Publc Concerns Sidelined as Department of Energy Rushes to Recommend Yucca Mountain Nuclear Dump

ALLIANCE FOR NUCLEAR ACCOUNTABILITY – CITIZEN ALERT FRIENDS OF THE EARTH INDIGENOUS ENVIRONMENTAL NETWORK – NATURAL RESOURCE DEFENSE COUNCIL NEVADA DESERT EXPERIENCE – NEVADA NUCLEAR WASTE TASKFORCE NUCLEAR INFORMATION AND RESOURCE SERVICE (NIRS) PUBLIC CITIZEN S CRITICAL MASS ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT PROGRAM

May 7, 2001

Publc Concerns Sidelined as Department of Energy Rushes to Recommend Yucca Mountain Nuclear Dump

WASHINGTON, D.C.- The Department of Energy’s intention to recommend Yucca Mountain, Nevada, as the site for a permanent nuclear waste repository subverts due process and further undermines the credibility of the agency s high-level radioactive waste program, tribal groups, public interest, and environmental organizations said today. National and tribal organizations joined groups in Nevada in calling on the Department to revoke statements made Friday that prematurely initiated a process for approving the controversial Yucca Mountain repository project.

Yucca Mountain, located approximately 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nev., is currently the only site under consideration as a potential repository for 77,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste from U.S. commercial reactors and atomic weapons facilities.

On Friday, the DOE released a Science and Engineering Report outlining the technical basis for a Yucca Mountain site recommendation, and sent a letter to all Governors and State Legislatures announcing the Department’s intention to move forward with the process. By law, this notice is required as the first step in a formal site recommendation, which must ultimately be approved by the President and Congress.

“Many thousands of Americans living along targeted Yucca Mountain transport routes in 43 States have just had their concerns completely ignored. Secretary Abraham is putting the radioactive waste cart before the horse,” said Kevin Kamps, nuclear waste specialist with Nuclear Information and Resource Service.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act specifies several pieces of regulation upon which a site recommendation is contingent. Proposed rules issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and Nuclear Regulatory Commission affecting radiation protection standards and licensing requirements are still under review. Similarly, the Department of Energy has proposed but not finalized changes in the site suitability guidelines.

“How can Secretary Abraham be preparing to recommend the Yucca Mountain site when these key regulations are not yet in place?” asked Kalynda Tilges, nuclear issues coordinator with Citizen Alert in Nevada. “It seems that the Department of Energy is declaring war on due process, strong science, and sound public policy.”

In addition, the final Environmental Impact Statement for the Yucca Mountain project is not yet available. The draft Environmental Impact Statement, issued in July 1999, elicited approximately 11,000 comments that have not been addressed, including concerns related to the DOE’s unspecified plans for transporting nuclear waste to Nevada.

“Members of the public have participated in good faith in every aspect of the Yucca Mountain project,” said Judy Treichel, executive director of Nevada Nuclear Waste Taskforce. “Yet we have received no response and our significant concerns have not been addressed. It now appears that our comments are considered irrelevant.”

“Secretary Abraham’s letter makes a mockery of the Department s process for public participation,” agreed Lisa Gue, policy analyst with Public Citizen. “The public cannot have confidence in an agency that seems to consider approval of the Yucca Mountain dump a foregone conclusion.”

“This is a distressing indication of the Administration s intention to dictate unsustainable energy policies in complete disregard of public health and environmental safety.”

The issue of title to the Yucca Mountain site is also unresolved. The Western Shoshone Nation claims jurisdiction over the land according to the Ruby Valley Treaty of 1863, and opposes the Yucca Mountain repository project.

“Our lawful rights and vital interests at Yucca Mountain have not been adequately addressed. This manner of treatment constitutes environmental racism. The U.S. does not own Yucca Mountain,” stated Ian Zabarte, Secretary of State of the Western Shoshone National Council.

Native environmental justice leaders expressed their concern about these federal actions where tribal government participation has not been provided.

“The U.S. government is still failing to recognize its government-to-government policy with tribes on these critical issues that may impact the future of our people,” stated Tom Goldtooth, director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, a national tribal grassroots organization. “Tribal members and their governmental leaders have been totally left out of the Yucca Mountain discussion.”

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