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In Yucca Mountain Approval, Senators Bow to Nuclear Industry; Fight Will Continue

July 9, 2002

In Yucca Mountain Approval, Senators Bow to Nuclear Industry; Fight Will Continue

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

Today?s decision by the U.S. Senate to give a green light to the potentially disastrous Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump is disappointing, but we are pleased that more senators than ever ? 39 ? voted against it.

Still, this outcome was not unexpected, given that the nuclear industry spent millions of dollars to buy ads, contribute to politicians? campaigns and hire lobbyists to twist arms. In fact, senators and senatorial candidates took more than $5 million from the nuclear power industry in political action committee contributions from 1997 through February 2002. This vote was paid for, and records likely will show more contributions poured into campaign coffers in recent weeks. With today?s vote, lawmakers have not only succumbed to industry influence but have again failed to check the Bush administration?s inappropriate coziness with the energy industries.

Ahead of us are regulatory, legislative and legal battles. We hope common sense will prevail, because there are plenty of issues to be addressed:

  It is unclear whether enough money will be appropriated for Yucca Mountain to come to fruition. Already the government has spent $7 billion on this white elephant; today?s total cost estimate is $58 billion and tomorrow?s will be more.

  The Department of Energy (DOE) has not released the routes it would use to ship the nuclear waste to Nevada. This has enabled the administration to avoid the wrath of concerned lawmakers who may not yet know that these mobile Chernobyls could be coming through their districts. When routes are finally laid out, expect a huge amount of opposition from affected communities and their representatives.

  The DOE has estimated that nearly 300 crashes could occur while this dangerous waste is being shipped to Nevada. Yet it is unlikely that emergency workers would be prepared to adequately handle such potential disasters. Further, the transportation casks have not been fully tested to ensure they could withstand realistically severe crashes. Also, the waste will make a tempting terrorist target as it rolls across the country; the Yucca Mountain scheme calls for scattering dirty bombs all over the United States.

  Even the government?s own scientists confess they cannot demonstrate that the proposed repository will not leak and contaminate the environment and drinking water supplies.

  Yucca Mountain will not solve our waste problems because the irradiated fuel must cool onsite for years before being moved. Whether or not Yucca Mountain is built, nuclear waste will always be scattered at nuclear reactors throughout the country as long as reactors continue to operate. Further, the total volume of this country?s high-level nuclear waste is expected to exceed capacity at Yucca Mountain before the repository can open.

We applaud the efforts and leadership of Sens. Tom Daschle, Harry Reid and others. We hope they will continue to lead the fight against what is, and always will be, a terrible idea.