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Public Citizen Endorses Bryan Legislation to Establish an Independent Commission on Nuclear Waste Policy

For Immediate Release Contact: Bill Magavern Tuesday, March 14, 1995 Michael Grynberg (202)546-4996

Public Citizen Endorses Bryan Legislation to Establish an Independent Commission on Nuclear Waste Policy Public Citizen endorsed the Nuclear Waste Independent Review Act, a bill introduced yesterday by Senator Richard Bryan (D-NV) to establish an independent commission to conduct a full review of the nation’s nuclear waste policy. The legislation would prevent the licensing of any centralized nuclear waste dumps until the completion of the review. “Senator Bryan’s bill would shift the focus of the nation’s nuclear waste policy to protecting the health and safety of the American public instead of serving the convenience of nuclear utility executives,” Bill Magavern, Director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy Project, said. Accusing the federal government of pursuing an irrational radioactive waste policy, Public Citizen and much of the public interest community have called for an independent review for several years. The Department of Energy continues its tunnel boring at Yucca Mountain in Nevada despite vigorous local opposition, extensive cost overruns, and mounting scientific uncertainty about both Yucca Mountain’s suitability as a repository and the general safety of geologic disposal. Recently, scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory have expressed concern that storing waste at Yucca Mountain could lead to a spontaneous atomic explosion, releasing radiation into the atmosphere and groundwater. “The argument for geologic disposal is increasingly tenuous, yet the Department of Energy insists upon throwing good money after bad,” Magavern noted. “DOE budget proposals would increase funding for site development while neglecting the basic research needed to determine if the geologic disposal concept is even viable. In light of the troubling information from Los Alamos, Congress should hold hearings to fully explore the dangers of burying nuclear waste instead of rushing to sink more money down a hole in the mountain.” Over $1.7 billion has been spent on the Yucca Mountain Project, a figure that may grow to $6 billion by the time characterization studies are complete. Nuclear utilities have mounted a major lobbying campaign to change the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and ship their irradiated nuclear fuel to Yucca Mountain before the Department of Energy determines whether the site is suitable for a repository. Senator J. Bennett Johnston (D-LA) and Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) have each submitted legislation to open an “interim” storage facility in Nevada. The bills would also weaken environmental standards and allow the federal government to preempt Nevada state law. Senator Bryan’s legislation, on the other hand, would prevent the opening of an interim storage facility in the immediate future. Such a facility would raise risks to public health and safety. The dump would likely become a de facto repository. Unlike a repository, however, an interim site would not have been selected with long-term isolation of high-level nuclear waste in mind. Irradiated reactor fuel contains some of the most toxic substances ever known, and opening a centralized storage facility would result in transportation of these materials on an unprecedented scale. Because of the high number of shipments and weak transport cask safety standards, the project would present significant risks for residents of the 42 states on the road to Nevada. Were Yucca Mountain to prove unsuitable for a repository, the waste would have to be shipped again. Magavern attacked the interim storage concept for needlessly raising risks to the public. “I have yet to hear a credible argument that shipping waste to a centralized interim storage facility would be safer than keeping the waste on site, but the utilities don’t want credible arguments; they want a bailout,” he said. “Until a permanent solution to the nuclear waste problem is available, the waste should remain the responsibility of the generators. Neither taxpayer funds nor public safety should be sacrificed in order to bail out the nuclear industry.” Magavern added that objections to interim centralized storage apply to the proposal to place high-level waste on the tribal lands of the Mescalero Apache in New Mexico. “A private waste dump suffers from the same problems as a public one,” he said. “I also find troubling the fact that virtually every proposed site for high-level radioactive waste is on or adjacent to Native American land. What does it say about our country when the citizens targeted to receive the poisons produced by our biggest technological failure are the same people who have already suffered enormous abuse at the hands of our government and corporations?” Senator Bryan’s bill would prevent the licensing of either a public or private centralized waste facility until the independent commission completes its review.