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Public Citizen Testifies Before Congress on Nuclear Waste Safe Storage

Sept. 13, 2006

Public Citizen Testifies Before Congress on Nuclear Waste Safe Storage

Principles for Safeguarding Nuclear Waste at Reactors Introduced

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Michele Boyd, legislative director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program, testified today before a House of Representatives subcommittee on thestorage of highly radioactive and dangerous nuclear waste from commercial nuclear reactors. At a hearing before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality, she presented a plan developed by national and grassroots public interest groups to address the urgent need to protect the public from the threats posed by the current vulnerable storage of commercial spent fuel. Ninety-four national and grassroots groups from 37 states have signed on to the principles thus far.

Boyd outlined why nuclear waste should be stored on-site at nuclear reactors in hardened casks rather than money being wasted on a failed underground repository, dangerous and polluting reprocessing or off-site surface storage.

In her testimony, she criticized the Bush administration’s “Nuclear Fuel Management and Disposal Act,” which seeks to override public health and safety laws at the proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada and fails to address any of the flawed project’s fundamental problems. “The proposed Yucca Mountain site is unsafe for geologic storage of nuclear waste and the program remains mired in bad science, mismanagement and yet another design overhaul,” Boyd said. Even under the DOE’s unrealistically optimistic scenario, the underground repository would not begin receiving waste until 2017, and it would take more than 30 years to transport waste from across the nation to the site. The waste would have to be taken through many highly populated cities and towns, with some crashes of the transport trucks and trains inevitable. Meanwhile, the waste remains vulnerable at reactor sites.

Boyd also advised against President Bush’s proposed Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, which touts reprocessing spent fuel as a solution to the waste problem. Reprocessing is highly polluting and expensive – the radioactive material from the United States’ last experience with reprocessing continues to threaten the environment and will require tens of billions of dollars over several decades to clean up. The plutonium waste it produces could also be stolen and used in nuclear weapons or “dirty bombs,” presenting a significant proliferation problem.

Boyd rejected interim storage proposals being considered in the Senate and House FY2007 Energy and Water Appropriations bills. Centralized interim storage would increase the transport risks to public health, safety and security. It also would not reduce the number of sites where radioactive material is stored. Nuclear waste must be stored on-site for at least five years to thermally cool and radioactively decay before it can be transported off-site. Any operating reactor will have at least five years’ worth of irradiated fuel – approximately 100 tons – stored on-site at all times.

With the controversies concerning the building of this country’s first permanent repository, the temporary sites themselves will inevitably turn into “overflow parking” for nuclear waste that may never be moved again. “Moving commercial irradiated nuclear fuel to indefinite ‘interim’ surface storage at DOE or other sites would simply create the illusion of a waste solution,” said Boyd. “But it would be far more risky than retaining it at the reactor site where it was first produced.”

Instead of wasting hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars on a dangerous reprocessing scheme, the flawed repository at Yucca Mountain and centralized storage sites, Boyd urged Congress to focus on improving the safety and security of waste storage at existing reactor sites. She cited the Spent Nuclear Fuel On-Site Storage Security Act of 2005, introduced in both the House and Senate by the Nevada and Utah delegations, as a good basis for incorporating safe storage principles into law.

To read Michele Boyd’s testimony, click here.

To read “Principles for Safeguarding Nuclear Waste at Reactors,” click here.