Domenici Bill Won’t Address Fundamental Problems With Yucca MountainDump Site or DOE Mismanagement; Nuclear Waste Should Instead Be Secured at Reactor Sites

Sept. 27, 2006

Domenici Bill Won’t Address Fundamental Problems With Yucca  MountainDump Site or DOE Mismanagement; Nuclear Waste Should Instead Be Secured at Reactor Sites

Statement of Michele Boyd, Legislative Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program

Sen. Pete Domenici’s (R-N.M.) bill on the management of spent nuclear fuel will not solve the fundamental problems at the proposed high-level nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The bill introduced today is the third proposal in the past six months that aims to turn around this flawed project. Yet none of these proposals address the fact that Yucca Mountain cannot meet the basic public health and safety standards that were originally established for licensing the site.

Rather than addressing the fact that the site is unsuitable for geologic storage of spent fuel, the bill would:

  • Pop the cap on the amount of nuclear waste that can legally be stored at the site, even though public health standards cannot be met with the current limit of 70,000 metric tons;
  • Allow the Department of Energy (DOE) to move spent fuel to Yucca Mountain for surface storage before the site is licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) as a permanent repository, making it virtually impossible to have an unbiased, scientific analysis of DOE’s license application;
  • Require the NRC to decide on the storage license within 18 months of receiving the application, an unreasonably short time period given that the NRC’s license for the Private Fuel Storage interim storage facility in Utah took six years;
  • Allow DOE to begin construction of surface facilities and other infrastructure before the site is licensed;
  • Codify the NRC’s “waste confidence rule,” which states that there will be a solution for nuclear waste, thereby bypassing what should be a scientific and technical determination; and
  • Provide DOE with unfettered access to utilities’ ratepayer fees, despite the fact that more than $8 billion has been squandered thus far on the project.

Meanwhile, the Yucca Mountain project remains mired in scientific fraud and mismanagement. DOE’s flawed scientific and quality assurance practices, which are crucial to sound science and engineering, have cast serious doubt on the validity of the work performed on Yucca Mountain. A report by the DOE’s Office of Inspector General from August 2006 concluded that DOE’s Corrective Action Program to identify and resolve the ongoing quality assurance problems is not working. Even the new director of the DOE office in charge of Yucca, Ward Sproat, recently stated that the project has “a quality problem in terms of the culture and people and how they view their responsibilities for quality.”

Sen. Domenici claims that this bill links Yucca Mountain with the Bush Administration’s proposed reprocessing scheme, the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), and the proposed interim storage provision in the Senate’s FY2007 Energy & Water Appropriations to produce a “plan for comprehensive spent fuel management.” But the fact is that none of these proposals are viable. Meanwhile, spent fuel at every nuclear power plant remains a safety and security risk.

Instead of wasting hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars on the flawed Yucca Mountain site, on a dangerous scheme to reprocess nuclear waste and on unnecessary away-from-reactor interim storage, money should be focused on improving the safety and security of waste storage at reactor sites. More than 100 national and grassroots public interest groups are advocating for “Principles for Safeguarding Nuclear Waste at Reactors,” a proposal to harden the waste at reactor sites and address the vulnerability of spent fuel pools.

To read “Principles for Safeguarding Nuclear Waste at Reactors,” click here.