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Federal Government s Assessment of Environmental Impact of Proposed Nuclear Waste Site Falls Short, Public Citizen Says

Feb. 29, 2000

Federal Government s Assessment of Environmental Impact of Proposed Nuclear Waste Site Falls Short, Public Citizen Says

Environmental Impact Statement for Yucca Mountain Is Inadequate; Proposed Siting Guidelines Are Tailored to Ensure Yucca s Approval

    WASHINGTON, D.C. The U.S. Department of Energy s (DOE) assessment of the environmental impacts of a proposed Nevada nuclear waste repository is incomplete and inadequate, and the department s recently revised guidelines for selecting a site clearly have been tailored to ensure the Nevada site can qualify and be selected, Public Citizen said.

    The statements were included in comments submitted Monday by Amy Shollenberger, a senior policy analyst for Public Citizen s Critical Mass Energy Project, to the DOE about its Draft Environmental Impact Statement for a Geologic Repository for Nuclear Waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada (DEIS), and the department s proposed rule change regarding the siting guidelines for the proposed repository.

    “The environmental impact statement is an incomplete assessment of the environmental risks associated with a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, and as such, the statement should be withdrawn and completely rewritten,” Shollenberger said.

    Her comments outlined several flaws with the DEIS, including the following:

  • The DEIS fails to adequately address the risks associated with the nuclear waste shipping activities that will be necessary if the repository is approved, such as emergency preparedness, decreased property values, risk from accidents and risk from continual exposure of people who live along transportation routes to radiation emitted from the transportation casks.
  • The DEIS is faulty because it is virtually impossible to accurately determine the risks of a Yucca Mountain repository until one of several specific designs is chosen.
  • The DEIS fails to honestly and accurately assess the socioeconomic and environmental justice issues associated with a nuclear waste repository.
  • The DEIS s “No-Action Alternative” the scenario if no repository were built at all is unrealistic and fails to provide a baseline for comparison to the proposed action. Instead, it serves as a scare tactic to justify Yucca Mountain s inadequacies.
  • The DEIS fails to adequately address the impacts from the proposed action on the land, water, plants and animals.
  • The DEIS is incomplete in its assessment of the cumulative impacts on southwestern Nevada that will result if a nuclear waste repository is approved at the Yucca Mountain site. This area of Nevada is already significantly overburdened with nuclear wastes and other activities such as underground nuclear weapons testing, and the effect of combining these burdens with any impacts from a repository at Yucca Mountain must be considered.
  • The DEIS is inaccessible and difficult to read a deterrent to citizen participation before government agencies.

    Shollenberger s second set of comments, which address the proposed rule change on the siting guidelines for Yucca Mountain, indicate that the proposed rule has neither a scientific nor a legal basis. Therefore, Public Citizen has requested that this proposed rule be withdrawn.

    The new rule would change siting guidelines issued in 1984 specifying certain characteristics (e.g., hydrology, geophysics, seismic activity) that would disqualify any site from consideration as a nuclear waste repository. Evidence shows that Yucca Mountain currently would not meet the 1984 guidelines. DOE s proposed rule would eliminate individual disqualifiers and make it easier for Yucca Mountain to qualify, thus removing a strong barrier to the approval of Yucca Mountain as a storage facility,

    “The DOE s argument raises a presumption that the DOE is attempting to change the guidelines because it has become clear that Yucca Mountain does not meet the earlier criteria,” Shollenberger said. “The DOE s decision to remove specific disqualifiers is a blatant attempt to save a failed program and sustain the wrong decision regarding Yucca Mountain s suitability as a nuclear waste repository.”