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Senate Appropriations Bill Funds Dangerous and Costly Nuclear Programs

June 29, 2006

Senate Appropriations Bill Funds Dangerous and Costly Nuclear Programs

Statement of Michele Boyd, Legislative Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program

The Energy and Water Development appropriations bill passed by the Senate appropriations committee today would squander $780 million on ill-conceived and expensive nuclear programs that would worsen the nation’s nuclear waste problem.

The bill provides $286 million for developing technologies to reprocess nuclear waste, a key component of President Bush’s proposed Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. Reprocessing would cost U.S. taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars and increase the risk that plutonium waste could be stolen and used in nuclear weapons or “dirty bombs.” Reprocessing is the dirtiest part of the fuel cycle – the radioactive material from our last experience with reprocessing continues to threaten our environment and will require tens of billions of dollars over several decades to clean up.

The appropriations bill also wastes $494 million on the proposed, permanent nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, a site that is unsafe for nuclear storage, is mired in allegations of scientific fraud and may never be completed. It also includes $10 million for a plan that would allow the Secretary of Energy to designate locations to build “interim” waste dumps in states with nuclear reactors, even over the objection of local and state authorities. While it leaves open the option for the use of existing reactor sites, it would also allow the waste to be needlessly transported to new sites, creating a public health and safety risk. Centralized “interim” storage is merely an illusion of a waste solution. It would not meaningfully reduce the number of sites with radioactive material because all nuclear waste must be stored at each reactor site for at least five years to cool before it can be moved.

The bill also codifies the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s “waste confidence rule,” which asserts the government’s confidence that there will be safe disposal of nuclear waste. While this could enable the licensing of new reactors despite public concerns about additional waste, it does not change the reality that we do not have a viable, permanent solution for nuclear waste.

Instead of wasting hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars on a dangerous reprocessing scheme, the flawed repository at Yucca Mountain and centralized storage sites, Congress should focus on improving the safety and security of waste storage at existing reactor sites and support development of safe, secure and environmentally friendly sources of energy.