Indeed, LES is on the verge of announcing a new effort to build such a plant.”
NIRS pointed out that Yucca Mountain does little to solve the nation’s growing radioactive waste problem. “Yucca Mountain is legally limited in how much high-level atomic waste it can accept,” said Kamps. “Even if it opened, it would only be able to accept about half the waste expected to be generated by the nation’s nuclear reactors. The rest will remain where it is now, on-site at every nuclear reactor in the country, and the Energy Department will be out there looking for another politically-weak state to dump the waste on.”
“Meanwhile, the DOE is encouraging the construction of still more nuclear reactors that will have no place to store their lethal waste,” said Mariotte. “Just two weeks ago, Secretary Abraham announced that he will give $17 million of taxpayer money to three wealthy nuclear utilities to begin the process of licensing new reactors. This is not only an unacceptable use of tax money, it gives the lie to any belief that DOE even cares about the nuclear waste problem. Where does Abraham propose this waste will go—under the DOE’s Forrestal Building in downtown Washington, DC?”
“Yucca Mountain already is projected to cost some $58 Billion, and the costs seem to rise daily,” said Mariotte. “And if Abraham and the nuclear utilities get their way, we’re going to have to start this process all over again, with a new site, and tens of billions more dollars spent to support this unnecessary and dangerous source of electricity. It simply boggles the mind that any public official could propose such a plan. It is past time to aggressively promote sustainable energy technologies—that’s where we should be spending our money, not on more nuclear power.”
Mariotte said NIRS would now step up its preparations for large protests and blockades of highways and railways if the transport of high-level waste actually begins in the U.S. NIRS and grassroots environmental organizations have been training people in non-violent resistance to such shipments since 1997, and has sent activists to Germany to learn from the massive protests there in the past few years.
“Germany has made six shipments of nuclear waste casks since 1995,” said Kamps, who was in Germany earlier this year to view a shipment. “It now requires some 30,000 police and $100 million to move a cask just 250 miles, disrupts the transportation network of much of the country, and requires a police state in large parts of northern Germany. The U.S. is talking about thousands of shipments, averaging 2,000 miles. There will be thousands of protestors along these routes,” he predicted.
Mariotte also warned that some members of Congress may again attempt to open an “interim” storage site at Yucca Mountain next session, and begin the transportation of radioactive waste as soon as possible. “We expect Congress would reject such an attempt,” he said, “but we will be ready if it does not.”