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Former Reagan Administration Supporter of Yucca Mountain Nuclear Dump Abandons Support for Controversial Project

June 1, 2001

Former Reagan Administration Supporter of Yucca Mountain Nuclear Dump Abandons Support for Controversial Project

Proposed Repository Unfit for Licensing

WASHINGTON ? Recent developments indicate that a high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev., cannot be safely licensed and that the Department of Energy should abandon its irresponsible and wasteful efforts to recommend the site.

A recent letter to the White House from a former DOE official recommends that the Yucca Mountain project be “mothballed,” according to reports by the Las Vegas Sun and Associated Press on Wednesday.

W. Kenneth Davis, who as deputy secretary of the DOE was involved in drafting a proposal for nuclear waste disposal at Yucca Mountain during the Reagan administration, has now withdrawn his support for the repository project. He expressed concerns about the hazards of transporting high-level waste across 43 states to Nevada and about the likelihood of radiation leaking from the repository.

In a separate development, a May 17 letter from an official with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) identifies several technical errors in the DOE’s calculations of repository performance. The NRC would be responsible for licensing a repository if the president and Congress approved the proposal.

“Although Congress has yet to vote on the proposal for a permanent repository at Yucca Mountain, the NRC appears to be using all its powers to assist the DOE in developing the technical aspects of a potential license application,” said Lisa Gue, policy analyst with Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy & Environment Program.

In the May 17 letter, William Reamer, chief of the NRC’s nuclear waste division, highlighted errors in the DOE’s projections of how long waste storage canisters could maintain their integrity before releasing radioactive contaminants into the environment. He also noted mistakes in calculating radiation exposure to nearby residents. Reamer’s letter specifies that DOE figures underestimate by 12 times the expected radiation dose in the event of a volcanic eruption. Although the DOE has pledged to review its calculations, these inconsistencies reveal the unacceptably high levels of uncertainty that lie behind repository safety assurances.

The latest revelations of DOE technical errors add to a long history of policy, safety and scientific problems that have plagued the Yucca Mountain Project since its inception. “The nation cannot afford the inherent failings of this industry-driven approach to disgorge their financial liability onto the taxpayer by dumping their waste at Yucca Mountain,” Gue said.