Proposed Nuclear Waste Dump at Yucca Mountain? Still Unacceptable

June 23, 2000

Proposed Nuclear Waste Dump at Yucca Mountain?
Still Unacceptable

Statement of Wenonah Hauter, Director,?
Public Citizen s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program

Public Citizen maintains its strong objection to the proposed permanent repository for high-level radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

The design proposal for a repository at Yucca Mountain relies on a system of “natural and engineered barriers” to keep the waste isolated from the environment. However, if this permanent storage facility is built, it is certain to release radioactivity into the environment. No one can guarantee the integrity of waste storage casks for the 10,000-year period that their contents would remain dangerously radioactive. Furthermore, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) analyses have found evidence that water slowly seeps through the rocks at Yucca Mountain, indicating that the region’s “natural barriers” could not prevent radioactive materials from eventually leaking into groundwater supplies. Moreover, Nevada ranks third in the country for current seismic activity, and the risk of an earthquake in the vicinity of a waste storage facility suggests disastrous consequences.

In addition to the uncertainties associated with the repository itself, the Yucca Mountain proposal would launch the largest nuclear waste shipping campaign in history, with waste traveling through 43 states for 25 years past the homes and workplaces of 50 million Americans. Our lawmakers have disappointed citizens by ignoring the hazards of this waste transportation scheme and the potential release of radiation in the event of a crash.

The draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) issued last year was inadequate and offers an incomplete assessment of the environmental risks associated with the Yucca Mountain proposal. What’s more, the DOE is now introducing significant cost-saving changes in the design of the proposed repository that were not considered in the DEIS and that make the repository less safe. The public has not been given an opportunity to comment on the proposed redesign. Therefore the current DEIS should be withdrawn and rewritten to include a more comprehensive assessment and to allow for public comment.

The DOE also is seeking to make unacceptable changes in the siting guidelines for a permanent storage facility. Specifically, 10 CFR 963 would violate the Nuclear Waste Policy Act by eliminating the specific criteria that could disqualify Yucca Mountain for consideration as a repository site. This is both a flagrant violation of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and an obvious attempt to conceal the shortcomings of Yucca Mountain as a storage site. Under pressure from the nuclear industry, DOE is scrambling to save a failed program and force a bad decision regarding Yucca Mountain’s suitability.

Public Citizen was founded in 1971 by Ralph Nader to advocate for consumer protection and for government and corporate accountability. A non-profit research, lobbying and litigation organization with more than 150,000 members nationwide, we for decades have fought misguided nuclear waste policy.

As the House Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Energy and Power considers this matter again today, we urge lawmakers to hold the nuclear industry accountable for the legacy of toxic garbage that it continues to produce. Our energy policy should be re-examined to take into account the true cost of nuclear power. Ultimately, the nuclear industry must not be allowed to continue to produce its deadly waste, as there is no safe and viable way to dispose of it. We therefore applaud the presidential veto of S. 1287, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2000, and ask Congress to adopt a strong stance against the proposal for a permanent nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.