Feb. 2, 2004
Bush’s Proposal to Inflate Yucca Mountain Budget Is Irresponsible
Congress Should Not Boost Budget for Nuclear Waste Dump While Legal Challenges and Key Safety Issues Remain Unresolved
WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Bush’s proposal to boost the budget for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump to $880 million and change how the project is funded is irresponsible given the pending legal challenges against the project and unresolved questions about the site’s safety, Public Citizen said today.
In the 2005 budget released today, Bush allocated much of the additional funding – a 50 percent increase from 2004 – to develop and operate the transportation system for shipments to Yucca Mountain. The budget calls for the purchase of truck and rail casks and other equipment for waste shipments in 2010.
“The idea of buying equipment for transporting waste to Yucca Mountain before questions about the safety of the site are resolved, and before the routes and mode of transport are even determined, is ludicrous,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “The Department of Energy (DOE) is obviously trying to sink so much money into this hole in the ground that the project becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
One of the most alarming proposals in the administration’s Yucca Mountain budget is the elimination of congressional oversight of much of the project’s funding. Since 1982, nuclear power utility consumers have paid fees to the Nuclear Waste Fund to pay for the establishment of a national repository for high-level nuclear waste. Bush proposes that these fees be paid directly to the DOE, thereby cutting Congress out of decisions regarding how the fees are used.
“This is just a budgeting gimmick that artificially reduces federal spending and hides the real costs to consumers and taxpayers,” said Hauter.
Contained in the budget was the DOE’s annual programmatic assessment of the Yucca Mountain project. The agency rated the project “adequate” despite the many fundamental questions that remain unresolved regarding the suitability of the site to safely and permanently isolate high-level radioactive waste. Not only is the site located over a drinking water aquifer, but it is in an earthquake zone.
The DOE has been working since September 2001 to answer 293 scientific questions, or key technical issues, that revolve around Yucca Mountain’s ability to keep radiation from contaminating the surrounding environment. So far, answers to 83 questions have been completed and accepted by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). In a December 2003 letter, the NRC informed the DOE that it could not evaluate many of the answers that the DOE had submitted because the DOE had not supplied all the necessary technical documents.
“Due to the doubts and uncertainties plaguing the Yucca Mountain project, Congress should not increase its budget or change the funding practices,” said Hauter. “It appears that the Bush administration is steamrolling scientific concerns to ram this project through.”
Recent developments point to the need to rein in funding for the project. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is deciding a slate of lawsuits against the project. One key case against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) charges that the EPA’s standards setting the amount of radiation that can be released are not consistent with recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), as Congress directed in the 1992 Energy Policy Act. The EPA rule arbitrarily limits the period for which Yucca Mountain must comply with radiation release rules at 10,000 years, even though the NAS has found that the maximum doses from the dump are likely to occur for 300,000 years.
The DOE intends to submit its license application for the high-level waste dump to the NRC at the end of 2004. The court’s decisions on these cases, which are expected this spring, could force a significant reassessment of Yucca Mountain that would necessarily take years and perhaps even permanently derail the project.